James Pharaon Creative photo of house in the country

Photography by James Pharaon, James Pharaon Creative

Cover of Texas LAND Winter 2020
This article is featured in the Winter 2020 issue of Texas LAND magazine. Click here to find out more.

Pretty pictures sell.

“In real estate, photographs are advertising,” said James Pharaon, a photographer, graphic designer and videographer who owns James Pharaon Creative, a full-service creative agency in Brenham. “Photos that make a client’s land look good generate more interest, which hopefully translates into a faster sale for more money.”

Pharaon, who started his career in advertising in 1997, added photography to his skill set in 2005 and has worked as a professional photographer since 2009.

James Pharaon of James Pharaon Creative

“I’m a visual thinker, so I knew what I wanted in my photographs, but didn’t know how to get it,” Pharaon said. “I was challenged to learn more, so I could actually take the photos I envisioned.”

He put his passion into practice and studied with recognized masters such as Lawrence Parent, an Arizona-based photographer who is known for his nature, outdoor sport and landscape photos. Pharaon has trained his lenses on landscapes throughout Texas and the United States as well as the expanses of Kenya.

“I love landscapes, especially Texas landscapes,” Pharaon said. “I’m a Texas native and our open spaces are part of my soul. My job as a photographer is to capture images that inspire that feeling in other people.”

In addition to still photography, Pharaon mastered videography, both traditional and aerial. He acquired his FAA license to fly drones in 2018.

James Pharaon Creative photo of West Texas landscape

“I fly my drones low and slow, which allows me to shoot cinematically and show the ranch from a completely different vantage point,” said Pharaon, noting he can also take still photos from the air.

“I always wonder what kind of westerns John Ford could’ve shot with this technology. I hear movie scores in my head as I fly my drone and envision the finished video,” he said laughing.

While neither ranches nor photographers are identical, the basics of a successful photo shoot remain constant.

“While there is no magic formula for a successful photo shoot or stellar pictures, there are a lot of seemingly small details that can help ensure that the photographer and the client both get what they want and need,” Pharaon said.

Selecting a Photographer

Selecting a ranch photographer is just like selecting a wedding photographer. It’s not a decision to be made lightly.

“Do your due diligence,” Pharaon said.

The professional’s website is the starting place.

“If you like what you see, then ask to see a sample gallery of a ranch to get a true feel for the breadth, depth and quality of the work,” Pharaon said. “A website is a collection of the greatest hits—and it’s easy enough to get one great shot of a property, but it takes a skill set to put together a gallery where every photo shows off a property to its best advantage.”

James Pharaon Creative photo of barndominium

While price is a consideration for most people, it should not be the primary factor in selecting a photographer, especially if the goal is to sell the ranch.

“Good photography is an investment that can pay big dividends—and like so many things in life, you get what you pay for,” Pharaon said. “I’d suggest letting quality trump price as long as the photographer can bring the project in within your budget.”

Communicating with a Photographer

Talking through the details of the shoot is the only way for a photographer to understand its size and scope—and give an accurate estimate.

“A photo shoot isn’t a cookie cutter process. Each one is individualized, so the cost depends on a lot of factors,” Pharaon said. “Generally, though, photographing larger properties is more expensive because it simply takes more time for shooting and editing and more computer space for long-term storage. With that said, a small acreage property with numerous buildings can be equally time and space intensive.”

To understand the full scope of the project, photographers need to know:

  1. the deadline for the completed project; 
  2. location, which will determine mileage charges, and acreage;
  3. an overview of special features such as scenic lookouts and water sources such as rivers, streams, ponds;
  4. the number of dwellings and outbuildings that need to be photographed, and whether those photographs will be exterior, interior or both;
  5. the type of photography desired, photos (traditional and/or aerial), video (aerial and/or traditional), the format (traditional or HDR, a composite of several photos that shows details that the naked eye can’t see) and the deliverables.

“People wrongly assume photographers can just ‘lift’ still photos from videos,” Pharaon said. “While it’s technologically possible, it’s not a good option from a quality standpoint, especially if the photos are going to be printed in a magazine. Every different format means more time for shooting and editing.”

Sometimes shoots evolve. Landowners change their minds. Photographers run into difficulties.

“A good photographer will keep you apprised of changes that affect the bottom line,” Pharaon said. “No one should be expecting a bill for $1,500 and receive one for $4,500.”

James Pharaon Creative photo of house at sunset

Planning the Shoot

To assist with a photographer’s planning, Pharaon suggested that landowners send a property map in advance or have one available when the photographer arrives at the ranch.

“In some cases, landowners mark certain areas and features they want photographed, which helps orient me,” Pharaon said. 

The ranch tour, whether it’s provided by the landowner, the ranch manager or the real estate broker, is crucial. 

“The tour is the equivalent of a production meeting,” Pharaon said. “Often times, I’ll take the map with me during a pre-shoot tour and record the GPS coordinators of views, facilities and other things that I want to photograph.”

Knowing he will be on his own during the shoot, Pharaon uses the tour and the map to create a strategy for the shoot whether it’s one day or many.

“As a photographer, I have to figure out where the best shots will be and what time of day I need to be there to capture them in their best light,” he said, noting that having access to an ATV is incredibly helpful. “Sometimes it’s a scramble to get it all done.”

While early morning and late afternoon light is coveted, not everything can be shot in the golden hours.

“For me, I love middle-of-the-day shots as well,” said Pharaon, noting he also schedules interiors for mid-day. “If a ranch looks good in photos shot in the middle of the day, the viewer can be assured that it’s gorgeous all of the time.”

Because people are drawn to sunshine and blue skies, Pharaon will reschedule if the weather is gloomy and gray.

“People don’t want to be outside on gloomy days, so they aren’t drawn to photos with gray skies and looming clouds,” Pharaon said.

James Pharaon Creative photo of interior of ranch home

Preparing for the Shoot

Photographers can make the most of their time and the available light, if a property has its “Sunday clothes” on when they arrive.

“Try to look at your ranch as an outsider would and remove all the obvious eyesores,” Pharaon said. “The effort that landowners and their team put in on the front end saves the photographer time and distraction on the back end.” 

He continued, “When a photographer is out on the ranch, you want him or her to be taking pictures instead of rolling up water hoses, picking up limbs or washing windows.”

To help their ranches look their best, landowners should consider:

  1. burning all the brush piles as far in advance as possible because in addition to being unsightly, they often interfere in sight lines and obscure good views;
  2. completing any shredding two–three weeks in advance, so the grass has a chance to grow back and fill in the bare spots that are visible in aerial photographs;
  3. mowing a path through the grass, which creates a park-like effect in photos;
  4. mowing around the perimeter, which makes it easy for the photographer to spot property boundaries from a drone;
  5. leaving any wildflower patches standing because people love flowers;
  6. removing any trash, debris or equipment from the front and sides of all buildings that will be photographed;
  7. trimming any dead limbs in trees near buildings that will be photographed;
  8. hiding any extraneous equipment behind the buildings;
  9. removing any non-operable equipment such as trucks, tractors or other large objects that detract from the landscape;
  10. purging and organizing any outbuilding interiors that will be photographed.

When it comes to homes, lodges and other dwellings, the details matter. Pharaon suggested that the owners work with their brokers to edit the contents, but not remove all touches of personality.

“People like to see how other people use a space,” Pharaon said. “It helps them envision how they might live there.”

James Pharaon Creative photo of interior of ranch home

It’s also important to clean the windows and walls, especially if the home will be shot in HDR.

“HDR picks up everything, including fingerprints,” Pharaon said.

And replace all the light bulbs. Photographers turn on every light in the house, including the lamps, to create a
warm, illuminated space.

“In a photo, a burned out bulb stands out like a missing tooth in a smile,” Pharaon said. “Take the time to make it right, so your interiors are shown to full advantage.”

Showing a ranch to its full advantage is the challenge that keeps good photographers’ eyes sharp and their creative juices flowing.

“I like the fact that each ranch has a unique story to tell—and my job is to tell that story,” Pharaon said. “Each shot is a word, and I’m looking for the most beautiful, compelling words to compose the story.” 

Q & A

TXLAND: From your perspective, what makes a good shot?

JP: I look for scenes and features that I find beautiful. If it looks distinctive and attractive, I’ll stop and shoot it. The camera sees things differently than a human eye. As a photographer, I understand how something is going to look through the viewfinder and ultimately as an image. It’s that knowledge and skill that makes a photographer a crucial ally in advertising and marketing a ranch.

Beauty is all around us. As a landowner, though, sometimes people are attracted to certain spots on their properties not because of beauty but because of memories. In those instances, I put on my advertising hat and ask myself, ‘How will other people see this? Is it captivating enough to make someone want to buy it and make their own memories here?’

TXLAND: What’s your best advice for landowners who want to photograph their property for their own enjoyment?

JP: Go to the places that mean the most to you—the places that hold special memories or showcase favorite views. Experiment with different lenses, different angles and different lighting conditions. Don’t worry about the technical side, just take the pictures. And most importantly relax because not every shot has to go in an art museum.

James Pharaon | James Pharaon Creative

Brenham, Texas | (713) 870-4563 | James@JamesPharaon.com



  • avatar
    Lorie A. Woodward

    Staff Writer

    Lorie A. Woodward has worked as a writer and public relations practitioner exploring the intersection of agriculture, natural resources and public policy throughout her career. Her professional journey, which has included stints in the public and private sector, has taken her across the country and around the world, where she has been enthralled by the people of the land and their stories. Before joining LAND magazines and LAND.com as a staff writer, she served as president of Woodward Communications and co-founded the Roundtop.com family of publications, focusing on life in the rolling hills of central Texas where country meets city. Woodward, the mother of two grown children, was reared on a ranch near Lexington, Texas, but now makes her home in Brenham, Texas.

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