Even though the weather looks pretty bleak in large parts of the USA, we know what's coming; Spring! Many landscape firms work throughout the winter constructing hardscapes. Most firms are already racing the clock to get new project designs completed, materials ordered, and production schedules in place. Once the weather breaks and the ground thaws out enough (depending on what part of the country you're in), you'll be getting your hands dirty. You won't be thinking too much about project photography.
But, think back to 4th Quarter last year and 1st Quarter this year when you were exhibiting at home shows and putting together marketing material. You may have been kicking yourself that you missed out on getting new project photos of your best projects. NOW IS THE TIME TO PUT TOGETHER YOUR PLAN TO GET REMARKABLE PHOTOS OF YOUR PROJECTS!
Here are some things to be thinking about.
Wait until around the third year after a project has been completed to get the best photos. Even though you may be excited about the grand project you'll be installing this year or a showcase project from last year, it takes a minimum of three years for plants and trees to establish themselves. There's nothing worse than project photos featuring lots of mulch with baby plants distributed around beds.
Integrate project prep into your crew's schedules. Of course, your crews are going to be overworked and stressed during the season. But, plan ahead or leave contingencies in your schedules so you can get crews over to fine tune projects before they are photographed. In that way, you'll avoid the frustration of looking at great photos that include inappropriate content like dead plants or elements that should have been repaired.
June is the best month to shoot photos. Many perennials bloom during June and annuals will have already gotten a good start. This varies from region to region. It's a guide, not a rule, Fruit trees often bloom much earlier and for many of us, Fall colors present an almost equal opportunity to create some excellent photos. Nevertheless, June is a good bench mark. And, of course, your production schedule will be at a peak representing another level of complication to getting project photography done.
Get your client onboard early. Get your client excited about having their project professionally photographed. They'll be proud to see their project published locally, regionally, or nationally. Better yet, encourage them to be part of the photo shoot. Having your clients appear in photos adds authenticity connecting the project to real people!
Hire a professional stager to add important details. During pre-shoot walk throughs, I've often heard landscape design clients complain about how their clients had accessorized the projects or included poorly chosen furniture. A stager can see all of those details. From the big things like bringing in new furniture to the small things like a basket of flowers or votive candles, these details often make or break the photo shoot. Perhaps you can take care of those details yourself. However, given all of the other variables you'll have to deal with, a stager is well worth the incremental investment.
Qualities of a Remarkable Landscape Photographer
Just as all landscape designers and architects are not the same, photography isn't just a matter of photos. Project photography is not interchangeable. Here's a list of what to look and expect in a photographer.
- The photographer should encourage a pre-shoot walk through with the project principal and marketing staff prior to the photo shoot day. I request project drawings and any pre-shots from my clients. If the architect or designer wants to mark up drawings with shot locations, that's great.
- I use an app to tell me where the sun will be for any given location on any given day at any given hour. It also takes into account obstructions like buildings and large trees that can impact how the project is illuminated. This helps us determine the best times of day to shoot at the best angles. Without this kind of planning, it can be disheartening to show up for a photo shoot only to find the most important elements shrouded in deep shade.
- Depending on the scope of a project, the photographer should not limit his or her engagement to morning or evening. Most landscape projects present themselves attractively at both ends of the day. I generally shoot at both times and this is included in the quote at no additional charge.
- The photographer should manage the photo shoot and not be a shutter clicker. This means directing the photo shoot and communicating with all of the participants. The photographer should look and act like a professional in every way. This takes a lot of pressure off of you.
- Flexibility is important. If a planned photo isn't going to work out, the photographer should cut bait and move on. Conversely, the photographer should always be on the look out for shots not previously identified. Some of the best project photos have been created this way.
- During the photo shoot, you will be able to preview shots with an iPad app wirelessly connected to the camera. This allows you to make on the spot changes and approve the shots as they are taken. No peering through the camera's LCD screen!
- The photographer should possess high level equipment including a professional level DSLR, architectural lenses to eliminate the keystone effect and distortion, a color meter to pin point white balance, LED lights to augment natural lighting, a mast to simulate some of the effects of a drone, and a heavy duty clamp system to attach the camera to railings for overhead shooting. Furthermore, the photographer should always be prepared with back ups. I once heard about a supposedly "big time" New York photographer who traveled to a small town for a shoot and forgot his camera's battery charger. This was in the day when those items were much more proprietary and harder to get quickly. Oops!
- The photographer should be flexible with weather conditions. I make it a point to watch the weather closely. If the weather conditions deteriorate on us, I won't hesitate to reschedule. On occasion, I've had to cancel photo shoots while on location. It always works out better and I don't charge for it.
- Ideally, every photo would be publishing quality ready right off the camera. Any photographer who claims his photos require no editing either is sloppy or is not a skilled editor. Besides some of the technical issues involving color, contrast, and sharpness, small details often need to be addressed. I've spent considerable time removing the stains from concrete decks and filling in bare patches of grass.
- Most importantly, a remarkable photographer should be fully engaged about the story you're trying to tell and should do his or her best to deliver a strong visual narrative of your project.