Just as all architects are not the same, photography isn't just a matter of photos. Project photography is not interchangeable.
If it was just a matter of technology, "snapping a photo" with today's generation of smartphones would probably serve most architects well. The quality of photos produced by smartphones is astonishing. For that reason, many companies who formerly used only professional photographers now rely on others to multi task and take pictures. Newspapers routinely count on their reporters to both write and illustrate their stories. Likewise, many architecture firms now ask their project managers and others to take project photos on the fly. It's often "good enough."
On the other hand, what you get back from staff sent out to take pictures is another thing. Comments I've heard about photos taken by staff:
"Sure, I get 180 photos back but 178 of them are crap and it takes a lot of time to go through them."
"I'll get 10 photos of some little area that's probably information needed for a punch list and nothing showing the scope of the project."
"Why didn't they bother to straighten out the furniture and move all of the food containers out of the picture?"
"They shot the building on a rainy day. The whole project looks gloomy and depressing."
I often say that I make photos, I don't just take them. Quality photography is a process that begins well before the photo shoot and continues through to the final editing process. Moreover, creating a visual narrative about what the project represents, the problems and questions the design meant to solve, requires thought and study. As an architect or designer, your hopes and expectations should be that the project photography properly represents the vision you had when you created your first sketch.
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 both inside and out. 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. Many 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 electrical receptacles 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.