You pour your heart and soul into a favorite project. Everything comes together: strong vision, great client, effective project team, and a beautifully executed final product. You walk the finished project confident it will open the door to bigger and better work. But nothing happens. Months or years later, you are left scratching your head as to why this showpiece didn’t lead to more business.
The answer may lie in your photos of it. If the photos failed to illustrate your vision of the project and tell a compelling story, a breakdown occurred somewhere along the line. That breakdown usually happens because of one simple thing:
More than likely, your photographer had a listening problem.
Your architectural photographer’s ears may be more important than his eyes.
If your photographer believes only in the images themselves, s/he is doing you a disservice. Capturing the vision of a project is never just about a digital image of it, but rather bringing to life how you want your work to make others think and feel as they experience the environment you created. The images of your work must convey the effort, energy and commitment you had to making your client’s dream come true.
Success starts before the photo shoot begins.
I believe creating strong architectural images is not a matter of “snapping” photos. It’s a process that begins before the photo shoot and continues through to the delivery of the final images.
Perhaps the most important part of the process, the one that gets the best results in the end, are the conversations that take place prior to the photo shoot.
What matters is the ability of the photographer to both ask powerful questions and listen carefully to your answers. You will know if this is happening because you’ll be sharing your vision of the project and the features you think are most important. By asking the right questions and really listening, the photographer will get you to share what inspired you from the beginning. If done well, this conversation should make you feel as excited as you were the day you started work on it.
Your photographer needs to dive deep.
Your photographer needs to know how the germ of an idea was transferred from a napkin (or its digital equivalent) to eventually come to life. Everything counts. Something as small as a unique railing or a sconce may reveal important connections to your vision and the environment you sought to create.
Other details, like how the sun hits the project at different times of day or in different weather, matter, too. Light is a critical element in photography, and your photographer should not only be interested in it; s/he should be willing to work at whatever time of day captures the light that showcases your project best.
Further, the photographer needs to listen to the story of your project. S/he should ask what problems and obstacles you had to overcome, ranging from environmental, structural, budget, and even political issues. These demonstrate your firm’s expertise in ways that will ultimately win you more business, but only if they’re captured in the pictures you show in your portfolio.
Your photographer must be accountable and proactive.
By the time a project is ready to photograph, you may have already moved onto the next project, mentally disengaging from the project photography or delegating it to marketing or other staff. Even if you have moved on, the photographer needs to be accountable for finding you and having these critical conversations before the shoot. Why? Because if s/he does not know what you want or hope to see, you’re likely just to get some basic images that do very little to bring the project to life. For example, after several attempts to reach a PM, I finally reached him when I was in my car on the way to shoot the project. Our conversation resulted in changing the entire approach to the photo shoot, resulting in critically useful images that would have otherwise been missed.
Your photographer should also speak with your client.
Your photographer should not only care about listening to you; s/he should care about listening to your client. Clients often reveal elements about the design that have meaning to them, and speak about them very differently than you do. The photographer will want to know what your client enjoys the most about the finished project and why it works for them. The photographer will ask him/her questions like: What problems does this new design overcome? How has the project changed the way you work or live? A landscape design client once told me the best thing about their new outdoor space was that it helped them become a more connected family. His comment changed the entire focus of the photography.
It’s important to listen to all those who benefit from your work.
Creating remarkable project photography also involves listening to the various people who are either paying for or will benefit from the finished images. It’s the photographer’s job—not yours— to listen to and balance the needs, wants, and solve the problems presented by each group of stakeholders. Even within a single architecture firm, the marketing department and the architect may have different needs. Consider: marketing creatives focus on images they can use to sell the firm’s capability in various media, while the project architect needs images to document various features of the project and show how they overcome problems.
Expect more from your photographer.
The next time you hire a project photographer, remember: anyone can buy a good camera and click a shutter. If you truly want your projects to reflect your vision, your creativity, your passion and your ability to create client-pleasing results, your photographer needs to listen and learn before ever stepping onsite to shoot a single frame. Working with a professional architectural, landscape or design photographer can be one of your most satisfying business partnerships, as it helps you bring your finished work to life so you can win more business.