As an architect or designer, you've spent months on your latest project, battling with clients, planners and builders to get a result that you're proud to put to your name to. And now you may only have one chance to capture brilliant photos that will show your hard work to the world.
Here's my top ten tips on how to find an architectural photographer and have a really successful shoot:
1. Choosing an architectural photographer
There’s thousands of photographers offering their services to shoot architecture and interiors in London alone. They range from the quick-and-cheap who will shoot a whole house in an hour or two, to high-end artists who will painstakingly compose every image and may come with a small team of stylists, assistants, and retouchers. In the middle – which is where I would classify myself – are photographers who take the time to get images that look great, but generally work alone and reasonably quickly. That means a half or whole day to shoot a typical project.
To find an architectural photographer, ask colleagues in your industry for recommendations, scroll through portfolios online to find those with a style you like, and look for photo credits when you see images that impress you on a design blog or in a magazine. If you really want your work to feature on a certain platform, then the photographers you see appearing there are likely to have useful contacts and to know the right style. A site like Houzz is a good place to find photographers who are used to working with smaller architectural firms and designers.
2. Getting the price right
When you contact a photographer, the key things they will need to know to provide a cost estimate include: how big is the property you want to shoot? How many photos are you hoping to get out of the shoot? And do you want to shoot in different kinds of light (e.g. full sunshine, at dusk)?
Questions you should ask include: will I get to make a selection from all the photos taken on the day? What retouching of the photos do you offer and is it included in the price? What usage rights will I get for the images?
A photographer who does more than just rock up and take one shot of each room will cost you at least several hundred pounds, and possibly into four figures. But bear in mind this includes the time they’ll put in with you to prepare for the shoot, and the time afterwards to make the images look perfect. If you divide the cost by the number of useful images you get out of it and their importance to your marketing, it should start to seem like very good value.
Usage rights can be a daunting topic, but don’t let this put you off. By default, the copyright in the images belongs to the photographer. Make sure your quote for the job includes the rights to use the images for all your foreseeable needs (e.g. on your website, to distribute to press or magazines for publication, and for awards submissions). This is what my standard license agreement includes, with no time limit on the license. I want you to use the images in every way that is useful to you. If someone else wants to use the images to promote their business, rather than yours, then they need to agree their own license with me. For example, if the contractor you used on a project sees the photos and decides they would like to use them on their own website, they would need to come to me for the images. If it’s agreed before the shoot, costs can be split between multiple clients.
3. Give thought to scheduling the shoot
Once you’ve found a photographer and you are happy with their quote, you’ll want to schedule the shoot. On residential projects, this often means finding a time that suits your client if they've occupied their home, or agreeing access with the businesses that have occupied commercial premises. This makes life a little more awkward, but a building that looks inhabited and alive will look much more appealing than an empty one.
Provide your photographer with a precise location, site plans, and any smartphone snaps you’ve taken of the project. Then work with them to establish what time of day it will look its best, whether a certain direction of sunshine is important for particular shots, and whether you want to be there at dawn or dusk (which is a great time to shoot a glassy rear extension!). This will also be influenced by the story you want to tell about your project, which is covered in the next tip.
4. Be clear about the story you want to tell
To get photos you are really happy with, and that tell a clear and engaging story to your future clients, make sure you give the photographer your ‘elevator pitch’ for the project. Then you can work together to take photos that will illustrate this story. Pick out a few key descriptive words: ‘cosy’ might mean a quite different approach to a shoot than ‘contemporary’, for example.
If you’re most proud of the new kitchen extension, consider if you really need any photos of the new downstairs toilet. If you had to solve a particular planning issue, make sure you capture some photos of that detail. If there’s special materials to show off, mention it early on to the photographer. And if you have photos from before or during the works, share them with your photographer as they may be able to take a photo that really emphasizes the changes you have made.
5. Remember to keep your client happy
A great set of photographs is going to help you catch the attention of new clients. But don’t forget that word-of-mouth is probably your best source of new work, so involve your current client in the photographic process to ensure you keep them on board as a happy customer! Check if there’s any rooms they don’t want you to photograph, or personal items like family photos that they want hidden from view. If it won’t be taken the wrong way, you could offer to get in a professional cleaner the morning of the shoot so that they don’t have to stress about the state of their house.
In some cases, it can work really well to include people in the photographs. They can illustrate features of your design, give a sense of scale, and make for warmer and more engaging images. So if you have a good relationship with the client, and they are proud of their new house, see if they’re happy to feature in some of the photographs. I’m always happy for my clients to share a set of the final photographs with their customers.
6. A little styling goes a long way
The images you see in interior design magazines have been painstakingly put together by a professional stylist: someone who is expert in picking the right furniture, accessories, and flowers to make an enticing scene. If you’re an interior designer looking to photograph a finished project, then you’ve already put in a lot of this hard work. Think about the little touches to make your rooms look amazing for a shoot: fresh fruit, flowers, the right wooden spoon to accentuate a kitchen worktop. In the final photos, these things should all look like they were always meant to be there, but it needs a bit of prior planning!
If you were the architect on a project, then you are more likely to be interested in showing off the structure of a building, but this can be complemented by the right furnishing and props. How much effort you put into styling will depend on the time available, the look you want, and your relationship with the client. If they have excellent taste in furniture and accessories then you may not need to do anything. Discuss styling with your photographer and make sure that someone is assigned to bring the right props on the day of the shoot.
7. Don’t worry too much about the weather
While sunshine can be a great help for photos, it’s not always necessary, and shooting in overcast conditions can actually help in some cases, especially for interiors. In London and south-east England, we’re ‘blessed’ with relatively rain-free weather. It’s drier here than Rome, in fact. So it’s rare that a shoot day is completely ruined by the weather, and the sort of set-in-for-the-day rain and gloom that could do this is usually visible in the forecast with a few days warning. I try to offer as much flexibility as I can when it comes to the weather, and always stay in contact with a client in the days leading up to a shoot to make a joint call on whether we go ahead.
8. During the shoot, a few extra hands make light work
Hopefully you and your photographer will turn up on the day of shoot with a clear idea of the shots you want to get, any props you need in hand, and the weather doing exactly what you want it to! An extra pair of hands or two is always a great help – moving sofas, tidying away the children’s toys from the lawn, and rearranging bookshelves. So grab a friendly assistant from your office and get them involved.
Some of the shots you had in mind may just not work in practice, but equally you and your photographer will spot new opportunities. Don’t be shy of making suggestions all the time to the photographer – they should be open-minded enough to find them useful. Ask to see images on the back of the camera when you stop for a break. I use a device that sends images to an iPad throughout the shoot, allowing clients to keep a constant check on what is happening. This can also be really useful for showing a home-owner how the shoot is going and keeping them engaged.
9. Stay involved through the post-production process
I usually tell clients to expect 8-10 final photos from a half-day of shooting and 16-20 from a full day. That may not sound like a lot, but every photo needs a bit of thought and fiddling to get right, both before it is taken, and afterwards. I typically spend at least as long on the post-production of the images as I do taking them. And telling a clear narrative about your project with just the right number photos is better than a disorderly bunch of images that don’t really engage the viewer.
After a shoot, I’ll go through all the photos taken and export small versions of all the decent images. These go to the client to make their selection. I ask the client for notes on anything they need removed from an image, such as a stray wire in a not-quite-finished kitchen or a trampoline in the garden that couldn’t be hidden from view. I’ll do the work in Photoshop to perfect the selection, and the client will sign off the images when they are happy. With the back-and-forth, this process typically takes a few days. So if you need photos turned around in a particular hurry to hit a deadline, make sure you tell your photographer from the outset.
10. Your photographer can help kick-start your marketing
I’m certainly no marketing expert, but there’s a few ways that your photographer can help make your images reach the people you want to reach. As mentioned earlier, some photographers will have strong relationships with certain websites, magazines, or journalists, and should be as keen as you are for their work to be featured widely, so see if they’ll help you get published in these places.
Tell your photographer from the outset how you hope to use the images. If Pinterest is important to you, then portrait-aspect images work especially well. If you like to Instagram your images in the traditional square format, that will benefit from a bit of thought when the photos are composed. Having the right keywords embedded in an image will help them show up in searches – though you can add these afterwards if you forget to ask your photographer.
And last but not least, keep your photographer happy by crediting them and linking to their website whenever you publish the photos! They’ll repay the favour by showcasing images on their website and social media channels with your name attached – a bit more free marketing.
Good luck finding an architectural photographer and please get in touch if you have any questions.