Legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman once said,
"Architects live and die by the images taken of their work; as these images
alone are what people see. For every one person who visits a project, there
may be ten thousand who only view it as a photo."
Here's a test of that theory: Think of your favorite architectural subject of all
time (building, residence, bridge, etc.) Now, answer this: Are you thinking
of an "in-person" encounter with that project, or are you instead thinking of
a well-known photograph? In nearly every situation, it's a photograph that
represents our impression of an architectural subject.
Your task is to find photographers who can create memory-making
images of your projects at a price your firm can afford. From that starting
point let me suggest five ways to make your budget stretch as far as possible.
1. Choose Photographers with a Reputation for Doing Great Work.
"Oh yes," you say, "but won't they be the most expensive?" Maybe, and
maybe not. Consider the real cost of using a low-price photographer who
produces sub-par photographs for your firm. Have you ever had to explain to
a potential client that, "This building really looks a lot better than it does in
this photograph," or "You can't really see it in this photograph, but..." Why
do that? Rather, hire a photographer who produces photographs that surprise
even you at how well they portray your project.
Think of how great it would be to download files from your photographer
and have the whole office buzzing about how amazing the photographs look.
Also, when you find your firm getting significant social media attention
simply due to great photography, you'll soon see it as a worthwhile
marketing investment. Bottom line: If photographers don't produce great
photographs, don't hire them. Bad work is never a bargain.
2. Consider Photographers Who offer Shared Cost & Licensing
Simply put, this means that many photographers offer discounted fees when
multiple parties choose to license the photographs from a particular project
for their firm's marketing efforts. For instance, maybe you're an architectural
firm and you mention to the contractor, engineering firm, interior designer,
landscape designer, building owner, architectural product manufacturer, etc.
that you intend to have a new project photographed. The question you ask is,
"Would you be interested in sharing the cost and license for photography of
In many situations, the photographer will take it upon themselves to contact
the various parties involved in a project to offer cost and license sharing
discounts. The bottom line is that with most photographers it's possible for
each party to save up to 60% over having the project shot and paid for
individually. In other words, rather than paying $2000 for photographs of
one of your projects, you could be paying $825 if you share cost and license with the other firms involved. Same photographs, just a much smaller
investment on your part.
3. Always Have a Shot List in Mind When Requesting a Photography
Preparing a photography quotation is much the same as preparing an
architectural proposal: It's essential to know the client's expectations, needs,
vision and budget considerations. Consider making a list of the essential
shots for the project, a "wish list" of possible shots, and an explanation of
your own vision of how you'd like to see the project interpreted visually.
I recommend a walk-through of the project with the photographer if at all
possible. This gives you the opportunity to explain to the photographer the
most important points of the design and construction you'd like to have
captured, as well as giving the photographer the chance to consider how they
might best interpret the space. A floor plan with suggested camera positions
and notations could also take the place of a walk-through.
Basically you're asking the photographer to see the project through your
eyes, and they in turn are asking you to trust their artistic vision as they
interpret your expectations. Notice that I use the word "trust" in this
explanation. Often the best architectural photographs are made when the
client leaves the photographer to their own creative devices. In other words, sometimes it's best to simply walk away and let the photographer do what
they do best.
4. Choose a Photographer Who Specializes in Architectural
Yes, it does make a difference whether or not a photographer specializes in
architectural photography. In fact, a huge difference. Architectural
photography is arguably one of the most technically difficult of all photographic specialties. A good photographer has a grasp of the various
types, colors and qualities of light in a given scene, and how best to deal
with each of them. They also understand the way their camera will
reproduce the scene versus how your eye perceives the scene. An experienced architectural photographer may employ any number of
techniques to balance light and shadow, subdue reflections, maintain color
fidelity and enhance shadow detail. Architectural photographers also employ
special camera lenses designed to allow them to correct architectural
perspective distortions. Straight and parallel vertical lines along with
believable perspectives are the hallmarks of a skilled architectural
That being said, the equipment a photographer uses is probably the least
important consideration when choosing a competent and talented architectural photographer. In fact, if a photographer boasts to you about
their equipment either in person or on their website, consider it a red flag.
Talent always matters more than tools.
5. Make Site Preparation a High Priority.
Proper preparation of your project for photography may be one of the
biggest factors in enabling your photographer to create great photographs.
Site preparation involves security clearances, owner consent, on-site contact
information, cleaning coordination, maintenance coordination, interior
design elements, parking coordination, landscape and watering coordination,
weather contingencies, etc.
One of the most difficult aspects of site preparation for a photographer is
operating the ever more complex lighting systems installed in new buildings.
A dusk shot of a commercial building with motion-sensing lighting may
require a having small army of individuals on hand to continuously activate
the lighting. Photocells and timers for outdoor lighting are also a challenge.
Having a knowledgeable building manager on hand who knows and is familiar
with the various building systems is a godsend.
Finally, always expect great photography--always!
© 2019 Alan Blakely Photography, All Rights Reserved.
Alan Blakely is an award-winning architectural photographer who shoots for
many of America's top architectural firms, builders, designers, developers,
magazines and manufacturers. He is also the founder and current director of
The Association of Independent Architectural Photographers™, Real Estate Photographers of America & International™ and Aerial Drone Photographers of America™.