Your firm has spent years on a project, seeing it through from the pre-design phase to the ribbon-cutting ceremony and every step in between. What better way to document it than some amazing photographs of the final product? Not every photo is created equal, however; there is a lot more to documenting a project than simply pointing a camera at it and snapping a picture. In order to truly capture your hard work, there are a few best practices to follow when it comes to hiring a jobsite photographer (or even doing it yourself!).
Before You Start
In the past, photographs that showed off a building or space tended to be completely devoid of people, except one or two to show scale; the focus was entirely on the physical design. However, the trend today, and what editors are looking for, are photographs that tell a story: why certain design decisions were made and how the community is embracing the building or space, rather than an impersonal focus on the architecture. It’s also important to think about how you will be using the photos of your project. Do you want them purely for documentary purposes, or do you plan on sharing them with publications? Does your design team intend to use them to create signage or advertisements? They might request a shot of the building with a lot of sky in the background to create space for placing copy. Does your marketing team want to include photos in press releases and share them on social media? They have a good feel for what your audience is looking for in an image. To arrange for photographs that both tell a story and are useful for various parties’ purposes, be sure to consult the designers, engineers, marketing/PR personnel, clients, owners and any other individual who might have played a role in the project.
Setting up for Success
If you are hiring a photographer, don’t just look at their portfolio for the glamour shots. Talk to them, get to know their style and approach to a job, determine their experience with your particular project type, and decide whether or not their cost and personality make them an acceptable partner. The same goes for if you do the photography in-house; make sure the person behind the camera has some experience with photographing architecture with something more than their smartphone. If you opt for a contract with a professional photographer, there are some simple—but important—legal issues to be aware of:
- Cost – a photographer should be able to provide you with an estimate if you give them a project scope (i.e., how many photos you’re looking for).
- Creative fees – some photoshoots are more complex than others and require a more skilled photographer to handle them.
- Copyright – the photographer’s exclusive right to reproduce, publicly display, adapt and distribute the work and authorize others to do the same.
- Licensing – granted by the copyright holder for use – work with them to come to agreed-upon terms for how you can use their photographs. Though you may have the license to use the photographs, you do not have the legal right to allow others do the same (unless they also have a license agreement with the photographer). A tip from a professional photographer: include the owner’s rights to the photographs at no cost to them as a courtesy.
- Post-production and retouching work – after the shoot, the photographer will edit the photos to clean up any unwanted elements (e.g., a water bottle accidentally included in a photo); this is usually done at an hourly rate.
- Additional costs – a professional photographer may request compensation for their assistants, transportation fees, per diem and lodging. Also, though it isn’t necessary and likely isn’t part of the contract, it’s a thoughtful gesture to thank your photographer with a gift card or other token of appreciation once their work is complete.
Your next step will be to provide some helpful information to the photographer about the site of the photoshoot. Provide them with the following items to set them up for a successful shoot:
- Location (address, plus any relevant descriptors – urban vs. rural, shaded area vs. wide-open space, etc.)
- A site plan with a true north arrow
- Floor plans
- Suggested angles
- The important stories from the people you consulted earlier (e.g., “The engineers are proud of their greywater treatment system that integrates with a green roof, the first of its kind in the region,” or “The marketing team wants to submit a photo to a publication with lots of empty space on either side of the building, so they can include a text box with facts on top of the image.”)
- Your own digital shots with any notes you feel will be helpful to them
- A list of requested shots
- Props, if needed – office supplies, uniforms, artwork and other decorative pieces give personality to a shot, humanizing it for your audience.
Prior to the actual photoshoot, your photographer should take the above materials and do a scouting trip to see the site. This will allow them to see obstacles beforehand (“the air vents on the side of the building are unattractive; let’s try to leave them out of shots”), determine where the lighting is best, figure out whether or not any extra equipment such as ladders are needed, and talk with security, if necessary, to obtain access to any closed areas. Plus, any test photos they take that day can be used for immediate marketing needs. After the photographer has finished their scouting trip, create a checklist with them for the day they will be doing the official photography shoot. Include:
- A schedule (e.g., the official end date of construction, the ribbon-cutting ceremony, when the work crews leave the site, etc.)
- A deadline for deliverables
- The format you need the photographs in (consult with your marketing, design or PR team if you are unsure)
- Any coordination details with the owner/client
- Notes on parking and security arrangements
- Prop needs
- Any obstacles to watch out for
The Big Day
It may be tempting to schedule the photoshoot as soon as the project is complete; you’ve spent perhaps months on it and are understandably eager to share it with the world. However, don’t ignore quality in favor of instant gratification – the best shots are in good weather (so if you finish a project in dreary November, it is worth waiting until spring to shoot), with landscaping established and elements of a “lived-in” quality. The current trend in architectural photograph is for how the space is used, rather than stark, empty buildings, so you want to wait until signs and furniture are installed before taking pictures. On the day of the shoot, keep the following in mind:
- Watch the weather – be sure to have a backup day scheduled in case it’s pouring down rain.
- Lighting makes all the difference – in the middle of the day, when the sun is shining down overhead, you will capture the solid mass of the building in your photograph. This is perfect for highlighting the exterior of your work. On the other hand, shooting your photos at dusk will provide exterior shots that showcase the lit-up interior.
- If people are included in the photographs (which is definitely encouraged), be sure that you don’t get too many backs to the camera. Try to get people utilizing the space and moving dynamically, rather than posing.
- If you plan on sharing the photographs in international publications, be mindful of customs or potentially offensive body language. For example, flashing an “OK” sign with your hand in the U.S. indicates satisfaction, but it’s seen as a rude gesture in Brazil.
After the photographer has done the initial cleaning up of their shots, they will send you the proofs, generally in a digital gallery online or in a PDF. Go through each photo and let the photographer know what you like and don’t like about each one, or what needs to be edited. Don’t feel as though you need to “sterilize” the image by removing things like light switches and outlets, but do point out anything that you feel is distracting. Once you return your comments, the photographer will make the requested edits and send a new gallery. Be sure you are 100 percent happy with the results before you sign off on them! The final step in the process is obtaining high- and low-res files of every photograph, which will allow you to use them in a multitude of different ways, such as a high-res TIFF file for publication and a low-res JPG for social media use.
Going it Alone?
Most of the information above applies to amateur photographers as well, but there are a few key things to remember if you decide to take your own photos:
- Tell a Story: Talk to people who were involved in all aspects of the project in order to determine what you need to photograph in order to highlight what is important to them
- Determine Use: Talk to your colleagues who handle social media, marketing, etc. to see what kinds of images they need
- Scout Things Out: Visit the jobsite before you take photos to see what obstacles you may need to avoid, determine good angles and lighting, and talk to security or the owner about your plans
- Make a List: You don’t want to forget all those important, story-telling shots, so create a list of photos you need to be sure to take
- Plan Ahead: Keep an eye on the forecast and be aware of how the site will be in use the day you go to photograph it
- Humanize It: The most appealing photographs to editors are ones that include the space being used by people at work or on the move, rather than posing artificially
The next time you finish a project and want to document it, don’t just whip out your smartphone – consider using a photographer to capture the scene instead. Armed with the above knowledge, your jobsite photographs will be the envy of your competition. Still unsure if this is the right thing for your company? AOE gets the big picture – reach out to us today.