Architectural Photoshoot - Blueprint

Architectural Photoshoot Blueprint

An architectural photoshoot is not simple, every shoot has to be planned from the outset to delivering images. Because architecture is immovable and the sun is usually the main light source, shoot planing is critical for great results. This article explains shoot planing and how I work with clients to deliver the best possible imagery. I also examine the most noteworthy elements in my terms and conditions which protect clients interests.

Photoshoot Planing

The sun rises and sets in a different position and  it’s elevation in the sky also changes daily. Therefore the light falling on architecture varies throughout the year. Most photoshoots have commercially driven deadlines hence it’s not always possible to shoot with the sun lighting the subject from the best possible angle. Seasonal factors also influence shoot planing, such as the flora surrounding architecture or even the chance of shooting with snow. Solar prediction and weather forecast monitoring ensure I get to location at the best possible time. While north facing facades in the northern hemisphere spend 9 months of the year in permanent in shadow, they are a special challenge.

Solutions are available to overcome most of these challenges but it remains the client’s best interest to plan as much time as possible for an architectural photoshoot. If it rains every available day, the resulting images may suffer. The best option for shooting when there is no sunlight illuminating a facade, is to use street and building lighting. The more information a client provides, the more successful the shoot planing. Solar predictions use online maps which often exclude newly constructed architecture. A building plan with north arrow is used in these cases to understand when the sun will best illuminate the architecture.

Shooting Interiors

Architecture may be considered the arrangement of space and penetration of light and photography the arrangement of elements and use of light. Knowing the size and position of windows can help minimise disruption to building occupants during a photoshoot. Bright sunlight shining through windows can produce intense contrast between dark and light areas. Shooting in these conditions is good for capturing the penetration of light but consequently hiding the texture of building materials.  Thus it can be desirable to shoot interiors and exteriors under different lighting/weather conditions. Obviously when shooting a windowless interior, the sun’s position and the weather become irrelevant.

Sunshine and showers is great weather to shoot exteriors in the sun and interiors when contrast is reduced during showers. This though is the typical British April weather which seldom occurs. Consequently, shooting interiors around dawn and dusk increases the chance of shooting in good light. This can however especially in summer prove unpopular with building occupants.

Awards Photography

There are many architectural awards throughout the year, most of which require an architectural photoshoot. It’s important to mention in the briefing the award in which the photographs are to be entered. Each award has a different set of requirements affecting technical requirements for the images and potentially the image licence requirements. Some awards have very specific image requirements, others simply demand “fantastic photography“.

Technique, Equipment and Specialist Knowledge

Architectural photographers may not be most numerous in photographers directories. We are however specialist in our knowledge of architecture and the techniques and equipment to best photograph it. An understanding of perspective and how the human eye perceives it in architecture is especially important. Technique manipulates how our cameras see architecture and produces images that appear natural and are pleasing to the eye. To produce the best images, specialist large format cameras with optical movements are often used.

Client Involvement

The more clients understand the processes and are willing to participate and accommodate them in their processes, the better the results will be for them. Time is the one commodity both photographers and clients have to wrestle with.

A new hotel needs both website and brochure immediately on completion of construction. Consequently it’s impossible to produce a four seasons shoot for the first editions of brochure and website. The hotel owner’s best option for great marketing material is therefore to accommodate multiple photography sessions throughout the year. There may be fruit trees in the hotel grounds that blossom in early spring, sunlight on the north facade during summer, autumn colours and snow in the grounds during winter. As the seasons change so will the penetration of light into the building as may interior decoration. In conclusion, a client who accommodates whole year’s photography will have the best possible marketing materials.

Commercial urgency to publish can be satisfied by printing brochures in small batches, replacing images as better ones become available. Not all architectural photography clients will have the budget and need for four seasons photography. It’s therefore important a client communicates their requirements, brief builder gives clients opportunity to express requirements in their own words.

Health and Safety

Health and safety regulations have changed over recent years. Clients routinely require risk assessments and high amounts of public liability insurance from anyone operating on their premises. Risk assessments are sent to clients in advance of all shoots on their premises covering specific risks for the shoot. I have two million pounds public liability insurance and can increase this if required. I send every client a copy of my current insurance certificate.

Terms and Conditions

The terms and conditions I use are specific to commercial photography and whilst they contain clauses which protect both my interests and clients interests. Clients receive an exclusive licence which prevents me from selling images I’ve been paid to produce to third parties during the licence period. If a client wishes to split the costs of photography, e.g. between an architect, contractor, engineer and building owner, an addendum will be made to issue multiple licences. The terms and conditions go onto cover confidential information, the Data Protection Act and returning keys and swipe cards amongst other things.

Post Processing and Delivery Times

Almost all commercial photography is processed after shooting on site. An architectural photography shoot is no different, areas of shadow will need brightening and highlights toning down. While portrait photographers retouch skim blemishes on their models, architectural photographers remove mortar smears and discarded crisp packets from exterior shots. Whilst every effort is taken when shooting to minimise post production, it’s almost impossible to eliminate it. Due to the weather patterns we typically experience in the UK, it’s often necessary to do several shoots during a high pressure weather window. Consequently a queue of post processing work can develop.

Typical turnaround times on images are up to two weeks from shooting. Clients requiring a quicker turnaround need to communicate their deadlines.

Site Preparation

A clean and tidy building will look much better in photographs than a dirty and messy one. I’m pragmatic and will move piles of magazines from coffee tables and reposition furniture but I don’t believe it’s in my client’s interest to pay me to clean their buildings. As they say even the best laid plans can go awry, here are some anecdotes of what I’ve experienced on architectural photoshoots.

  • On an architectural photoshoot in a new commercial building just handed over to it’s owner. It had rained heavily the day before the shoot causing earth from a flower bed in front of the building to smear the facade. Without a yard brush the only option was to remove mud smears in post production.
  • On a shoot inside a new commercial building with multiple tenants, a removal van arrived unexpectedly. The removal men then proceeded to install protection in corridors and staircases making it impossible to shoot in those areas.
  • Shooting in a nearly completed building for a contractor, part of the building had no electricity making it impossible to switch on the lights and create the internal environment the occupier would later experience.
  • The requirements for a quite unusual shoot was to photograph the surrounding buildings form various points around a construction site. On arrival I found the view from each shooting position obstructed by temporary works.

Site Checklist for Clients

  • Ensure construction works are complete, or at least make sure part of the building is ready.
  • Clean and tidy the building as much as possible. and ensure cleaning equipment and a janitor are on site.
  • Keep a small stock of replacement light bulbs on site in case one fails.
  • Inform me in advance of any work taking place on the premises that may affect an architectural photoshoot.
  • Make sure my contact person knows where any lighting sensors are located. I can then cover them with black insulation tape to switch the lighting on if necessary.