Getting the Best out of an Architectural Photoshoot – Enquiry to Completion

As an architectural photographer I get a variety of enquires ranging from detailed to vague. In this post I provide anecdotes and advice how to make the process from enquiry to shoot and using the images afterwards as painless and productive as possible.

When someone engages me, I want to help them achieve their goals, whether that be to create outstanding marketing material, attract customers to their premises, win an architectural award or convince their prospects they are the right partner to work with. The more I know about my enquirers goals the more able I am to help realise them. I have a checklist with which I’m loathe to bombard prospects as it may not only look tedious and tempt them to enquire elsewhere, it’s much easier to have either a face-to-face, telephone or video conference.

Some enquirers will be commissioning photography for the first time or have previously commissioned less exacting photographers and may need a little guidance through the process. Some prospects won’t have considered what an architectural photographer can offer beyond going to site with a camera and delivering a set of high quality photographs on a CD. I prefer to take leadership and remove my prospects “pain” by guiding them through the process from start to finish.

Purpose and Timeframe

As daft or impertinent as it may sound, what are the images wanted for? If it’s a press release to announce a newly completed a project or opened a facility, urgency is likely to be paramount, waiting for the best light or the last bit of hoarding to be dismantled may not be an option. Conversely, if a large print is required to take pride of place on a wall, quality is likely to have precedence over urgency (depending on size and framing/mounting requirements manufacturing costs could run into hundreds or even thousands of pounds). If a large number of shots of one project are required to quickly populate a website, the whole process on site may be entirely different to shooting a handful of images from several projects to fill a brochure.

Story Telling

People in architecture is a question that often gets asked, since most architecture is designed for people it seams logical there would be people in architectural photographs. However many architects ask that people are not included. An enquiry from a door manufacturer, once requested some shots of doors installed at a building that had been completed several months previously with people using the doors. As a photographer I couldn’t guarantee there’d be anyone on site available and willing to pose with the doors for his marketing material unless I hire a model or he supplies somebody.

Furniture is often provided by building owners, it can be beneficial for building contractors and designers to use their client relationships to get architectural photographers inside furnished buildings. An empty interior with white paint on walls and ceilings, is always going to be less exciting and say less about the architecture than one with colour on the walls and furniture. If building owners can be brought into photographic enquiries, there’s the possibility of selling them a licence to use the images (with photographers consent), shooting furnished rooms and spreading photographers fees between multiple parties.

Printing Requirements

When producing a brochure, it’s handy to know the format of the brochure before going to site. If an A4 portrait brochure is required with an image printed borderless on the front cover, there’s little point shooting landscape. It may be desirable to have a large area of sky at the top of the cover shot to accommodate brochure title and logo. A3 and A4 paper have approximately 5:7 aspect ratios, most cameras have either 2:3, 3:4 or 4:5 aspect ratios i.e. images will need cropping if they’re to cover the entire page. A4 landscape brochures have a centrefold aspect ratio of 6:17, there are film cameras that shoot this ratio, however it’s far more likely an image would be cropped or stitched together. To produce a quality print, a resolution of 300dpi is recommended, which leads to a post cropping requirement of around 18 megapixels to cover A3 paper which is far greater than needed for a website. More detail can be found in my technical post.

By comparison a 40″x 50″ print at the same quality would require 180 megapixels and have to be shot with a specialist large format camera which I’ve talked about in a previous post, due to file size and post production work in the digital dark room on these images can be very time consuming. When working with this type of camera, image resolution is set when producing digital files, subsequent reductions are possible, retrospective increases will invariably incur costs.

Location

It may sound obvious the first thing any architectural photographer needs to know is where is the building/structure located. One recent enquiry however from a building components manufacturer simply stated “at a client’s premises”.

Orientation

In a previous post I talked about how the positioning of the sun has an impact on architectural photography and how selecting the best time of day and weather forecast can affect the aesthetic of architectural photographs. This also applies to interior shots, windowless rooms being the notable exception. It may the sunlight will penetrate deep into some parts of a building creating a photographic opportunity that only lasts a few weeks each year. As we head into autumn, north facing facades find themselves in shadow throughout the entire day and south facing facades become better subjects unless another light source can be found.

Weather and Seasons

In some cases it may be ideal to shoot a building at various times throughout a year to capture the four seasons.  A recent enquiry from an architectural practice was to photograph a number of statues, some of which are surrounded by diciduos trees, shooting with autumn colours could produce spectacular results as would shooting with snow on the ground or spring foliage.

Site Preparation

Cleaning needs to be considered, even the most basic photographic will pick up dirty windows and dusty spaces. An enquiry from an architectural practice was to shoot a number of building exteriors they’d completed in past years. Although there’s no requirement to inform the building owners, provided there’s no need to enter private property, I would recommend communicating with building owners both as a courtesy and to establish window cleaning schedules Etc. Dirty facades and window cleaning in progress was probably not be the desired image.

As a client, especially if you’re busy with other work, you may be well served by commissioning a photographer to do more than just produce the photographs. Almost all modern photographs are “finished” in the digital darkroom using processes in photo editing software that mimic how images used to be printed in traditional darkrooms. This software also allows us to composite images together such as the example at the top of this post, place text and logos on images and many other things, including the creation of electronic and printable brochures.

Summary

It’s my job to take away as much of my prospect’s “pain” as possible, this can only be achieved by asking questions at the enquiry stage. I dislike bombarding prospects with check lists full of questions which at first glance may appear irrelevant. Enquirers should anticipate a conversation to communicate their requirements as this is most efficient way to produce the best possible proposal and consequently the best result. For further information, please contact me.