Thursday, February 28, 2008

How to Work with an Architectural Photographer

This lecture was written as for a "Lunch and Learn" presentation to the Kansas City chapter of the AIA and was presented to a full house on the 30th August 2007. The purpose of the lecture is to try and present a best case working methodology for using an architectural photographer. While this presentation might reflect my best case I would love to hear suggestions from other people on ways to improve the various steps.

Picking a Photographer:

  1. Where do I find them?
    1. Referrals are a great source; look at the work produced by other architects and ask them what their experiences have been with their photographers.
    2. Look in magazines and learn to read sideways to check the photo credits. Almost all magazines work very hard to legitimately credit the work, whether contracted by them or supplied by an architect or designer.
    3. Several Internet sites list photographers who have joined the organization as members. These lists are typically categorized to make finding individual photographers easier. Here are some listings I recommend:
  2. How do I pick them?
    1. Ultimately all photographers are artists whose style and working methodology are virtually unique. Here are some steps to evaluate those subtle differences:
      1. Review their online portfolios – please remember this is a selection of their best work. Try to get a look at an individual project in its entirety.
      2. Invite submittals for photography that’s similar to the work produced by your firm; try to think laterally as the work photographed may be in a different genre but have a similar look and feel to your project.
      3. Ask for client testimonials and see if you can contact their existing clients – this is much better than a cherry-picked list of clients and is an opportunity to learn how the photographer works.
      4. Invite the photographer in for a portfolio showing. This is your chance to get some face time. It is worth preparing some basic questions, not only of their work but also of their working practices, so you can compare photographers in your own terms.
      5. You should always solicit a bid from the photographer(s). Any bid should include a basic level of detail that itemizes the number of images, the length of time of the photo shoot, and, most importantly, the usage fees that are being transferred to you. It should also list any extras that may be required. It’s very common to be asked to deliver several bids without winning any contracts, but please inform us clearly as to why we may not have won any particular bid.
      6. If you have a critical project, it has been a while since you reviewed your photographers’ work, or you want to have a review with other members of your firm, it is perfectly acceptable to call in a group of photographers’ portfolios and review them collectively without the photographers being present.
      7. As you meet with photographers, create a database that includes cut sheets of prospective photographer’s work, rate information (although, realize this will change over time), and contact information. Put it in your planner to invite updates quarterly or annually, depending on your use of photography.
  3. What should I expect to pay?
    1. Unfortunately, this is a difficult question to ask. The overwhelming majority of the photographers you will work with are self-employed and the industry has no set pay scale. Different photographers charge entirely different amounts for identical services, and charge entirely different categories of fees. All photographers are trying to make a living from selling photography and want to maintain their equipment while delivering exceptional images. We’re not trying to rob you!
    2. That said there are three basic elements to most photographer’s fees:
      1. Shoot fees are typically charged by a day rate or half-day rate.
      2. Usage fees are sometimes charged by the shot, sometimes by the shoot. These fees can be charged for periods of time and for methods of usage, although I typically offer Unlimited Usage in Perpetuity for the firm that contracts me. It is vitally important that you clearly establish your legal rights to the work as the photographer almost undoubtedly holds the copyright and can control your right to display and distribute those images.
      3. Extras can include a wide variety of things. Examples include:
        1. Digital media
        2. Post-production fee
        3. Scouting fee
        4. Assistant fee
        5. Lighting and other equipment rental
        6. Travel fees
        7. Overtime
        8. Props
    3. An individual photographer’s rates are whatever that photographer feels is appropriate. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, but please do so delicately and reasonably:
      1. Always try and present an annual budget so you can demonstrate the value of an ongoing relationship to the photographer.
      2. Be prepared to offer multiple projects to obtain lower fees, but these projects should be contracted as a group for a photographer to appreciate the value.
      3. Review the rates in relation to the product and see if there are services you can cut – additional lighting rental, extra assistants, post production work you can perform, etc…
Pick a Project:
  1. Which projects should I photograph?
    1. Take a look at your target markets and your existing portfolio. It’s best to know in which areas you want to pursue work and to build balanced portfolios to represent those particular design skills.
    2. Look at your existing portfolio and think about re-shooting your most interesting projects to keep your portfolio up to date and create a brand identity through your photographer.
  2. How often should I photograph?
    1. Continuously: Try and get used to photographing projects on an ongoing basis so you can get the project when it is fresh and untouched. It will also be far more enticing to the national and local press sources.

Preparing to go on Site:

  1. Who should schedule the shoot?
    1. The photographer or you can schedule the shoot; if you have confidence in the photographer’s social skills, it may work well to have them schedule the shoot so you don’t have to schedule both the client and the photographer.
  2. To Scout or not to Scout?
    1. You should always scout if possible. Following the scout have the photographer upload the images for review by the folk responsible for marketing the firm, those responsible for the design on the project and the principal(s) responsible for the project. Re-shoots are expensive and irritating and should always be avoided, if possible, and the best way to do so is to scout the location and share that scout.
  3. What do I need for props?
    1. This is best determined from the scout. You might need large plants to soften an exterior photograph, fresh cut flowers for an interior, plates and table settings for a restaurant, people to provide scale and life, etc…
  4. What considerations do I need for an individual site?
    1. Access: When is the site available for the photographer to scout and complete the final photo shoot? Do the photographer and assistant need passes for security?
    2. Sunlight: Think of daylight for the exteriors and interior. Obviously, the big, bright, nuclear light is very important for exteriors but it can be vital or disastrous on interiors depending on which direction you are shooting, what orientation the building has, and at what time of day you are shooting.
    3. Lighting: Locate the switches and mark them. Look for dimmers, check wattage and type of bulbs, get low wattage bulbs and replacements for burn-outs as necessary.
    4. Power: Identify where the breaker panels and outlets are to allow for ease of light placement and resetting a breaker if it’s tripped.

Going on Site:

  1. How do we time the day?
    1. This will typically be affected by natural light conditions and access. This is where that scout proves to be so useful. Based on a scout, I determine a shot list and work in that specific order. Typically, a photograph can take forty-five minutes to an hour and a half to stage and capture, depending on the complexity of the lighting and props.
    2. On a more complex shoot, where natural lighting is critical for later shots, it is best to determine a rough schedule and periodically check-in to review progress. If you need to change the order of the photographs to ensure you capture the best work then it is well worth doing so.
  2. What sort of room do we need to work in?
    1. Check with the photographer on how much equipment they will be bringing and find a suitable unloading and staging point. Typically I work with a 12’ by 12’ space to simply unpack the equipment and use as a central location for the cases.
    2. Working tethered (connecting the camera directly to a laptop) is preferable, but when a camera can’t be connected to the laptop it is very useful to stage the laptop and critical camera gear in a central location to speed up the shoot.
  3. What input should I expect to have with the process?
    1. This all depends on the photographer. I feel that it’s your money and you should have a say, but always listen to the photographer and see if you can develop the photo together using their skill and your desire for a particular angle or feel. Ultimately, we’re not just button pushers, but we don’t necessarily realize everything that you want to accomplish with the photography.
    2. There are some big no-no’s with some photographers that I typically don’t let worry me too much. These can include:
      1. Touching the camera
      2. Looking through the view finder
      3. Moving the tripod
      4. Moving the lighting equipment
      5. Saying anything except yes that’s a lovely photograph let’s move to the next shot – some of us are prima donna’s
Post Production:
  1. What happens to all those photos?
    1. The photos come back to the studio and the photographer brings them onto their computer. At this point the photographer (or a digital technician) may execute any of the following work depending on the photographer’s contract with you:
      1. The photographer corrects photos for minor imperfections (dust on the sensor, subtle changes in contrast, tone and color) to create a matched set of images.
      2. The photographer performs major changes pertaining to cropping, color temperature, merging multiple exposures for burn-outs in highlights.
      3. The photographer retouches the image to remove light switches, random bits of plumbing, miscellaneous light fixtures and all manner of other stuff.
      4. The photographer post processes the photos, archives them in their system, and burns a disk for your use.
  2. How quickly should I expect to get the photos back?
    1. This depends entirely on the photographer’s work load and their commitment to you, but it can take one to twelve hours to perform a decent post production process on each image. Ultimately, you should be very clear on how soon you may need the images; often I’ve prioritized a particular client’s needs related to a competition entry, ad, or an email press release.
  3. How should I store them?
    1. Match the industry standard is the best way, three locations and at least two different types of media. Keep it on the disk from the photographer, keep a live copy on your server, and keep another copy in your back-ups or on a spare disk. One of these locations should be completely removed from the first two. Always have three copies on two different types of media. Always have three copies on two different types of media. Do I need to say it again?

Ongoing Relationship:
  1. How do I keep in touch with my photographer(s)?
    1. Feel free to invite your photographer to send in new work they’ve captured for other clients so you can keep an eye to new projects and new styles; photographers develop their style as much as you develop your tastes.
    2. You should give them plenty of notice of upcoming projects to ensure their availability and confirm the consistency of pricing and services.
  2. How do we get better and better work?
    1. It’s an ongoing relationship with the photographer; talk about the results of the shoot and definitely let them know if you’re not happy.
    2. Cut and save shots you like, whether it’s a magazine, a catalog, a rivals marketing; always try and think about your “look” and communicate that with the photographer. The photographer is definitely looking at other peoples images, so you should too.

ASMP Working With An Architectural Photographer
How to Work with an Architectural Photographer Word Document

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