Hiring a professional architectural photographer gives AEC & CRE firms stunning images that showcase their work to future clients.
But hiring a baby photographer to do an architectural photography shoot? It’s most likely not their area of expertise, and won’t produce the best result. The other side of this coin is the misconception that an architectural photographer just takes the images and leaves, boom, they’re done. There’s so much more to it, including a high level of service, quality, project management and artistry – at least in my personal approach to this work.
My hope is to help people understand that a niche or specialized photographer, whether sports photographers, wedding photographers or architectural photographers, are worlds apart in terms of skills and specialties. Each does what they do, and they do it well because that’s ALL they do, all the time. I very happily refer a headshot photographer on a website re-design for example (and often bring in an affiliate pro to join me), when a firm’s team needs new portraits, as the work isn’t appropriate for my skill set.
And sure, some clients try the DIY route — but soon switch to a professional architectural photographer as their firm gets more strategic and the need to stand out from the competition becomes essential.
There can be traps associated with going with the cheapest contractor out there and that’s why I wanted to write this article. Architectural photography is no different. It’s important that your photography projects are a positive collaborative experience. Part of this collaboration is providing fair, upfront pricing and transparent communication so you’re aligned every step of the way with your photographer, and — as the client — that you love your deliverables when the project is complete.
Here are some crucial things to check in on when you’re giving an architectural photographer’s estimate that once-over:
View their previous work. It sounds obvious, but is worth mentioning. Look for projects most like yours, with the same level of quality. For example: If the windows are blown out in that conference room shot, would that be OK with you? Or does it matter that you can see what’s outside that window as your eye would? Is the lighting correct, balanced in the space? Is the composition strong? Are the verticals and horizontals in line with the ways your eyes see them in real life? Are the images overly filtered to the point that they look unnatural?
What fees are included? Some of what my fees generally include are pre-production, post-production, image handling/web-gallery hosting, basic retouching, local travel (within 30 miles each way) and a single standard usage license, for example, among many other things. What you are paying for — and not paying for — should be detailed up front. The more information the better. Is your shot count solid or are there other possibilities you’d like to photograph if time on site allows? I use the shot list to drive the entire proposal. A strong photographer can help develop a shared vision for it along with you.
Ensure the scope of work is clear. For instance, if your architectural photographer’s proposal says “exterior shots,” there is much room for misunderstanding. “Four exterior shots: Front, rear, courtyard area and exterior tower detail,” is better; and I go as far as noting main and secondary facade orientations so everyone is clear; for example, why there may be an additional site visit.
Who is the project manager for the shoot? This is someone you typically appoint within your firm, a project-manager or marketing lead to work directly with the photographer, either remotely and/or on-site during the shoot. They are the main point of contact for the client and can also serve as a liaison for the property owner/manager.
Assume nothing … especially the turnaround time for final deliverables. Do you have a deadline to meet for use of the images (for a design award or publicity feature)? Often times those types of deadlines drive the entire reason a pro may be needed. How about handling of changes orders? They will happen. Are they pre-approved for time and cost before your photographer proceeds? This kind of transparency is important and lets the client decide. Get it in writing. If there’s an urgency, you’ll almost always pay rush fees, so be sure to ask about a photographer’s pricing structure when needed.
Without these details ironed out in a systematic, organized way, there is room for misunderstanding; you could end up paying for more than you bargained for — with less to show for it. Professional architectural photographers with more experience build “what-ifs” and efficiencies into their estimates whenever possible to make the shoot experience a positive one — with no cost surprises. I know that’s the way I like to be treated and want that same level of service and collaboration experience for my trusted industry clients.
Have you had any positive or negative experiences working with an architectural photographer that you’d like to share with me? I learn so much when we share ideas and best practices, while also learning from what went wrong and how it can be approached in a new way to get things back on track for your next great experience!