When people ask me, “Heather, how much can an architectural photographer shoot in an eight-hour day?” what they’re really asking is “Eight hours is plenty of time for me to get my money’s worth, right?”
Well, not always. Here’s why.
The “8-Hour” Day Fallacy
For most people, an eight-hour workday is more than enough time to get lots of work done, hang out at the water cooler, and maybe even celebrate Becky’s birthday with some cake in the conference room. It’s different for photographers.
Every professional photographer serves under an unelected Board of Directors. The only two members? Mother Nature and the sun. They’re both pretty inflexible, to be honest.
When shooting architectural images, an eight-hour day is really more like a four-hour day because we’re at the mercy of the elements. The angle of the sun, in particular means there’s a four-hour chunk in the middle of the day where we can’t really shoot anything. That 10am-2pm window? It’s great if you want photographs with super-high contrast and long shadows. (PRO TIP: You don’t.)
Mother Nature and the sun? They’re in charge, and there’s really not a darn thing we can do about it. The good news is, one of those two elements is highly predictable, and experienced architectural photographers know how to maximize their time around it.
Breaking Down a Shoot Day in Architectural Photography
For photographers, an eight-hour day instantly becomes a four-hour day oncenatural light is factored in. We’ve usually got a solid window of morning hours to shoot in and another one in the mid- to late-afternoon. The good news is, that’s usually enough to cover the creative scope of most simple architectural projects.
Remember that a building’s orientation has a lot to do with when it should be photographed. If you have two buildings, for example, one facing northeast and the other facing southwest, the northeast-facing building should be shot first, during that morning window. The southwest-facing building could then be shot during the afternoon window. For some clients, having several similarly-oriented buildings absolutely necessitates more than one day of shooting.
Since the window to shoot a building in its “best” light is so narrow – usually around 60-90 minutes – shooting more than one building, particularly if the buildings are at different sites and if interior shots are involved, can quickly become impossible. In some cases it makes sense to pair two small-size projects at the same location on the same day; in others, pairing a morning shoot location with an afternoon shoot location might make sense for a one-day shoot. It’s all in the logistical planning which is why it’s critical you work with an experienced architectural photographer to ensure both time and value are maximized.
In addition to those standard shooting windows, we’ve also got options with slightly more specific lighting. Dawn or dusk shooting (“the blue hour”) can make for some truly stunning photographs, and light painting coupled withnight photography is naturally popular because it’s so striking. Working extensively with a professional photographer before boots hit the ground on your project means you’ve got plenty of time to discuss what you want and what you absolutely don’t want in your images.
Pricing Architectural Photography Shoots
There are two ways to price an architectural photography shoot, at least from where I’m sitting. Both the day rate and the project rate have their advantages, but I most often price project rates for client proposals.
While the day rate does offer clients a bit more flexibility in terms of quantity of images captured, it can be limiting because day rates only include the creative fees associated with photography, none of the front-end or back-end time and costs associated that are required to deliver high-end, retouched results. A project rate is always comprehensive, including pre-production, post-production, retouching, and everything needed in between. Project rates build in efficiencies that ensure the best use of everyone’s time (and money).
If you’re asking this question, you’re probably trying to save your business money. Who isn’t? Just know that in architectural photography – like any professional service – you get what you pay for.
Let’s talk about how much your architectural