I’m a process nut. Those who know me well know that’s how I stay focused, constantly getting traction, and ultimately delivering results. I’ve been photographing commercially for more than 10 years now and that field experience combined with my years of corporate experience has, over time, offered me many tools to leverage. Using a combination of marketing, project management and business practices blended together I offer a unique process “recipe” that works, time after time.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t things that “come up” during, or while planning a photo shoot. Times when I need to flex — find alternate ways to accomplish mutual goals for my trusted industry clients. Things that are well out of my control happen on occasion and are managed. In the many career and life experiences I’ve had, I typically approach most situations using a “continuous improvement” model learned while working in corporate manufacturing.
When photo shoot planning, the number one mistake AEC firms make is not planning far enough ahead. Since it happens so frequently, I expect it happens either because the firm doesn’t understand the complexity involved in planning a shoot (maybe they’ve never hired a pro photographer), and/or they assume photographers are available at a moment’s notice, or they simply don’t make photography a priority. But just like these firms, I use this reasoning — if an AEC firm can build a project in six to 12 to 24 months backing out a timeline, this same logic can be applied to hiring an architectural photographer. Just shrink down the scale of it to a few months — start to finish. Keeping in mind that the work we manage is seasonal in New England (May-October is when we shoot 85% of our projects for the year). Because most projects have an exterior element, and clients are not going to pay for two site visits spread months apart to complete photography, it happens during prime shooting season. So there are 6 months to hustle and “do the work” together.
The opportunity to shoot completed projects is also based around favorable weather, so there are times of the year when the weather is less favorable and we have less blue sky days to count on. A couple examples of those times would be April/early May, typically soaked with rain, and hurricane season in September/October. Fall has less favorable days to choose from than most realize as October approaches. Frost typically arrives by mid-October killing off flowers and plantings, and if the wind holds off through the end of the month, we’ll continue to shoot for as long as the leaves are on the trees. If it doesn’t, the leaves blow down and shooting season is abruptly over for the year.
Not planning in advance is most often the reason why I turn away a project or never get past a first call with a prospective new firm. Once a firm runs out of time (at CO approval or project turnover time), the clock starts ticking for another reason. It’s ticking for the amount of time left before the space they’d want to showcase is no longer feasible to photograph.
The following conditions can affect a project’s portfolio worthiness:
- Wear and tear once clients move in/occupies a space
- A failed client-contractor partnership gone bad
- A client’s flat refusal, or overall unwillingness, to support the photo shoot process
Aside from these common circumstances above, here are five key things you can do to get in front of your next photo shoot that are within your control:
Skip the DIY.
Recently I was talking with the principal of a top architectural firm in Hartford, CT who shared with me that their DIY was no longer working. It had come to a grinding halt. Their in-house project photographer had been swamped for months doing their primary job (as a PM) and they’d already missed several completed project shoots, with more on the horizon this year to be missed. He was very concerned and told me we should talk to get me back in to pick up management of this for them. I was surprised when he shared it with me, but glad we already had a relationship so I could step in to help. I’m well aware that asking a PM to do 2 jobs (well) doesn’t work, particularly when they are all-consumed by their work. It requires they do a million and one things every day already. From there DIY photography goes out the window.
Early bird gets the photographer.
Have you ever planned the firm’s holiday party? I expect you start reaching out to your favorite party spots middle to end of summer. Why? Because they book out and then you run out of choices or it becomes very costly to get what you want. Apply this same thinking to hiring an architectural photographer for your next project shoot. I advise people in the industry I meet that it’s never too early to contact me. If you’re looking at projects completing in the next year, or you’re considering refreshing or rebranding your website with brand new imagery of key projects (or head shots of your team, etc.), we should have initial conversations now so I can advise you along the way, not be an afterthought. Photography is a priority when you make it a priority. When we have time to make the best choices for your firm and your photo shoot we will save time and money on rushing or poor planning. That always costs more in dollars and effort.
Back out project management.
Pro photography of your projects involves project management. When you hire a pro (vs DIY), the bulk of the work involved should be managed by the architectural photographer you hire. However, you’ll still need to do some collaboration together around planning and logistics — like proposal/scope of work development, site access, site preparation/staging, and accompaniment on the day of the shoot itself.
Get it in the Gantt.
A couple years back a construction management firm’s marketing director shared their fantastic practice of adding a photography milestone to their project management process. The task was identified as “making contact with their photographer 90-120 day priors to project turnover” in their Gantt chart (if you don’t know what a Gantt chart is, read about it here). I was so fired up about their idea, I wrote an article about adding it to the Gantt. This one smart step ensures they never miss valuable project photography. Naturally I’m all for it!
Eye on award season.
Every year come fall most AEC firms plan their marketing budgets for the following year. From there they may (or may not) look ahead to award season for the next calendar year too. If your firm’s not doing this, start now. Pair that with short listing your key projects coming up for completion and you’re covered for what needs to be photographed. There are always additional projects you can pepper in the mix, but the main goal is to create that “not to miss project” list that if you missed it, could potentially cost you (and your firm) new work or recognition in the end.
To wrap up, the key takeaway here is don’t wait to make contact. Contact that photographer you love working with, or start making efforts to contact the first-ever pro you’d like to hire now. The sooner the better. Come January each year, I already know when many of my clients will have projects completing that year and they take priority in my schedule. I take a proactive approach to keep a running short list of what’s coming up next and in approximately what month it will complete. From there I can create a high-level project calendar by month for any given year, then we back into the completion of projects.
When I know the target month, I take the lead to start reminding clients 3-6 months ahead to 1.) check on construction progress/delays, 2.) begin preparing them to talk to their project partners about potential cost-sharing, 3.) start them building a must-have shot list and check on any award deadlines that might impact final image delivery timing, and 4.) help them decide if we need a site walk through long before photography to help build their proposal for larger, more complex projects.
Hiring the right architectural photographer is simply a wise business decision. It eliminates surprises and beneficially puts the majority of the project management involved in their hands (out of yours). Considering that is all we do, all year long, it’s a safe bet that you’re in great hands.
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