There are a lot of moving pieces involved in every architectural photography project, no matter the size. From security clearance to lighting to site preparation, who is responsible for which elements of a photo shoot?
The slightly frustrating but totally honest answer is: It depends.
I’ve worked on hundreds of shoots over the course of my career and every single one involved different factors. Landscape architecture shoots are inherently different from interior shoots, for example, and night shoots are a totally separate creature from day shoots.
One thing all shoots have in common is the client’s desire for value. Architectural photography is a premium service, so it’s only fair that clients expect a range of professional services for their money. That said, some things are always best left in the client’s hands.
Let’s break down some of the most common elements of an architectural photo shoot and talk about which are most often the photographer’s responsibility, which are (or can be) the client’s, and why.
Determining the Shoot Type: Photographer + Client
Settling on the specifics of a shoot is perhaps the most collaborative phase of the entire process. Part of the value I offer my clients is experience, so they rely on me to make suggestions regarding day time vs. dusk shots, whether or not to take before and after shots, or even about if (or when) to use people/models. Crafting a shot list is the single most important pre-production component of a photo shoot and drives my proposal pricing on nearly every project I estimate.
That said, it’s the client’s job is to articulate for me their goals and end-use of the images for the photo shoot. If they want images to use for office space wall skins, we may decide on a different shoot type than if they’re looking for materials to include in a case study or design awards submission. The exact shoot type is ultimately determined together.
Weather Planning: Photographer + Client
Here in New England, the weather is a critical factor in the majority of my projects. Whenever an exterior view is involved, it makes cost sense to do it all at once around the weather conditions. Working with clients to create a structured, detailed weather plan is essential. My time-tested process involves booking two separate dates within 2-4 days of each other, both held equally. This last part is important: I prioritize both dates as if they are two separate shoots, and it’s up to my clients to do the same.
About a week out from the shoot, I begin watching and communicating about the forecast. Any precipitation chance of more than 20% is risky for an exterior shoot; interior-only shoots give us a bit more flexibility. Within 2-3 days of the first date booked we’ll decide which date to drop and which to keep as our official shoot date.
This process requires commitment and coordination from both sides of the table. I understand the impact it has on a client’s day-to-day, and their client’s at the project location. Because of that, I’m sure to drive home the importance of treating both dates equally until a decision has been made.
Specialty Equipment for Hire: Photographer + Client
Often I suggest to clients they provide their own “specialty equipment” to help save money when possible, particularly those already in the construction industry. If the client has access to items like extra-tall ladders or lift buckets, all the better. Providing those items themselves helps reduce the overall cost of their architectural shoot.
Most experienced architectural photographers have the resources and are happy to bring in additional specialty equipment for an additional fee to the client. Equipment I’ve been asked to procure includes everything from scissor lifts to drones and time-lapse cameras. Renting specialty lenses or additional lighting may also be needed to add muscle to the technical gear a photographer already owns. Most projects don’t require any of these items, but I’m ready with a bench of resources to accommodate a client’s specific request when possible.
Site Preparation: Client
Site preparation is a client’s most important pre-production responsibility. It’s ultimately up to the client to prepare the space to the suggested specifications as much as possible before a shoot. I always make every “ideal” suggestion and speak extensively with clients about what they should consider doing because come the day-of, natural light means we have a narrow window of hours in which to successfully photograph their shot list.
I can also provide clients with a written guide with actionable tips regarding what they can do to prepare the space. This can include anything from tying back computer cords to having the maintenance department clean the windows and wax the floors. For more complex shoots, I include a scheduled walk-through on site with the client to point out very specific punch list so they bring in enough staff or can articulate it well to their client. It’s always the client’s responsibility to ensure there’s adequate access to the site the on day of the shoot. Sometimes that means getting security clearance weeks in advance.
Shoot Project Management: Photographer + Client
Who’s responsible for managing the day of the shoot? Well, we both are. The photographer, of course, should be directing most of the moving pieces like the lighting and the shot set ups. It’s the clients job (or their point of contact on site) to facilitate this by helping close off shooting zones, making any last minute staging adjustments, and generally being available to help if the photographer has questions and needs support.
On shoot day, the photographer and the client both have the same goal: To produce amazing images and keep the project moving to completion. Give-and-take collaboration is the best way to achieve that.
Image Retouching Input: Client
Retouching shouldn’t happen in a vacuum. Over the years I’ve found that the more involved a client is before and during the retouching process, the happier they are with the results. For each project I ask my clients to provide valuable input, pointing out things they want to prioritize or minimize that I (and sometimes they!) hadn’t even realized.
Final Image Retouching & Delivery: Photographer
Final deliverables vary for each client. Elements like the number of photos, the quantities and types of licenses, and even the type file formats they’re saved in depend on the scope of the project. It’s the photographer’s job to ensure that by the end of a project, the client feels their specific project photography goals have been met and exceeded.
Amazing architectural photography isn’t something you “hire out,” it’s something you actively participate in. Engaged clients almost always result in better imagery…not to mention a more seamless experience working together.
Do you have ideas for your next shoot?