Architectural photography is an investment. Professional photographs can be incredibly powerful tools for marketing, sales, and even recruitment, but the longer you wait to photograph a project, the more you stand to lose.
There is a definitive window for photographing almost any architectural, construction, or development project. Waiting too long can render the subject less relevant or worse, less appealing. Let’s talk about how long you actually have to photograph a project and the perils of procrastinating on this crucial task.
How Long Do I Have to Take Architectural Photographs?
In general, I usually don’t suggest professional photography for projects more than 2-4 years after their completion date. There are, of course, some exceptions to that rule. Remember that the “completion date” is when the project was turned over to the client for use, not when it was actually constructed/built in the first place. A 200-year old building that’s undergone a significant interior renovation can still photograph beautifully even though it was technically “completed” centuries ago.
Why Can’t I Photograph a Project Five Years After Turnover?
It’s a fair question. You’re proud of your work – and rightly so! – but that doesn’t mean it’s still suitable for professional photography. The major reason you should never wait too long to capture images is that life happens. The second spaces start being actually used they cease to be showpieces and become living, dynamic organisms.
Consider a very successful magnet school I recently photographed. The building itself naturally incurs a lot of daily wear-and-tear so photographing its interiors even just a year after completion was a surprisingly tall order. (In the end, we pulled it off!) But the charming, now-cluttered art room? It was already lost cause.
How Does Waiting Too Long Affect My Photographer?
As the photographer leading production on a quickly-maturing project, I have to take much tighter control than I would need to otherwise. There’s usually more than one round of evaluation involved, significant mobilization of resources, and a lot of time spent consulting and staging (rather than taking amazing images!)
In most cases, the longer it’s been since completion, the more retouching is involved to produce high-quality deliverables. Advanced retouching fees can add significantly to the overall cost of an architectural photography project, so taking photos sooner almost always saves your firm money in the long run.
Do Interiors and Exteriors Age Differently?
Yes! Great question. The biggest challenge for aging interiors is always clutter. Desks get piled up, furniture multiplies, and uniformity goes by the wayside. It happens faster than you’d think. Outside, landscaping is always the wild card when it comes to waiting too long.
For exterior shots there’s actually usually a perfect window after completion that involves waiting long enough for landscaping to take shape but not waiting so long that maintenance becomes an issue. Some of my clients schedule an interior shoot immediately after project completion then book me to come back for quick exterior shots a few months down the road. There are economies of scale shooting a project this way.
I always encourage clients to consider the benefits of breaking out the interior shots from the exterior shots. The interiors of a new affordable housing project, for example, are best shot before tenants move in, but if completion is over the winter, perhaps it’s best to have me come back in spring when the landscaping is lusher to shoot the exteriors.
Is It Too Late to Shoot My Project?
Every project is unique, so it’s impossible to say for sure without an evaluation. There’s almost always something “salvageable” about a project years-on – intricate historical details, a beautifully landscaped exterior, etc. – but figuring out how best to shoot an older project requires an assessment to decide.
Waiting too long to hire a professional architectural photographer to shoot your completed project costs you money. Save yourself the time, hassle, and costs associated with going back to shoot a project long after it’s finished.
Is your current project nearing completion?