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Recently an architecture firm principal shared with me that although they have a dedicated project manager in-house who knows how to use that camera gear they’ve invested in, they’re missing completed project shoots. Time has passed and multiple projects have been missed. Not something you can go back and capture, there is a point of no return.
Learn when it’s too late to photograph a project that you hoped to add to your portfolio.
You bought a nice DSLR kit — a couple lenses, a tripod, etc. so you’re at the ready in-house to save the cost of hiring it out. But does it really save cost? Think back to last year’s build season and the one now in progress — you’ve been habitually missing project shoots and those accomplishments are now barely visible in the rear view mirror. Ugh. They’re turned over and being lived in (damaged and worn out) as we speak.
What DIY is costing your firm:
1. Missed marketing photography. Often times most projects cannot be revisited for a photo shoot. The more time goes by, the further they slip away. Reclaiming a space is always more costly to shoot. The chance to create usable DIY shots after 6-12+ months have passed are slim.
2. Your next RFP/bid win. It’s not a stretch to say that your firm is only as good as your last successful project in a specific market or segment. That’s part of the reason you stage and photograph the “best of” stories you can tell about successfully completed projects — how you knocked them out of the park, solved challenges along the way, and took them over the finish line! It’s so much of your value proposition for prospective clients that benefit by hiring your firm for their next project.
3. Stress to your staff. The planning and logistics of completed project photography is a double-whammy of project management, it’s two jobs at once when you DIY. Architectural photography is all I do all season long, practice makes permanent is what my mentor says. Backing out photo shoot planning and logistics, in addition to all the pre and post-production that occurs before and after the shutter captures your story, takes far more time than the shooting itself. Check out the photo shoot timeline here.
4. Potential advanced Photoshop costs. If there’s a decent chance to use the DIY shots you do take, and if you can cobble together a photo-ready project site (with the help of your client), have you considered how much pro editing will need to be done? More than you think. It’s not simple straightening and brightening in a reclaimed project space. It’s repairs, removals, color correction, and lots of other advanced retouching work only a pro can handle — following 3, 6 or even 9+ months of wear and tear. Going rates for a retouching pros ranges from $50-$150/hour, most shots needing at least an 30-60 minutes of attention. More advanced images can take from 1-3 hours to complete, per shot. Dusk and night shots being even more complex and costly.
So what can you do now?
Here’s my advice in three steps:
1. Train more than one person to DIY. Having higher end gear on hand doesn’t mean there will be time and the advanced planning to actually use it, but when there is, it’s always better to cross-train more than one person on your team to shoot. You’d do that in your firm when you need more than one specialist for something, the same applies here.
2. Build photography into your project management schedules. Just like any other critical task for an active build project, get into the Gantt chart when you kick off the project and add it as a milestone. Mark it 90-120 days ahead of the certificate of occupancy (CO), weeks ahead of the turnover date. When you don’t give architectural photography priority, it won’t be a priority. Simple as that. Capturing imagery is an extension of managing the build itself that flows into the completion phase of a successful project. If you begin to look at it that way and practice it across your firm, photography will always be a priority, not an afterthought. If you’re not already putting a photography milestone on your Gantt, read why it’s so important from one local firm, and never miss another photo shoot with this one simple habit.
3. Hire a pro. You could guess at the start of this article I’d offer with this advice at some point. I believe it’s the wisest way to respect your firm’s resources. The reason I suggest it is not only because this is the work do all…day…long, but because it’s another professional’s entire job (aka mine). And I will continue to recommend hiring someone with this specialized skill set and the industry experience to handle it for you. There’s no comparison to DIY, see for yourself.
Now don’t get me wrong, you’ll still need to participate in the process, to partner and all-in collaborate for successful results to be delivered, but the majority of the heavy lifting is on the architectural photographer to project manage. Help them understand your higher level goals (like, why does it matter that we tell this project’s story?), set mutual expectations, and take the lead off your plate (so you can breathe a sigh of relief in the end). I promise if you do your homework to hire one, and build a solid relationship with someone that knows what they’re doing, that investment up front will be a very valuable one as final images arrive on your desktop.
With the best intentions, your firm can buy all the “best” pro gear in the world and think they’ll get to capturing every key project — but more than knowing how to use that gear, or how to project manage a photo shoot efficiently, it’s about consistently getting imagery into your active marketing library that matters.
Missed opportunities can be aligned with better habits built from a solid, repeatable process, one that you religiously execute (and refine) if you truly want to DIY to save you money. But it’s not for every AEC firm.
Valuable project managers and marketing pros can better spend their time boosting the firm’s accomplishments that grow your bottom line.
Don’t miss out on capturing your next great project!