The role of an Architectural Photographer
An architect’s work is lived in, passed through and experienced by a wide variety of users. Up close and personal, the space itself is the most accurate and real representation of the architects ideas, aspirations and processes.
However, more often than not, many people will never witness the end-product in person. Therefore, a key aspect to communicating your work as an architect is documentation. We live in a visually orientated society. Already the architect’s primary means of communication is through images; from sketches to construction drawings to renderings. A final piece in this story is photographing the finished building.
There are many challenges and questions associated with selecting an architectural photographer. How do I know who to contact? Where is the budget for this? How will I find the time among more pressing deadlines? A bit of planning, foresight and commitment can make light work of these concerns. Here are some points to consider:
Know where to look
Many architects develop lifetime relationships with their photographers. Some choose to use several, depending on project type and availability. Some have an exclusive code of practice that will see them collaborate on numerous projects with just one cameraperson. Keep an eye on who is getting work published in journals and magazines. Who is featuring in the weekend papers? Scout around your contemporaries’ websites, check the credits, and visit the architectural photographers’ website from there. Here you should get an idea of their experience and expertise.
Remember, you are outsourcing this work in the same way you might a rendering, a model or indeed, your accounts. An element of trust is essential.
Its important to know from the beginning what you can expect for your agreed fee. Is the photographer charging per visit or per finished photo? Is it by the full-day or half-day? Is post-processing included in this fee? Are travel costs and expenses covered? What rights do you have to the images? As well as high-quality images, your photographer might supply some optional extras. A media service can be the most beneficial. It is in a photographer’s interest to promote their work, and by doing so, they can provide valuable exposure and extensive media coverage.
It is often deadlines for awards panels, website upgrades or impending publications that determine the urgency of getting a project photographed. The photographer themselves might also have an urgent desire to push the project out to the press, in order to get an exclusive or topical feature. However, timing and availability can quickly become an issue. Therefore, some foresight is required. Allow your photographer time to capture the project in its best light and context. You may, for example, prefer to schedule an autumn shoot to see the project surrounded by rustic colours and sparse trees, or a high summer shoot to show off dramatic shadows cast by a sunny sky.
It may also be useful to consider the photo commission as part of the design process. Hiring a photographer at the design stage to photograph a model or while the building is under construction, may not be relevant for press and PR, but can prove crucial in building a practice’s archive. The accurate documentation of one’s processes, from start to finish, can offer new insights and feed into future project development.
Prior communication about the project, including a site plan and working site photos, will help the photographer plan their day as they aim to chase the course of daylight. Keep them up to date on completion deadlines, particularly for items such as landscaping, as this can affect the anticipated arrival of the photographer on location.
A personal walk-through of the site by the Architect is not only important to familiarise the photographer with the building, but is invaluable in offering an insight into your design intentions. Explain the decisions you’ve made as you tour the project. This will help the photographer highlight your work in the best possible way.
Quality and Quantity
When it comes to distributing the final images, you may wish to narrow these down a selection that describes a particular architectural narrative. Media outlets such as magazines, blogs and books will look for a variety of images, but you may find that 10-12, depending on project size, are repeatedly used. Not only is the photographer reading and distilling your work, but picture editors and publishers will do so again.
Ultimately, you need to make sure your photographer can deliver a wide variety of high quality images and it might be worth clarifying that you need a mix of photos; from wide-angle landscape/context shots, to active interiors, to details and design features.
And remember, photography is just one means of representing your work. For it to make sense, some cohesion of structure and intention is still required. When choosing your images be particular and definite. The challenge, as always, is to tell a story without words.