Most remodelers have digital cameras. Some even have a fancy 8-megapixel point-and-shoot. But a high-resolution camera doesn’t make you a photographer any more than your client’s hammer and cordless drill make him a remodeler.
Your clients hired you for good reason: You’re an expert who knows how to produce a high-quality product every time. So when finished jobs demand great photography, follow suit by turning to a pro. Here’s how to find the right one.
Gather a Team
As with hiring any professional, you need to do your research when searching for a photographer to showcase your projects. Finding the right person to capture your work in photos can mean everything for your company’s image. “Successful photography goes beyond just creating beautiful images,” says Treve Johnson, owner of Treve Johnson Photography, in Berkeley, Calif. “It picks up what the business’s branding is. I check out prospective clients’ websites and find many of them have poor-quality photography. Folks don’t realize they’re losing business by not hiring a professional.”
Shawn Buehler, a partner with Bennet Frank McCarthy Architects, in Silver Spring, Md., says that paging through portfolios on the Web is an ideal way to start a photographer search. “We were photographer shopping recently and must have called a dozen during the process,” Buehler says. “In the past, we’ve used four or five photographers, and even had one in-house for a while.”
Having a team of several photographers is not uncommon for architects and designers.LDa Architecture & Interiors, in Cambridge, Mass., [SM: PLS LINK TO THEIR 2011 DESIGN AWARD PAGE] works regularly with five photographers with varying areas of expertise. “Some are stronger in interiors vs. exteriors, and some are more comfortable shooting modern rather than traditional,” says marketing and communications manager Amanda Hanley. “We typically try to match the photographer to the project for the best results.” Hanley also says that, when choosing its photography team, LDa Architecture & Interiors looks at specific factors. “Primarily we look for a good portfolio with well-lit shots that are evocative and capture the ‘story’ of a project,” she says. The interview phase comes next. “We want to work with someone who is willing to work with us to get the shots we feel are important.”
Janet Bloomberg, a partner at Kube Architecture, in Washington, D.C., agrees on the benefits of a team approach. “Both of the photographers we work with are product photographers as well as architectural photographers, and one does fashion as well,” she says. “That range of experience really enhances their aesthetic view of the spaces. They have an eye for framing and composition that’s a little different from a photographer who only shoots architecture.”
Beyond general Google searches, remodelers should search for possible photographers by looking through design awards winners, their local association chapters (both photographers interviewed for this article are National Association of the Remodeling Industry members), or visiting websites for photography organizations, such as the American Society of Media Photographers, the International Association of Architectural Photographers, and The Association of Independent Architectural Photographers. —L.H.
Know Your Rights
Wondering whether you should purchase the rights to your finished photography? Treve Johnson, of Treve Johnson Photography, recommends only paying licensing fees for the duration and type of use for your photos. This is less expensive than buying full rights. The approach means you won’t have to continue to store photos years after you’ve stopped using them, and also lets the photographer continue running a profitable business. “The purpose of a copyright is to protect the monetary value of an image, and the only reason to own the copyright is to own the ability to generate revenue from it,” Johnson explains. When he’s hired, Johnson charges a licensing fee for contracted use of the photos, such as in magazine ads, awards entries, or on the company website. He negotiates additional use, such as for Remodeling Design Awards project photos in this issue, separately on a case-by-case basis. For the most part, purchasing only usage rights is common practice among design firms. That said, remodelers should always clarify the details of usage and copyright before entering into an agreement with a photographer. This would include discussions of circumstances under which a photographer may sell the usage to a third party. Johnson, like some other photographers, offers multiple photo packages with different levels of usage rights to help make the process easier. —L.H.
8 Interview Questions
Aside from money-related questions (below), remodelers and photographers suggest including the following questions when interviewing someone to shoot your work. What to Ask
1. What is your approach to architectural photography? Does the photographer’s vision meld with yours? Also, photographers with training outside of architecture, (e.g., fashion, portraits, or product photography) can bring a different point of view when photographing homes.
2. Do you own or rent your equipment? Equipment rental can translate into added fees.
3. How long does it take to get images back?
4. What resolution will the images be?
5. What are your post-shoot capabilities? Many photographers offer retouching, color adjustments, etc.
6. What do you offer besides finished photographs? Some photographers can compile portfolios or PowerPoint presentations for client use.
7. Will you scout the project (or projects) ahead of time? If multiple projects are being considered for photo shoots, visiting the sites beforehand will let the photographer help determine which sites are the best candidates and create a preliminary shot list.
What to Answer
1. What type of project are we shooting? Different jobs call for different equipment.
2. What are your goals for the project? Will you be using the photography only in your office or on your website photo gallery, or will you also submit the project for awards?
3. What are the conditions in the home? Will family members — especially children — be home? If the answer is yes, the shoot will likely take longer.
4. Is the home, and the project, accessible? The photographer will need a parking spot and plenty of room to set up. Tight spaces may affect which equipment the photographer chooses to bring. —L.H.
Pretty as a Picture
You’ll find great examples of professional project photography throughout this issue of REMODELING, but what makes these images different — and better — than simple snapshots? Here are a few telltale markers of a professional photographer’s touch. A. Stylish Staging
Most homes aren’t photo-ready. Professional photographers will ask that all surfaces be cleared of clutter, small appliances, family pictures, etc., and will bring in props (or use some from around the house) to style the space attractively.
C. High Sign
Rooms that take advantage of height call for professional treatment. Photographers have equipment and techniques to properly light high spaces that would otherwise swallow a camera flash. In some cases, high walls or ledges may also need to be styled with art or props, rather than being left empty.
B. View Through
Skilled photographers know that even non-focal points must be given attention. Landscaping viewed through windows should be manicured and adjoining rooms cleaned and staged. For whole-house or multi-room shoots, sight lines from one room to another become even more important.
D. Zoom In
The overall look of a room is important to convey in full photos, but details are king. Professional photographers will ensure that close-ups of project details receive as much care and styling as the pulled-back glamour shots.
Hiring a professional photographer is a lot like a homeowner hiring a remodeler. The customer first needs to understand that investing the money will ultimately yield better results than doing the work themselves. They also need to be up-front about how much they have to spend and what they want to get for their money. “Remodelers should think about this in terms of return-on-investment,” says photographer Ralph “Ozzie” Oswald, owner of RVOIII Photography, in Perkasie, Pa. “If they spend $1,500 on photography for their website and ads, then sell even one kitchen from that, they’ve made their money back.”
Though pricing will vary based on region and the photographer’s experience and offerings, Ozzie suggests that remodelers who want to put down the point-and-shoot and hire a pro should consider $1,200 to $1,400 as an entry-level investment.
During their recent photographer search, GTM Architects, in Bethesda, Md., asked numerous cost-related questions. Inquiring about rates, which could be measured by the hour, by day, or by project, “we found that the cost varied greatly, anywhere from $1,200 to $6,000 for a shoot,” says marketing director Lisa Wood. “Digital processing, disc copies, Photoshop corrections, assistant fees, and travel are all additional and could greatly increase the final cost.”
The following tips can help lower the cost of a photo shoot.
- For a small up-charge, most photographers allow multiple parties (architects, remodelers, builders, or even suppliers) to split the cost of the shoot.
- Save the cost of a photographer’s assistant by sending a staff member to do the job or by doing it yourself.
- Ensure an efficient photo shoot by cleaning the home, clearing clutter, and having a photo list outlined before the photographer arrives.
- Consider hiring younger, up-and-coming photographers. They may charge less, and you can help them build their portfolios. —Lauren Hunter, associate editor, REMODELING.