Greg Hadley

Is it necessary to hire a photographer to document your remodeling projects? The short answer: No. The smart response: Often. The best answer: Yes, when the project is unique.

The Digital Camera Dilemma

Would you want a home­owner to build the custom cabinets in a remodel just because he has some new power tools? Probably not. The tools alone do not make him a professional. Similarly, although digital cameras allow someone with limited skills to take fine photos, the skills a professional photographer draws on are priceless. An architectural photographer brings years of shooting experience to the job and will know how to stage areas to maximize the beauty of each space and to showcase key elements.

After scouting or viewing “before” pictures, a professional will know what kind of lighting is best. For example, bathroom tiling is highly reflective. If the room is incorrectly lit, the tile will appear hot white.

Also, many finished projects may be unoccupied or not be fully furnished. A good team will bring props such as fruit, flowers, plants, towels, bar stools, outdoor furniture, bar set-ups, artwork, or other accessories that fit the scale and color scheme of the space. Otherwise, interiors may seem vacant and sterile.

Unfortunately, some projects may have unwanted elements such as unfinished landscaping, a homeowner’s side project that is still in progress, or a neighbor’s remodeling folly, which are more easily handled by a pro with digital expertise. And, of course, there’s the weather, phone lines, white sky, rain, and mud that can be cleaned up by a qualified Photoshop expert.

Although a good personal camera can shoot a 10MB image, the professional will have a model that delivers 50MB-plus per image. Not only can that image produce poster-size output, but the images will be delivered color-corrected and suitable for a magazine cover.

Great Value

Professionally shot pictures will have up-front costs, but the returns to the company make up for those. There will be high-quality images for mailers, consumer ads, a Web site, and a portfolio.

Magazines are always in search of exceptional pictures of projects spanning a range of budgets. If an editor can preview great pictures that fit a story idea and meet deadlines, he or she will be more likely to use those images than hire a photographer to travel and shoot. Plus, photographers who specialize in architecture always get requests for specific shots, and eagerly submit unique projects directly to choice shelter magazines. It’s impossible to buy the positive coverage that a good editorial piece will generate.

One of the greatest benefits of obtaining quality photography is the ability to enter and win design competitions. Associations such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the National Kitchen & Bath Association give awards that spotlight your company on a national level.

There are also many publications that have annual design or building awards. Don’t overlook local specialized awards and certifications. Design competitions are judged on drawings and some text, but mostly on photos. Poor photography severely hampers your chance of winning.

Building Goodwill

Giving professional photos of a project to homeowners shows how much you care and how committed your firm is to the finished product. What better promotion than a happy customer?

Remember that your reputation is based on your company’s professionalism and the work you choose to show. Feature the quality design work you want to build and that’s what customers will request.

—Greg Hadley, based in Fairfax, Va., specializes in architectural photography, especially residential interiors for architects, builders, designers, and advertising agencies ( In addition to numerous magazine contributions, he has been featured in several books including Cape Cod: Gardens and Houses, Mustique, and Mexican Style.

Web Extra: Setting Up a Good Shot

This photo was taken by the remodeler of this medium-sized bathroom with curved walls, and glass tiles. Although the photograph isn't terrible, it's dark, off kilter, and blurry. Not every element is shown to its best advantage, and the room itself is slightly messy.

Courtesy Greg Hadley

Courtesy Greg Hadley

Photographer Greg Hadley shot this photo of the same bathroom. The photograph is much sharper than the other and shows more of the bathroom. To properly light the room, Hadley had to consider the tiles, which are reflective; the dark floor; and the even darker wood of the cabinets. Plus, it was a bright, sunny day with sunlight coming in over the bathtub. He had to use interior lights to balance the incoming daylight.

Hadley used strobe lights (flashes) and put an individual light on each sink base so it wouldn't be black. He used general lighting in other areas he wanted to be seen. In the tub he used a battery operated light so the cord wouldn't be visible. "With reflective glass tiles," Hadley says, "I had only a few places to put lights or you'd see them. Also, I had to light the walls opposite so they wouldn't appear black in the mirror."

Hadley also tidied the room and simplified the decor by removing some pieces of the owner's art collection. He added larger, more prominent bars of soap in the soap dishes. "The overall thing is that you want a viewer to look at all the details," he says. "You want a person to be drawn into different parts of the photograph."

Hadley photographed this bathroom for more than five hours. He took detail and and close up shots. Most remodelers don't have this kind of time to spend on a project; nor do they have the kind of equipment -- lenses and lights -- required for a photographic outcome that matches the beauty of the project.

Using these photographs for his entry, says Hadley, tile designer and installer Davis Leichsenring of Holland Tile won a national tile award.

Courtesy Greg Hadley

This new addition designed and built by Brenneman & Pagenstecher of Kensington, Md., is a deep, long room with a huge circular window. It was difficult to artificially light the space because Hadley wanted to show all the walls of the room, yet he didn't want lights visible. He lit the space mostly with house lights and used an ultra-wide lens.

To really show off the space, Hadley took the picture at duskso that blue sky shows through the large window. "There was about 30-minute period of time in which to get the shot," he says. "If it had been taken an hour earleir hte windows would have been white; later they'd be black. In the middle of the day, sunlight would come in and you've bright sunlight in some spots and dark areas where there was no sunlight."

A lot of planning is involved in this photograph: Hadley repositioned furniture in the foreground. He styled the bar. He turned on the TV and paused a DVD. Additional lighting was used to enhace the bar and library area. 

While an amateur could take this photo, Hadley says, it would be very difficult unless they knew what they were doing. Also, they most likely wouldn't have the proper lens nor the six hours it took Hadley to photograph 15 pictures in the space.