Picture perfect projects

The value of a hiring a professional photographer
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
By Martin Knowles

Photography is a means of communication. Whether promoting new work on the web or through social media channels, or submitting projects for design awards, photography plays a pivotal role in helping people understand and experience the built environment.

Photography is often done in the halcyon moments between project completion and hand-off; however, there are many other times and uses for photography.

Good recordkeeping
When considering photography, a designer should first determine why the photos are necessary, and then decide how and for what the photos will ultimately be used.

For renovations, most awards programs require a set of ‘before’ and ‘after’ images. If a project has significant heritage elements, photos of specific details during and after construction may also be useful to ensure standards compliance. Similarly, sustainable features not visible after construction often must be photographically documented to demonstrate LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) compliance or other sustainability goals.

Images from before, during and after construction provide a record of “what happened when,” improve trade communications and can help a designer avoid liability issues. These images can also be valuable outside the design team and in the future. They can help keep stakeholders and the public informed beyond what can be seen through street hoarding. Future renovation and maintenance work will be made easier and cheaper if walls, ceilings and services (at a minimum) are photographed upon completion of framing, electrical and enclosure. After all, it’s always useful to know what’s in an existing wall before modifying it.

A keen eye
There are a number of general concerns in producing photographs for marketing campaigns and public relations purposes. Weather and daylighting have a huge bearing on the mood and “feel” of the final images, and multiple site visits may be necessary for best results. A dark wintery evening highlights a cozy heritage interior but a modernist indoor-outdoor living space with an expansive view sparkles on a clear summer morning. Think about staging: Does the project work best with a spare, clean look? Or would a few strategically placed pillows and table settings highlight the space? Some publications prefer (or forbid) photos that include people.

The expert knows best
Be aware that cameras “see” differently than people; what may look good in person may not immediately photograph well. Small changes in camera placement, lens choice, lighting types and quality, and what is included in the frame can make or break the final image. A professional photographer will be experienced in translating a designer’s vision into exceptional photographs that satisfy technical and aesthetic requirements, and will also have the necessary camera, lighting and post-production tools and expertise to create stunning images, especially when unconventional and difficult to photograph spaces are involved.

While hiring a professional may seem expensive at first, many professional photographers can work within a negotiated budget and provide arrangements to reduce or share costs. An interior designer, architect and materials supplier may all need photos of the same project, and it can often yield better results for substantially less time and expense for all to share the cost of one photographer and each party to licence just the images they need.

While there is obvious benefit in having good photographs at every step in the building process, it’s important to balance the project’s (and designer’s) communication needs with the time and funds available. For smaller, quicker projects, a DIY approach with a digital SLR camera, a good wide-angle lens, and careful technique and recordkeeping could suffice. For longer, more complex ‘marquee’ projects, professional photography will likely pay for itself in easier communication, more awards and media recognition, and future commissions.

Martin Knowles is owner and photographer of Martin Knowles Photo/Media, which provides a full portfolio of architectural photography services and has been an instrumental part of more than 30 industry award-winning projects. Martin can be reached at 604-838-5785 or martin@mkphotomedia.com.

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