A Pic Above: The Case for Working with Architectural Photographers

Matthew Bradford

It takes more than a smartphone and basic photo skills to showcase a project. For this reason, more and more building stakeholders are trusting architectural photographers to put their work in the spotlight.

“The old adage still stands: an image is worth a thousand words,” says Brandon Barré, a Toronto-based architectural photographer. “When you invest in great photography, you elevate your product and consumer engagement to heights you would never have achieved on your own.”

What goes into “great photography?” Turns out, a lot. While anyone with a mobile device can click to take a pic, producing eye-catching (and media-friendly) images takes a holistic approach that building project stakeholders may not consider.

“We don’t just come and photograph; we photograph with a purpose,” says Ema Peter, owner of Ema Peter Photography. “We start by working with stakeholders to understand the project, find out its story, and what kind of details we need to bring out. Then, we discuss where the client wants their pictures to be seen, whether that’s in a specific magazine, on Instagram, or elsewhere.”

“We’re always trying to find that killer shot within each space,” adds Barré. “Of course, we try to do that in more than one way, but we’re always looking for that one shot that gets on the covers and gets everyone’s attention.”

Framing the advantages

There are several benefits of working with a professional photographer to showcase a wood project. They include:

Experience: Architectural photographers know what makes an eye-popping image for specific magazines and online channels. And, more importantly, they know how to produce images that match those expectations.

Coming prepared: A great deal goes into preparing a photoshoot, much of which can go unnoticed to the untrained eyed.

“There’s a lot of work to be done before we get to shooting. That includes fine-tuning everything to make sure it’s camera ready and bringing in props, accessories, fresh florals, and/or fruit, etc.,” says Barré. “Shooting for an interior designer, for example, requires either the designer or prop stylist to embellish the space in a tasteful, appropriate way.”

Lighting: Think a sunny day or a few street lights is enough for your photo? Think again. Proper lighting and composition can make the difference between a forgettable pic and one that gets noticed.

“We chase the light around and through the building and look for those very special moments that capture attention or take people’s breath away,” explains Peter.

Advanced tech: Photographers are constantly investing in their trade. Working with a professional, therefore, means having access to photography technology that’s likely well above the average device.

“Camera processing technology on the newest phones is excellent these days, but the sensors are still small to keep the cost of these items down, assuming that most consumers will only ever see the resolution necessary to show up well on a phone screen,” says Barré. “The minute an image is downloaded and printed, it will give away the lack of high resolution and look nowhere near as good in print or full-size monitor screens.”

Post work: Snapping the shot is only the beginning. According to Barré, nearly 50 per cent of the actual work is done “in post” via photo editing and retouching software.

“For example,” says Barré, “I generally layer five to six shots of the same angle, each frame exposed or lit differently, to create the final image. The photographer’s aesthetic is important, as the final look still should appear natural and unmanipulated. We’ve all seen some very ‘over-processed’ images out there, so having the eye for this is so important.”

Certainly, adds Peter, having an eye for what needs to be tweaked and adjusted counts, especially when it comes to catching the details. “For example, the grain of wood is one of the hardest things to photograph because the slightest variation in contrast or lighting can make it look too grainy or dirty. That’s why I trust a team of my own photoshop specialists to work on what I capture and make the final images stand out.”

Industry exposure: Photographers thrive by building networks and sharing their work through multiple channels. Working with a professional photographer often comes with the added perk of having the final results shared with millions of followers via online channels like Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

Making it all click

There’s a difference between project photos that capture a building and those that grab imaginations. Project owners and architects may have some photo savvy, but as with any other element of a project, there’s value in trusting a specialist.

“There’s a lot of talk about the tall wood building movement and its sustainability benefits, so people want to see pictures of those projects,” says Peter. “If you want to be one of the projects they notice, though, you need to trust the photography to someone who has been doing this for a while and knows how to get your message across.”

Matt Bradford is a writer, editor, and longtime contributor at MediaEdge, publishers of Wood Industry e-digest and magazine. He has spent years reporting on the wood and construction industries and values the opportunity to provide insights into the secondary wood manufacturing community’s successes, challenges, and opportunities.

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