This is the third post in my detailed series of articles about how to make a living as an architectural photographer.
This article is all about planning an architectural photography shoot. I will tell you all the things that I have learnt in my work as an architectural photographer. I will describe the things that I have to consider in the planning of each and every architectural photography shoot. Once you have read this article you will hopefully be able to plan your next shoot a little better than you could before reading this article!
You can read the first two articles here
Now lets look at that planning!
1 – The Client Brief
The starting point is the client brief. Everything I write about in this article is based on working for commercial clients. My clients are mainly architects and product manufacturers, and what I write about will be based on my experiences with both client types. Many of the principles, processes and outcomes are the same for both client types.
So, the starting point is that you have some potential commercial photography work.
This is how things normally go.
A client contacts me, as they need some photographs of either a completed building or a product they have supplied that is being used on a construction project.
The client issues me with a brief, we discuss the brief and the finer details.
Wherever possible I do this by phone or face to face – it is much more time efficient, and more importantly speaking either by phone or face to face helps to build a relationship that you can never do by email alone.
When you have received an enquiry, phone and talk to your potential client. I always do this and get more work.
Clients appreciate the effort of this, and you will stand out amongst the other photographers they have no doubt contacted who respond by email only.
It’s a tough world out there, and why should a client choose you over someone else? Assuming that every photographer a client contacts is technically able to provide the photographs they want what makes you different?
You. That’s what. Or me in my case!
My brand is me, and clients come back to me as they like working with me. I take the time to talk to them and properly understand what they need.
Getting back to the point of the brief, you agree much more quickly what the client requires, and more importantly does not require, by talking.
Things that need to be agreed include the following, some of which I will elaborate on later in this article which relate to the planning of a shoot.
- Number of images
- Use of images
- What the images are for
- Shot list
- People in/ not in
- Timing/ incomplete works
- Contingency planning
All these things need to be agreed. Once I have a clear picture of what the client wants, I will confirm this to the client in a written quotation.
This quotation is the agreement, and also includes my terms and conditions. I produce a bespoke quote for every architectural and construction product shoot, even if it is repeat work.
In English law the quotation is the contract, the written agreement between the two parties.
This is the single most important thing in planning an architectural photography shoot – agreeing what you are going to photograph.
You could take the most amazing photos of a building but if they are not what the client wants or asked for they simply will not pay you and will not contact you again!
OK, now we know what we have agreed to do – lets move on to the detail of planning an architectural shoot.
2 – Timing
When does the client need the images? When can you access the site? These are critical things that will need to be agreed.
Also, does the client want the buildings photographing at a certain time of day, to capture a certain feature in a certain light?
I always ask the client specifically this question – as I am dealing with architects mainly they will be fully aware of the best time for the features that are most important to them.
The obvious question is the orientation of the facades – south facing is sun facing normally, if there is any sun that is!
I also always ask clients if they require the buildings to be photographed at dusk or after dusk, with some light still in the sky but the lights on in the building. This is a popular request, but needs the time for this factoring in.
Taking this point a step further, if a client wants a building photographing at both sunrise and sunset this time will need to be paid for – does the client have the budget for this?
Another point I need to make with the timing of a shoot – and I have made this point before. In architectural photography and construction product photography sometimes the best time to take photographs is around noon, when the sun is directly overhead.
But no, I hear you all say – this is the worst time to shoot!
One answer to that is – shadows.
Does your client care if the sun is directly overhead? Probably not.
Does he care if you photograph the building in glorious morning sunrise light, but the façade is in shadow? Oh yes.
Golden light, golden hour, cutting light – call it whatever you want – these are luxuries you don’t get as an architectural photographer, so get over this right now!
Plan the timing to get the pictures your client wants.
I often get drawings marked up by the client showing the important parts of the building, and when certain shots need to be taken. Obviously, it is important that you can read architectural drawings – thankfully as a Chartered Builder I am fine with this.
3 – Location
This might sound obvious but not that long ago I was driving to a shoot in the middle of nowhere using my phone to navigate (safely via Apple Car Play I hasten to add), when I found myself in the actual middle of nowhere with no phone signal at all.
What did I do?
Believe it or not if I am not sure if there is a phone signal in the place I am going I write down and save the directions, and use a thing called a map.
For anyone under the age of 30 a map is Google Maps on paper. You can buy maps from things called shops.
Yes, Amazon do them as well don’t worry.
And paper is this stuff you might have used some years ago at school to write on.
One further point on location – again it might sound obvious but allow yourself plenty of time to get there. I get to a shoot normally half an hour minimum before I need to. I rarely worry about the traffic or being late, and in the time I have spare when I get there I just do the work I would have done before I left.
Sometimes simple things make life so much easier.
4 – Timing of the shoot in relation to the completion or otherwise of the works
This is an issue that needs thinking about on most commercial shoots I do. I have lost count of the number of times I have to remove, either physically or using Photoshop, or of course shooting from a different viewpoint, evidence of unfinished works. I am talking about stuff like
- Bags of rubbish
- Cabins (obviously I don’t remove these myself!)
- Surplus materials
- Things that have not been fixed yet
- I also find myself completing the following parts of the works in Photoshop
- Grounds and landscaping
- Dead patches of turf
- Rainwater goods
- Making good defects in wall finishes. This is frequent thing that I do.
I also have to remove sensor dust spots – they are down to me and my tardy camera cleaning regime – and things that I shouldn’t have included in the first place.
This is all fine, but again the time that these things take does need to be paid for. Clients need educating that some of the cost they are paying you is to get rid of these things – they would not thank you for giving them a finished image with a bag of rubbish in, would they?
Planning the timing of the shoot can have a big impact on the ease of the shoot itself, and the amount of time taken in post processing.
Another final point here, and something that caused me a problem once.
I did a paving shoot in a town centre for a paving product manufacturer. The pavings were stained with oil and god knows what and looked hideous. Sometimes things just cannot be photographed.
5 – People
This is a biggy. Basically, does the client want
- People in the shot
- No people in the shot.
This causes me endless problems on architectural and construction product shoots of public buildings or public spaces.
This will have a huge impact on the timing. If the client has just completed a building which is to be used by the public then they will want people in the photographs, to show how people interact with their design and concept.
If people are required to be in the photos, then this needs planning in. And if you are to include people in a shoot releases need to be considered. In the UK if I am photographing public external space then I do not need releases as the people are being photographed in a public space. This may be an issue if I wanted to sell an image to others though, so this needs thinking about.
And what do you do if there are no people around?
This is what I do.
I include myself.
This is me in a picture taken of some paving at a Leisure Centre for a product manufacturer. There was no-one around for this shot the client had requested, so I just included myself.
And then the same in reverse, where the client does not want people in a shoot. I had this issue at Bournemouth University, where the client wanted a central paved street without any people in, but the only time I could do this was at sunrise. I don’t mind getting up early for a shoot, and the morning light was great for bringing out the textures in the products, but shadows were once again my enemy.
As you can see all these things are inter-linked and all need considering separately and together.
Sometimes you just have to do the best you can, and explain to the client the problems and what you have done about them.
6 – Weather
If you are in a sunny place move on. If you are in England stick with me. Does an architect want photographs of their work on a dull, wet, rainy day?
Of course not.
The weather. Very changeable in England. And more often that not the actual weather is completely different from that forecast.
What to do?
Move to California. That is plan A.
But until then this is what I do.
- Plan the best I can and hope. That is all I can do. Plan
- The timing of the shoot
- The orientation of the sun
- Where I want the sun to be
- Check the forecast
- Book a date for the shoot
- Then hope
I will confirm a shoot a couple of days before, if the weather is looking good. If it is not I will defer.
If the client needs the images I will advise them of the weather and the implications for their images and agree a decision with them.
Sometimes clients just need images.
And don’t rely on Photoshop and sky replacement to save you every time – it can sometimes but is no use if the face of a building is wet. And you need a sky that fits the scene.
7 – Equipment – photography
Planning a professional shoot requires you to have all your equipment prepared, fully working and clean. A few things to think of
- Camera clean
- Camera sensor clean
- Lenses clean
- Spare camera body and back-up lenses
- Spare batteries charged
- Spare memory cards formatted and ready for use
- Cleaning kit packed
- Everything tightened and fully working
- All the gear you could possibly need all prepared, packed and ready to go
- And everything packed so you can quickly find things
- Know your gear and know how it all fits together and where it is
If you are working as a professional photographer you need to be professionally prepared. I use probably 10% tops of the stuff I take for a shoot, but on every commercial shoot I pack everything into my car, every time, without fail.
There have been two occasions where I have forgotten stuff – these were
No spare batteries
The time I forgot to pack my spare camera batteries. I turned off the GPS on my camera, using my iPhone for the location date, and the battery on my Canon 6D lasted me just fine.
Only one memory card
Yes, I forgot to pack my bespoke case full of empty, formatted memory cards. I only had one card on me. Thankfully as my Canon 6D uses SD cards I managed to buy a couple of cheap cards when at the shoot location from a petrol station.
8 – Equipment – other
I have a variety of non-photographic equipment that I pack for every photography shoot. These things help me on my shoots. Anything that I have that will make the taking of photographs easier and more efficient I take with me. I want to be fully prepared and not have to worry about anything other than what I point my camera at.
- Warm clothes – hats, gloves, coats, trousers.
- Boots. I wear steel toe-capped boots on my shoots. Bombproof they are.
- PPE – gloves, safety glasses (that I can take photos wearing), hard hat, hi vis jacket and trouser.
- Cool clothes – needed a couple of times a year in England.
- Change of shirts – for when I have to include myself in a shoot as there are no people there
- Clothing to allow you to work. Be smart but don’t turn up to shoot on a live construction site in a suit. Apart from being laughed at you have to be dressed for work. On virtually every shoot I will at some point be kneeling down, or lying down on the floor.
- Drinks. Coffee and water for me to keep me going.
- Fuel for me – snacks. I always have snacks with me, and always eat well before I leave. I am a bit of a hog to be honest so use the pressures and strains of commercial photography work to justify a Greggs sausage and bacon sandwich en route!
- Fuel in the car. Yes, another obvious thing, but imagine running late to a shoot 100 miles away, getting in the car and the dreaded fuel light coming on!
- I keep my car full rather than empty, and guess what – after the first fill of the tank it does not cost any more, and doing this means I never had this additional and completely unnecessary hassle.
- Talking of cars – can you charge your gear in your car? If not have a look at this – I charge stuff on the way back from a shoot, and on the odd occasion on the way if needed.
- Also, tools to fix problems that you might have with your gear.
9 – Image capture
Oh yes. The small point of taking the actual photographs.
Know how you are going to take the photos. Get your camera settings how you want them in advance.
Decide how you are going to take the images.
- Single images?
- Bracketed exposures?
- Landscape format?
- Horizontal format?
- Landscape and horizontal format?
- Which aperture?
- What ISO?
- Painters pole?
I have a default array of equipment and settings that I use for most shoots, which are as follows.
- Canon 6D
- Canon 17-40mm lens
- L bracket
- Manfrotto tripod and geared head
- Neewer Loupe viewer
- ISO 100
- Aperture F8
- AV Mode
- Self-release timer – 10 seconds
- GPS enabled
- Auto bracketing on – normal exposure, 2 stops under exposed, 2 stops over exposed
- Back button focus
This is how I set up my camera at home (apart from the GPS which I turn on when I get there) and how I start every shoot. Sometimes I will not change from this set-up at all, although on most shoots I will vary the aperture at least.
All I need to focus on is the composition, which is exactly how I want to work.
I do not want to be mucking around with my camera, fiddling with settings. That should be done at home. Time on a shoot is time to take photos.
My set up is relatively simple and straightforward, meaning I am mobile and able to get anywhere. I have the most used accessories in my backpack which I wear during the shoot, with the rest of the gear left in the boot of my car.
10 – Contingency planning
We are at the end. What if something goes wrong? Well hopefully by planning the shoot and taking account of everything above all things are covered. I have tried to cover everything that I have come across in my commercial photography work.
The thing I cannot account for is the location itself. You never know what that is going to throw at you until you get there!
I just wanted to make the point – planning is the key to a successful architectural photography shoot. All the problems I have encountered to date I have managed to get around. The worst thing that has happened to me on a shoot was that the product I was shooting was not fit to be photographed.
If you start with the client brief, and more importantly the client, and forming a professional working relationship with them, problems later can be dealt with.
Items 1 – 9 are the contingency planning – cover all these points and you should be ok. Obviously, there are going be things that crop up, but you need to be able to react to them calmly and professionally.
As you will have gathered by now, planning is the key to success on an architectural shoot. And on any shoot come to that.
The more you prepare yourself the more enjoyable your taking of photos will be, be it a commercial shoot or going out to take some nice landscape shots for yourself.
I hope you have enjoyed this article, and look forward to answering any questions you may have via the comments box.