THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO HIRING AN ARCHITECTURAL & INTERIORS PHOTOGRAPHER

 

You have a project that needs to be photographed on time, within budget, with your vision in mind, and in a way that builds credibility for your business. Hiring a photographer who can meet all these needs isn’t as easy as you might hope. Be warned, not many photographers have the artistic, practical and technical skills, or the equipment to deliver. Here’s how to hire the right photographer for your needs.

Where To Find Your Photographer

 

1. Houzz

 

The first place you should start your search is on Houzz, the world’s largest website devoted to interior design. Any architectural photographer worth even considering has their own Houzz Pro page. Here’s a predetermined search for photographers in the Fraser Valley – if you just change the city in the search bar you can find some of the top-rated photographers in your area.

2. Google

 

Google is the 2nd best place to start searching for a photographer. I recommend starting with searches such as:

 

3. Referrals

 

Looking in the right place for a referral is key to success here.

  • At trade shows — look for someone who already has great photos and ask them who their photographer is. If they have crummy photos, don’t bother asking for a referral. Check to see if the vertical surfaces in the scene are actually vertical in the photo. If they’re not that’s a dead giveaway of an amateur photo.
  • Other websites — look at other builders, interior designers, architects, renovation companies, flooring companies, kitchen cabinet manufacturer, etc. Give them a call and ask about their photos.
  • People within your network — who you are already associated with? Do you like their photos?

You’ll want to be prepared with some questions to ask your reference. Start with the basics.

  • “What is your photographer like to work with?”
  • “What’s their style? Are they laid back, or a stuck-up pre-madonna?“
  • “Do they have good availability? Are they available on short notice?”
  • “What are their rates like?”
  • “Will they accept your input on a shoot? Do they welcome your direction?”
  • “How much equipment do they show up with?”
  • “Do they have specialized equipment necessary for architectural photography?”
  • “How experienced are they? How long in business? Do they specialize in architectural photography? Do they do this full time?”
  • “Are they detailed oriented and fussy?” You want fussy, it means they’ll do a better job.

 

4. LinkedIn

 

LinkedIn is the social network for business professionals. If you don’t already have an account, you can sign up here.

 

Start with a search on LinkedIn in the search bar at the top. Some searches you might consider:

LinkedIn has a system where it shows whether you’ve “connected” with a person before. If you know someone who’s connected with that person, it will show them as a 2nd degree connection.

 

Try to find someone within your 1st degree connections, but 2nd and 3rd degree connections would be your next priority.

5. Associations & Groups

 

Another option for finding a photographer is a bit more personal: associations and groups. Some in particular that are relevant in the Fraser Valley:

  • The Greater Vancouver Home Builder’s Association (GVHBA)
  • The National Kitchen Bath Association (NKBA)
  • Canadian Home Builder’s Association (CHBA)
  • Interior Designers Of Canada (IDC)
  • Your local Chamber Of Commerce.

There’s usually a directory online, but if there isn’t you can call the association and request their directory book. They also provide their directories at any home or building trade shows such as Buildex, The Vancouver Home Show, etc.

Pre-vetting Photographers

 

You’ve done some homework and have made a list of 2 or 3 of your top choices. The next step is to dig a bit deeper and check out their online presence. Here’s some criteria to start with.

  • Does their portfolio show similar projects?
  • Are the images high quality?
  • Do they have many positive reviews? What do the reviews say?
  • What about testimonials on their website?
  • How do they communicate on the website? The way they communicate is indicative of how they might communicate during the job.
  • Check their social media profiles: Facebook, Houzz, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. Is their message consistent with your beliefs and ideals?
  • Are they specialized in architectural photography? If you’re trying to get houses photographed, make sure that you don’t hire a photographer who specializes in weddings.

Most importantly, what is your gut telling you? That gut feeling is your emotional reaction to all of the facts plus your preferences, it’s a combination of logic and emotion.

 

Your next step is to pick up the phone and make a call, or send an email.

Make The Call – 8 Questions To Vet Your Potential Photographer, and Stump The Amateurs

 

Your best shot at finding out if a photographer is a fit is to call them. Email is non-committal but can slow down the process. There’s nothing like a phone call to get more of that gut feeling about someone.

 

Nevertheless, whether you call or email, ask these questions to make sure you get the best photographer for the job.

Let’s explore these questions in detail

 

1. How much experience do you have specifically with architectural photography?

 

This is your most important qualifying question.

 

If the photographer is mainly shooting weddings, sports, food, or other niches, they are unlikely to be familiar with what’s required to shoot in an architectural style. There’s a specialized way in which to shoot architecture, and if they aren’t specifically trained in it, they won’t have the:

  • compositional rules and techniques
  • specialized equipment
  • lighting knowledge
  • vast array of specialized knowledge needed to do a proper architectural shoot
  • post-processing skills (Photoshop).

They MUST have specialized knowledge in architectural photography. If they don’t, you can write them off right now. Don’t even bother going through the rest of the questions. Thank them for their time and move on to the next pick.

 

2. How much are you willing to collaborate to get that final image perfect? How much input can I have?

 

This question will immediately weed out the inexperienced photographers. Regardless of whether or not you want to collaborate, simply asking this question will give you an idea of their experience level.

 

If you have a vision for the final outcome, work with a photographer who is willing to take your direction and collaborate with you.

 

If you don’t have a vision and “just want it done well”, then you’ll want to work with someone who is extra creative and has many years of full-time experience so they can create under their own direction and showcase your work in a way that impresses.

 

In turn, you should ask which type they are.

  • “Do you have a particular vision in mind?”
  • “Do you mind me giving input on the job?

Ideally, you want someone who can both follow directions as well as set their own direction combining their experience with your vision.

3. Do you have liability insurance?

 

Imagine this: The photographer walks into a shoot and sets up their tripod. The tripod falls over, knocks over an expensive vase, and the lens leaves a big dent in your hardwood floor. Who pays for that damage?

In my case, the liability insurance does. If your photographer doesn’t have it, it’ll be you who pays for that damage.

Any full time professional architectural photographer should have liability insurance. If they don’t, it’s a dead giveaway that they aren’t taking their business seriously.

4. Tell the photographer what the challenges are in your project. How will they handle that particular challenge?

 

You may not immediately know what the challenges are in your particular project. Here are some examples of challenges that I’ve run into.

  • The lighting is very dark or dim in the home.
  • The lighting is very bright and washes out details on floors, furniture, or other aspects compared to other areas of the room.
  • The view from the window is worth capturing, which requires specific skills to capture properly in the final image.
  • The homeowner is going to be around with kids, so they need help staging the rooms because they’re messy. Many photographers won’t help you do any staging or moving of furniture.
  • There are pets in the home that may get in the way, even if the owner says they won’t be a problem they often are.
  • There is lots of reflective glass and shiny surfaces in the home.
  • The homeowner can only have a photographer in on weekends.
  • The job is 2 hours away.
  • The driveway is so steep that we can’t capture the front of the house without a 50 foot aerial platform (mast photography).
  • The house is on waterfront property, so we need to take photos from a boat.
  • The shoot has some very small rooms, so finding space for the tripod can be tricky or you need a lens that will capture the entire scene.

Reflect upon your specific project and mention any obstacles that may be an issue for the photographer. You would also expect a good photographer to ask you “what are the compositional challenges in your project?”. If they don’t, they’re probably a rookie.

5. How do you license your images? What licensing and usage does the price include?

 

The rookie photographer won’t have much of an answer here. They won’t understand licensing which is another quick way to weed out the inexperienced photographer. The answer must be very specific on exactly what the license includes.

 

Ideally you want to have a written licensing agreement for all the images they supply. The agreement will state exactly what the license includes, whether it be for web and social media use only for example, and for how long. This should be included with a written quote for the shoot.

 

Each photographer makes up their own licensing based on what you want to use the image for.

 

Here are some examples of the types of licensing that I offer.

  • Web and social media usage. Included with each shoot.
  • Internal and low resolution printing, not public facing. Included with each shoot.
  • High resolution sales material. Offered for an additional fee.
  • High resolution for newspaper or magazine. Offered for an additional fee.
  • Image use for television or mass-produced book. Offered for an additional fee.
  • 3rd party usage licensing. Offered for an additional fee.

Many of these licensing options are often negotiable though, and it’s best to talk about licensing options early on so you can bundle some of it together, especially if you’re wanting to use the images in many different places. See more on licensing.

 

6. Is this your full-time job?


You want to know if they’re dedicated to the profession and thinking about photography all day long. Whenever you hire anyone, you want someone who eats, breathes, and sleeps their craft. That’s how you get the best. A part timer isn’t going to be able to give you that same level of dedication.

7. Do you use flash photography? Do you combine flash with ambient lighting?

 

This might seem a bit technical. But the photographer should know how to manipulate light, and flash is often required to do that. The use of flashes, or strobes as they’re commonly referred to, is often required to capture the natural color of the room where necessary.

 

How a camera captures available room light may not be desirable on some parts of the photo and carefully placed flashes will compensate for this. Combining portions of an image taken with flash with other portions taken with available ambient light is often the best way to give images a magazine quality look that attracts potential clients to your business.

This is a good question to ask because so many photographers refuse to use flash. Why? Flash photography scares the inexperienced photographer because they are difficult to use well.

8. Do you use a tilt-shift lens?

 

Another technical question but this one is particularly important. A tilt-shift lens allows the photographer to compose a scene with perfect alignment of vertical objects, then optimally adjust the outside frame of the shot either horizontally, vertically, or both, without moving the camera.

 

Any serious architectural and interiors photographer will have one or more of these in their bag. In many instances there is no other way to compose a scene without the use of this speciality architectural lens.

 

The amateur photographer, or one that doesn’t specialize in architectural photography, will not have a need for this type of equipment, a sure sign that they aren’t the right person for the job.

How Much Should You Pay For Architectural Photography?

 

A client of mine who sells high end properties, had hired a budget photographer for one of his listings. The photos they supplied were unsatisfactory and his clients were furious. My client not only ended up spending even more money by having me reshoot it, but he almost lost his client as a result of hiring the budget photographer.

 

You could spend $400 on photographing your entire house and probably still get decent photos. But what is the cost to your business of simply spending the minimum on a project?

  • Retakes (time spent to get photos done again)
  • Unhappy potential buyers
  • Annoyed realtors
  • Lost potential sales
  • Failure to showcase the emotional appeal of that home
  • Failure to convey the feeling of a space and how one room flows from one to the other
  • Time wasted viewing a space if the photos don’t adequately convey the layout or details

A floor manufacturing client of mine who were taking their own photos, weren’t satisfied with the results. We were discussing rates in a meeting and their words spoke loudly:

 

“Your cost will long be forgotten because of our increased sales from the photos you supply.”

 

The main problems with a low budget photographer are lack of vision, and experience. If you have a vision for your space, it’s difficult to get that captured from an amateur. And if you don’t have a vision, then you especially need a pro with deep experience to craft one for you.

You’re Paying for
the Emotional Appeal

 

The ideal outcome for your architectural and interiors photos is that they create an emotional attachment to the potential buyer. You want the photos to ooze with “I want this”.

 

For every space, there are many angles and composition that you could take for each room, yet only a few of those really captures that space in a way that makes it emotionally appealing.

 

You don’t want to just capture the space, you want to capture the emotional appeal the designer had intended for the space.

 

You want to capture the feel of the room, because potential buyers are going to make their decision based on how a space makes them feel. Images must allow the viewer to mentally walk through the space without items blocking the eye from moving through it.

Questions You Should
Ask About Pricing:

 

Before you can bring up the subject of price, you have to know what you need. Here are some needs that might affect the price of your project.

  • Do I just need one room photographed, or the whole house?
  • Do I want the exterior of the house shot?
  • Where do I want to put these photos? Web, social media, billboards, etc. This is where licensing becomes relevant.
  • Do we need daylight or twilight photography? Twilight has a special look to it that enhances its visual appeal, but is more expensive due to the additional time to shoot and post process.
  • Are there time restrictions on the shoot?
  • How far away is the shoot? If they have to travel, that could increase cost.
  • Do you have any special post processing requests? Does something need to be photoshopped in or out of the shot?
  • How much staging are you willing to do yourself? If the rooms are cluttered or furniture needs to be moved, the photographer’s work will increase, as well as the price.
  • Are models required in the final images. This will add time and cost.
  • Do you need a written quote?
  • Do you have a contract showing the details of the shoot, what exactly will be delivered and at what pixel dimension, when it will be delivered, the proofing cycle process if any, licensing and usage, pricing, and payment terms?

 

When talking price, you would want to include these details up front so that you can actually get a reliable quote. If the photographer learns later on that they have to travel 3 hours to the shoot, then the quote is likely to change.

When They Show Up For The Shoot

 

Personality Considerations

 

The first half hour of your shoot with a new photographer is all about judging their personality and if they’re a good fit for you. You can’t tell what their photography skills are just yet but you can tell a lot about them soon after you first meet.

 

The hallmarks of a good architectural and interiors photographer are many but the most important is for them to do a thorough survey of the location to be photographed. If they don’t even do a basic walkthrough to consider the space, the lighting, and how they plan the shoot, they’re most certainly an amateur. Ask them to communicate their thought process through the walkthrough.

 

How much enthusiasm do they show? A great photographer will start to narrate their observations about the space, ask questions, engage with you, and try to understand your vision. Within the first 10-15 minutes, you should be able to tell if this photographer is not for you.

 

Some considerations:

  • How respectful are they to you, or the homeowners? Do they try to make the family comfortable?
  • How do they deal with pets or kids?
  • Do they get permission for where to put all of their equipment? Or do they just toss it anywhere, where it could easily be in the homeowner’s way?

 

If you have a photographer who builds trust with the homeowners, it’s not uncommon to be able to leave them alone with the homeowners to continue the shoot, freeing your time for other projects. A friendly photographer who builds this trust early could be the difference between you stopping in for a half hour for the shoot, or having to spend your entire day at the house babysitting.

Equipment

 

If a photographer shows up with just a backpack and one lens, you’re looking at a complete amateur. Good equipment does not make a good photographer, but a lack of tools is predictive of amateur results. A pro will come prepared.

 

You should expect them to bring equipment that helps them shape the light. That includes external lights, and light modifiers to either add or block light where necessary.

 

You can simply ask them “what are you using for light modifiers?”. Even if you don’t know what a light modifier is, their answer will be revealing about how they communicate and whether you feel comfortable about how they answered your question.

 

If you want to be thorough, feel free to ask them questions about their equipment.

  • Are you using a tilt-shift lens?
  • Do you use a tripod?
  • What kind of lighting equipment do you use?

Job Considerations

 

After the initial personality and equipment considerations, there are a few conversations the photographer should have with you before they start shooting.

  • Which side of the house or space should we start on? Based on the current lighting conditions and where the light will be during the day, you would expect to shoot some rooms first, and other rooms last. Do they consider this?
  • The amount of photos to be delivered based on the quote.
  • What staging needs to be done? Any pro should do at least some basic staging or furniture rearranging to get the best results.
  • Do you think we’re ready to start here? This is my go-to transition to see if I’ve addressed all of your thoughts on the project. The photographer should check with you to make sure that they fully understand the job, and that they’re going to get the shots you’re looking for. I usually ask the client if they believe I fully understand all aspects of the shoot.

Shot List

 

It can take up to an hour to get an excellent photo. Before the photography actually starts on the project the day of the shoot, you’ll want to decide on which shots they will be taking, and preferably in which order.

 

At this point, you have two directions:

  • you provide the photographer with a list of shots you need, or
  • the photographer helps create a shot list with you, in order to capture the space properly.

I often do the latter, as it guarantees I’m able to get the shots you’ll be happy with.

During The Shoot

 

While the photographer works, should you stay, or will you or your client be comfortable enough with the photographer that you can leave?

If you stay:

  • the shoot can take longer, depending on your level of involvement. I personally love to get people involved as the process is interesting to many.
  • expect to provide input
  • it’s easier to see your full vision realized
  • you will be assured the composition is exactly what you want.

When you’re there for the whole shoot, you’re able to see the results of each shot as they happen. I use an iPad to show clients what I’m shooting as it allows them to see the creative vision unfold and on a larger screen.

If you’re comfortable enough to leave:

  • You’re leaving creative control in the hands of the photographer. Based on their past work, you’d better trust them at this point.  
  • The first thing you’re going to see is a finished photo. I’ve heard many stories where photographers delivered the results, and the clients were horrified with the final results.

Once they get into the shoot

 

A good photographer is going to spend their shoot doing the following things:

  • Taking the time to walk around each room to find the best perspective for that shot.
  • Cleaning windows, mirrors, and floors to make sure they look impeccable.
  • Straightening curtains and bedding, hiding cords and cables, combing carpet tassels, etc.
  • Choosing which lens works best for that shot.
  • Positioning the camera and trying out different angles.
  • Taking test shots. The photographer should ask you about each test shot to find a good direction to go in and whether it fits into your vision.
  • Setting up lighting (adding light).
  • Blocking off windows and lights sources such as reflections from windows, light fixtures, or light from connecting rooms (taking away light).
  • Getting feedback from you or the homeowner.
  • Rinsing and repeating those steps for each shot.

 

When all the shots are taken, the photographer should make sure that you are satisfied with the way the shoot went, that all of your concerns were met, and that the space is put back together as it was when they first arrived.

 

Ask yourself:

  • Were they thoughtful and considerate to the homeowner, and you, during the shoot?
  • Did they complete the shoot within your time limit?
  • Did they make you feel confident in their abilities and the results you expect?

 

After The Shoot —
Post-Processing

 

Once the photographer gets back into their studio the image files require the same amount of time to post-process as the shoot itself took. Although this is something you have no control over it’s important to know what is involved so you don’t expect the images to show up in your inbox the same day of the shoot.

 

Post-processing involves:

  • Copying the files to the computer
  • Cataloguing the images with software
  • Choosing the best images. There are sometimes thousands to choose from.
  • Combining the images in Photoshop to create the final image.
  • Manipulating the images in Photoshop to add, remove, or change the image as required.
  • Saving the images in usable file formats and sizes based on what you requested. This can also change depending on the licensing that you’ve purchased.
  • Sending the photos to you.

The photographer will most likely have other orders to fulfill so processing of your order can take one to two weeks to deliver the proofs or final images, unless you ask for them sooner.

Project Post-Mortem

 

After the shoot is over and the images are delivered ask yourself “do I want to keep working with this photographer in the future?” Working with someone new is a learning curve, for both of you. You’re getting to know them and how they work, and they’re getting to know you, how you like to work, and what the future working relationship will be like.

 

Any professional photographer is going to call you to ask for feedback about your photos. They might ask:

  • How did you like the process of working with them?
  • How do you feel about the photos? Did they meet your needs?
  • What didn’t work for you?
  • What can we do differently next time? How can we take it up a notch?

 

For an architectural photographer to become an ongoing team member, you’d expect them to learn about you the more they work with you. It’s a good sign if the photographer asks how they can improve the next shoot.

 

You should get the feeling that your photographer is an extension of your business. They should:

  • Follow up every few months
  • Care about your business and success
  • Almost feel like a regular employee

 

Photographs are the handshake, the first impression your company will leave. The impression you make with your photographs speaks volumes about the quality of your brand. Control that impression by choosing the right architectural and interiors photographer, the one that cares about you and your brand.

 

How did your hiring process go? Were you able to use this guide to make a good hire, change your previous hire, or avoid a bad one? Let me know by throwing me a message here.

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