Photography is an essential marketing tool for architects, but too many firms fall short on photographically documenting their buildings. Architectural photography has the ability to show a building “in action” — demonstrating how people use and live in it, showing off programmatic elements and telling the building’s story. But you should take care that the images you show to prospective clients, as well as those you post on your website and share on social media, communicate both your project’s success and your strengths as an architect.
Many of your prospective clients may never visit your projects in person, and they may never see your space alive, filled with human interaction, and performing as programmed. Nor will they experience the sensibility of the space: the sculptural height of a room, the carefully conceived wash of light against plaster, steel, or stone. They may not witness firsthand the painstaking detail of a stair. Words can describe, and your enthusiasm can excite, but it’s excellent photography that will truly help you tell the story of your project — and thus create more opportunities for your firm.
The success of your practice lies in the photographer’s ability to translate your architectural craft into vivid images that reflect your aspirations and bring your vision to life. You are paying for a photographer’s experience to interpret the geometry of a space, to combine proper equipment and post-production savvy to get that final, sublime still image. The art of a good architectural photographer lies in her translation of how the eye reads the lightness and shadow, foreground and background and the sensual detail of texture. Although the iPhone takes great photos, you would be selling your work short by relying on snapshots for project documentation. So there is real value in hiring the right photographer to document your work.
Take a moment to review the photographs you are using to represent your work. Look at them as if you are seeing your projects for the first – or only – time, solely based on these images. Are they strong, vibrant, as-if-you-were-there images? Or are they too dark, blurry, or have an off-color cast? Furthermore, do these images show the technical beauty of your space or building, yet fail to capture the human side of what happens there, leaving images that read cold and lifeless, devoid of people and activity?
For me, what makes architectural photography really special is its potential to narrate a building’s story. Architecture has the capacity to affect society: to create better, more livable places and, thus, to improve lives. The challenge for the photographer is to reveal the building’s functionality and the social interactions of its users in a way that’s authentic and spatial. A good architectural photographer is not only a master technician, but also an excellent storyteller: she combines aesthetics with a journalistic eye so that captions are unnecessary.
When I shoot, I seek out spaces and places where people congregate, live, and work. To best capture the social side of the building, I try to inhabit the space for a while and watch the building function. From there, the challenge (and fun) is to capture a moment in the building’s life that represents how it looks every day, and to represent — to an individual who may never experience the project first-hand — how the architect and client envisioned it to function.
Hiring a photographer is how you close out a project. The space has been realized, the fees received and the creative energy of the architect is leaning towards the next project. In some cases, you may never step back into the spaces that you’ve designed. Your future work depends on how your past projects market your architectural skill. So before you leave your space finished, hire a talented photographer who can accurately document your work, the energy with which you have imbued it and your vision that created it.
Aislinn Weidele is the Director of Creative Services for Hausman LLC and an expert in architectural photography and graphic design. Top image © Aislinn Weidele/Gotham Projects; second image © James Ewing Photography; bottom image © Michael Moran/OTTO