This month, we’re giving AEC industry professionals tips on the best ways to improve their websites. In our first installment, nationally recognized architectural photographer Brad Feinknopf offers insight on investing in good photography. The Columbus-based photographer has been shooting architecture and commercial related images for over 25 years. His images have been published worldwide and over his career has done a wide variety of work for many of the world’s well-known architects and designers. Brad was recently selected by ArchDaily as one of the Top 13 Architectural Photographers in the World to Follow.
By Brad Feinknopf
We live in a visual society. People gravitate to the image. In Eric Bricker’s 2008 documentary film, Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman, narrator Dustin Hoffman quotes the renowned architectural photographer saying,
“Architects live and die by the images taken of their work; as these images alone are what people see. For every one person who visits a private house, there may be ten thousand who only view it as a photo.”
This quote – which I’ve proudly attached to my e-mail signature – was made before the advent of the Internet and those “ten thousand” people to which Shulman refers could now easily number in the hundreds of thousands or even millions when one considers the multitude of Design and Architectural blogs that publish imagery.
Digital newsletters and alerts from top architectural blogs like ArchDaily or Architizer show up in your inbox, largely as a series of images, and only when you click on them do you get the words. Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, Stumbledupon and other image-driven social media platforms are growing exponentially. Even Twitter, which is a text-based platform, has become a popular vehicle for disseminating links to videos and images.
Would you maintain a subscription to Architect, Architectural Record, Interior Design or Contract if there were no photography? How many periodicals do you read that contain mere pontifications on design and present no images? Obviously, imagery is important and it’s not just important, it’s paramount.
I am an architectural photographer and I should know. When someone visits my website, I have one chance to grab their attention. I have tirelessly gone through my galleries to make certain that each one shows depth. I constantly update my online portfolios so they maintain their freshness, and I try to make sure my descriptions are strong, cohesive and grammatically correct. But in the end, it is the first handful of images – and these images alone – that will either compel the viewer to delve deeper into my website or move on.
As you market your projects, your challenge is exactly the same as mine. When a visitor lands on your website, you need the right photography to draw the viewer in or they will click away to someone else’s homepage.
The same is true for competitions and the press. I’ve spoken about the importance of imagery to numerous editors for prominent architecture and design publications, as well as jurors for AIA and other major competitions at every level. They all say the same thing: “The first cut is made entirely based upon photography. If the photography isn’t good, we move on. If the photography is good and the project looks interesting, we look deeper.”
Regardless, whether the material is your website, an awards submittal or a package for a print or online publication, it is the photography you are using that will ultimately move you beyond the first pass.
In light of this, try viewing photography not as an expense but as an investment. Like any investment, good photography should provide a return: it should garner you new work, help you win awards, and, hopefully, even get your firm and your projects published.
The way I see it, if my clients get new commissions, win awards, or get published, I have, in some small capacity, helped them to succeed through my photography. I’m not so arrogant as to believe that their success is solely due to my work and my images, but I will say that a good project with great photography will often go much farther than a great project with poor photography. Likewise, if you have a great project with equally great photography, the possibilities may be endless.
So, when you’re looking at your website and thinking, “How can we do things better? How can we win that next commission, or that next award? How can we get ourselves published?” You will almost always find the answer by looking to your imagery. Is it up to snuff? Could it be better? Investing in the right photography could very likely be one of the most critical factors in determining the level of success your firm may enjoy in the years ahead.