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
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.