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May 8, 2017

How to find a good architectural photographer

By JEFFREY TOTARO
Architectural photographer

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Totaro

Specialties in photography are just as important as specialties in design and construction. To become an expert in your field requires years of experience and hard work.

Architects and contractors know that showing a strong portfolio of a specific building type will go a long way in helping to win a commission. Building that portfolio requires an attentive process, from schematic design all the way through to final completion of construction, so that clients are happy and the building is a success. Why keep it a secret? Hiring a professional photographer, one who specializes in shooting architecture and interiors, will allow you to communicate your successes to those who may never have a chance to visit your project in person.

How do you get started in the process of hiring an architectural photographer?

I have reached many new clients through referrals. This is always a great place to start looking for a photographer. Ask some colleagues who they have been happy with in the past.

Beyond referrals, another great resource is the American Society of Media Photographers (http://www.asmp.org). This trade organization was founded in New York in 1944 and now has thousands of members worldwide and hundreds that list architecture and interiors as their primary specialty.

ASMP also has specific resources for non-members looking to hire a professional. The Find a Photographer module on the website (http://www.asmp.org/find-a-photographer) is the perfect place to begin. You can search by specialty and location. This is particularly helpful if your project is in another city where you may not have any other resources. On the website, you can view a variety of photographers that may meet your criteria and then you can contact them directly to begin the process. You can even look here when you need a portrait photographer for your staff photos.

Work with a specialist

I keep emphasizing working with a specialist in architectural photography, and there is a reason for that. Architectural photography has many specific challenges, and solving those challenges is what we as architectural photographers do all day long.

Problem solving is one of my favorite aspects of the job. These challenges range from the logistical, like arranging for all the lighting to be on in a building for an evening shot, or making sure we are ready to shoot when the space is perfectly full of people, to the technical like mixing various color temperatures of lighting with daylight, or mitigating the distortion from wide lenses.

All of these issues must be managed while creating compelling compositions and threading together the story of a building through a concise set of photographs. While a specialist is ideal, in some smaller markets you may not be able to find someone who shoots only buildings, but you will find someone who is quite good at it although they may also shoot other subjects as well. Realizing that not all photographers can shoot architecture is most important.

You will find a subset of architectural photographers like me who actually used to be architects or engineers. For me, it was a great move after spending five years as an architect. Understanding the design language and business has been a tremendous help to me over the years. Now I get to visit many great projects and collaborate with other designers and engineers.

Copyrights, ownership

Once you have decided to work with a professional photographer, it is important to understand copyright and ownership of the photos. Any photo, as soon as it is taken, is copyrighted by the photographer (professional or amateur).

Photographers working under the “rights-managed” business model license their photos for use by their clients, and the photographer retains ownership. The usage can be negotiated and will be defined by the photographer on the estimate and invoice. The more usage, the higher the fee. For most architects and designers, the usage is somewhat low compared to Mercedes Benz for instance.

By excluding advertising use, and allowing the photographer to re-license (non-exclusive) the photos, you will keep the cost down. Understanding that you have a license to use the photos and you do not own the photos helps to explain that you cannot give or sell the photos to other parties (no third-party transfer). My clients always refer other parties who are interested in using the photos directly to me so that we may negotiate a license and appropriate fee.

Simply lifting photos from the Internet and using them without permission or a license is a violation of copyright law.

A checklist

There is not room in this article to cover all the various details of hiring a photographer so I will refer you to another helpful resource from ASMP. Revised many times since its first incarnation, this pdf will cover many aspects of working with a professional photographer: ftp.asmp.org/pdfs/AIA_ASMP_BestPractices.pdf. Topics covered include selecting a photographer, understanding the estimate, controlling costs through sharing parties, more on copyright and licensing, and also a thorough checklist of items to consider prior to arriving the day of your shoot. I contributed to the current version when I was co-chair of the Architectural Specialty Group.

Hiring a photographer can be an expensive proposition, but showing poorly crafted photographs on your website or in publications has a cost of its own on your brand and your professionalism. Further, as your firm grows, you will have a consistent portfolio of the work you have created over the years, which can serve you in many ways. Quality photography is an investment in your business.


Jeffrey Totaro is a professional architectural photographer and former architect located near Philadelphia. He is a member of ASMP and co-chaired the Architectural Photography Specialty group for several years.





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