Architectural photography is a specialty within the commercial photography field. There are many unique challenges to properly photographing the interiors and exteriors of a large structure, whether it’s a commercial space or a private home. To ensure the images are successful and pleasing to the eye, special attention must be given to vertical lines, composition/vantage point, and the high dynamic range of the lighting, where there is often a huge disparity in exposure between indoor light vs. outdoor light. Proper architectural photography requires special lenses and other gear, advanced photographic techniques such as exposure bracketing and/or HDR processing, significant Photoshop/post production skills, lots of practice, and often many years to master.
Unfortunately, the experience and high skill level of the architectural photographer are too often underestimated and undervalued by those who are in a position to hire the photographer. Many whose businesses rely on professional looking architectural imagery to promote their own services to the public — interior designers, architects, builders/contractors, property managers/realtors, etc. — often resort to snapping their own promotional photos with an iPhone or other point-and-shoot camera and posting them on their (otherwise) professional website! It doesn’t make any sense to me that someone who has so much riding on the beauty and presentation of the architectural imagery would think of it as a quick and easy DIY project. Why would a business person who has no photographic training nor the proper equipment, suddenly think he/she is capable of stunning and memorable architectural photography suitable to promote his/her business? It puzzles me. But, I confront it every day.
There is another category of client that bears discussion here. Namely, the business person who acknowledges that he/she probably should hire a professional photographer, but grossly underestimates the time and effort that the photographer must commit to complete their project. For example, virtually every day I see ads on craigslist from realtors looking to hire an “experienced and professional architectural photographer” to photograph their latest listing — but, they’re only offering $50 for the complete set of images! Keep in mind, this may be for a home that’s listed for $1M and the realtor is expecting a $25,000+ commission. Something’s clearly wrong here. So, I’ve taken the time to speak with some of these realtors. It turns out, they all share a common misconception regarding how long it takes a pro to photograph the interiors and exteriors of an average size single family home (Answer: 4 hours), and they have no clue how many hours must be spent to properly Photoshop edit the images to make them ready for publication (Answer: 10-15 hours). When one considers the negotiations via phone and email with the realtor, prep work, travel time, photography, post-production/editing, and digital delivery of the images, the photographer has at least 20 hours committed to the project. Offering a pro commercial photographer only $50 to photograph a single family home is equivalent to offering him only $2.50 an hour!
In addition to underestimating the real time required to produce professional looking architectural images, clients often misunderstand and undervalue the specialized knowledge and techniques that may be employed by a professional photographer to get “Architectural Digest” quality images. For example, architectural photographers are often confronted with the problem of bright outside light visible through the windows vs. the relatively soft and weak artificial light of the interior spaces. We’ve all seen amateur photos where the indoor scene looks okay, but each window is nothing more than a bright white rectangle, looking like there must be a raging blizzard outside — even if the home is located in Palm Springs! The opposite effect is also very common — the outside view is properly exposed, but the interior looks like a very dark cave. Although our eyes have the ability to take in and properly expose both the indoor and outdoor lighting simultaneously, today’s cameras simply aren’t capable of that kind of simultaneous exposure range. The camera has to choose to expose properly for the indoor lighting and color temperature or for the outside lighting and color temperature, but it can’t do it all in one image. A professional architectural photographer will have certain tricks up his sleeve and knowledge of a variety of suitable methods to defeat this problem. The resulting image should look very close to what we can see with our eyes — balanced and complimentary light both indoors and outdoors in the same image. Of course, the issue of proper indoor vs. outdoor exposure is just one category that requires specialized knowledge, and there are several others.
If you own a business that relies on great architectural photography to attract clients, to promote your work, or if you’re representing a building or home for lease/sale, you owe it to yourself to hire an experienced professional photographer to create those images for you. If you’re not a trained and talented photographer with the proper equipment, skill set, specialized knowledge and Photoshop expertise, architectural photography is not a DIY project! Amateur photography on your website or in your promotional materials won’t impress anybody, and it only makes you appear to be an amateur — and very possibly you’ll be perceived as a cheapskate, too. I’m hoping that someday professional architectural photography will be recognized and appreciated by all business owners as a smart investment that brings a significant ROI for their business.