I’ve been through this scenario a few times. A business contacts me. They love my work and are wondering if I am available and how much it would cost to photograph their project. We talk a bit, I give them a quote, and then I don’t hear from them again… for a little while. When I do hear from them, it is to tell me that they hired someone else but are unhappy with the results, and they would like to hire me to re-shoot. Usually, the other photographer is a very talented photographer, so why didn’t things work out?
Photography is a marriage between technology and art. The other photographer was skilled at the wedding and portrait photography in their online portfolio. The photographer might have a real artistic eye, and had a top-of-the-line camera. So it would stand to reason that they should be good at photographing whatever they aimed that expensive DSLR camera at. But the photos look distorted and too wide, there is considerable haze, the interior is dark, the windows are big white blobs and the colors are all wrong.
Architectural photography is a creative discipline that involves different skills than other forms of photography. To start with, it is one of the most technically challenging types of photography, it is careful and methodical and always done with a tripod. There are special techniques suited to photographing buildings and interiors that have little practical use in making portraits. Also there is a huge amount of difference between lighting a portrait and a whole room or portion of a building, in terms of equipment and technique.
The other photographer’s amazing camera surely is capable of getting the shots. Among professional photographers there is a little bit of difference between cameras but not much. The reason I get sharper images is that I use a very heavy tripod, with a precise rock-steady geared head that allows me to be very accurate. I don’t even touch the camera but remotely fire the shutter to keep things absolutely still. I am careful not to move during exposures not to wiggle the camera, if it is windy I remove the camera strap so things don't wiggle at all during an exposure. All of these things and a few more give me very slightly sharper images, alone they don’t amount to much but together it can make a world of difference. In fact much of my current portfolio was shot on a digital camera that was released in 2008, but you cant see a big jump in quality because architectural photographers are great at getting the very best quality that the camera can produce, no matter what camera they use. My current camera is amazing but there is very little I can do with this new camera that I can't do with the old one.
The point is, most of these techniques wouldn't help a portraitist. It would slow them down and make them miss the split second shot that they are so good at getting. Photographers must develop a workflow that helps them with each different type of subject. Architectural photographers develop techniques that most photographers never need to learn.
Rather than how good a camera is, the real difference in quality between photographers is how well they handle light. In photographing buildings, it seems like all of the light is already in place, all that is left to do is just a matter of pressing a button. But in reality interior photographers do everything other photographers do, but also hide their tracks. You can’t have a visible light and light stand in the middle of a perfectly composed interior design. So, when the light is no good, you might cover a window with black fabric or diffuse it. You might supplement with a flash that is removed digitally from the shot. The key is being able to see when the light is flat or unflattering and being able to come up with a strategy to fix it without the lights being visible in the finished image. No camera, no matter how good can do all that. These are all routine issues for photographers that shoot interiors but rare in other types of photography.
So, when I am hired to do a re-shoot how do I proceed differently than the other guy or gal? First, as I described, I am on a rock-steady tripod. Then I am connected wirelessly to my camera through my computer or iPad. This does two things, one, I can focus and shoot on a much larger screen, so If there are any problems I can see them easily and fix them. If my client is present they can also see everything perfectly without compromise, and know if the shot is proceeding to their liking. The second reason to trigger wirelessly is that the camera stays absolutely still. A tiny bit of motion during an exposure can make an image less sharp.
Another thing I bring to the table, is that I am well versed in all of the current techniques for architectural photography. One of the challenges of photographing buildings is that there is a vast amount of range between the darkest part of the photo to the lightest. Architectural photographers are very familiar with this issue because it is so common to the genre. There are several different techniques used by architectural photographers using photoshop masks, paths, blend modes, layer styles or even separate software. Some techniques work great sometimes and not others, it is helpful to be familiar with them all. Most photographers are not familiar with any of them because they are so specific to architectural photography.
A good architectural photographer understands how to stretch a budget to fit any client, and rather than providing a bunch of mediocre images they put all of their focus towards saying what needs to be said in as few images as possible. Architectural photographers know how to shoot in order to emphasize the form or the design, and when to do each. They also keep in mind that one of the most important goals of this type of photography is to document how the space is to be used, if there is a specific functionality the photos need to show it.
The camera might be similar from photographer to photographer, but an architectural photographer usually shoots with special lenses. There is no autofocus here, most focusing is done zoomed-in as close as possible on the computer screen. These lenses are designed to tilt and shift the front of the lens to allow the photographer to reduce geometric distortion and to change the plane of focus. They are fussy to work with for less technical photography, but perfect for architectural photographers because it allows the photographer to remove the keystone effect that is visible when photographing buildings. Tilt shift lenses also allow the photographer to get compositions not possible without lots of pixel-stretching in photoshop.
Each technique might give a few percentage points of better results but once you add up all of these it can make the difference between a mediocre shot and stunning one.
Then, last but not least, there is a huge difference between a novice and a pro. A pro answers emails, a pro shows up on time, a pro has insurance, a pro gets the job done on time and a pro always has a back-up. When I am hired to photograph a property, there is a lot of preparation that goes into setting up the shoot, and time is money, for me and my client. So when I am on location I always have a second camera body in case the first fails. Then the cards in the camera are another point of weakness, therefore both of my camera bodies record to two separate cards simultaneously, so I always have a back-up. When I show up on site, I always have enough light to get the job done, and I even travel with a back-up light. Once I am back at the studio I have the images backed-up two more times on hard drives and another time remotely over the internet. Then all edits are done quickly, most jobs are delivered within a few days. These are just some of the benefits of working with someone that is a professional.
Questions or comments? Please let me know what you think. If you found this page because you are in need of the services of a professional architectural photographer stop by my homepage, or my blog where there is plenty of useful information on how to find the right photographer for you, and the difference between architectural and real estate photographers. Thanks for joining me and I hope to see you soon.