Hiring an Architectural Photographer in Philadelphia
Hiring a Philadelphia architectural photographer doesn’t have to be challenging. Every city has a different makeup and composition and Philadelphia is no different. Just the sheer amount of different styles of architecture in the city is breathtaking. But what you should look for in a good architectural photographer is basically the same. A quick search of “architectural firms” in Philadelphia in the Yellow Pages gives just under 600 results. American Institute of Architects members for the area are somewhere over 300. When you consider builders and engineers in the Philadelphia area the number of competitors in and around the city of Philadelphia becomes a bit staggering. Each of these businesses needs to stand out from the crowd of their competitors. Architects need to keep the clients they have and attract new prospects, and one of the most obvious ways to shine in this visual market is through your branding.
A companies branding is really the combination of every component in a business that comes in contact with the public. Lets say you have a fast food company. Everything form the most obvious things like food, price, ambience and comfort of dining rooms; to the more esoteric, the beverage cup designs, how wide or thin the straws are, the advertising, the website. The list keeps going, including things like customer service, the writing in pamphlets and social media participation. Every single way your business comes in contact with your customers is a part of your branding and should be scrutinized as a critical part of the experience of your business. In order to cut through the competition and spend money on your brand where it really matters, sometimes it is necessary to do a bit of marketing triage. Your marketing dollars are precious so it is important to break down the ways architects get work and build value in their brand. Upon inspection you get a handful of the most valuable marketing players. There are: proposals where several architects deliver presentations for a particular job. Website and web mail, where interested parties can get more information about your work. Contest submission which adds to the prestige of your brand. Word of mouth. Membership in professional trade organizations. And advertising including direct mail.
So the question to be answered is, what is the best way to budget to grow my architectural or engineering business in Philadelphia. The first consideration is how do I funnel my efforts to have the greatest impact. I would argue that your brand is a good place to look. Considering the impact that word of mouth has, branding is well suited to win new customers because it is focused towards the client’s experience of your business.
So, what is your business’ brand and what are the positive attributes that you would like conveyed with your marketing? Some suggestions of positive attributes to aim for would be: professional, stable, strong, easy to work with, competent, clean, precise, high-end, competitively priced, custom, bespoke, friendly, able, quick, thorough, creative, brilliant. The list could go on and on, but these are the attributes that clients in Philadelphia desire and that branding can deliver.
Of course, as a Philadelphia architectural photographer I may be biased. But the logic here is obvious. It is rare that a new client’s first glimpse into your business and what it will be like to work with you comes from a first-hand experience of your work. Even when a client has first hand experience they may have been moved to visit your project by a stirring photograph. More often than not it is photography that does much of the heavy lifting in terms of brand. Even when all of the other marketing is done impeccably, less than stellar photography can ruin the effect of all of the careful consideration that went into your promotion. Imagine for example, a website with good content, well written copy and great design down to the perfect font. Bad photography can easily ruin the whole thing. Even mediocre photography could be a disaster, considering the impact that fantastic photography can have on your brand. Bright, well lit photography that captures the function of the architecture can say volumes about your brand. It can immediately say that you are professional, established, consistent, no-nonsense, easy to work with, detail oriented, high-end and on and on. If the photography is great, and has that edge on the other Philadelphia firms it says that you will get nothing less than the highest quality from us. We care enough about every detail that from top to bottom we are the best.
Photography is most obvious and easiest way to improve your brand. And the sooner you make the change to demand excellent work the better. Every new project that is documented becomes an asset that can be used strategically. If all of your photography isn’t top shelf, start using the best images in the most highly trafficked areas, like a home page or a banner or for local marketing on search engines. As you add to the number of quality photos you have you will be in a better position to make the most of social networking platforms and contest submissions.
So, how do you find an architectural photographer in Philadelphia that fits your brand. Well, it turns out to be rather similar to finding an architect. I rely on good word of mouth, which I try and build by providing great service. I do the work and provide paperwork and quotes quickly. I recognize that I am a service and do everything I can to help the architect, designer, builder or engineer get exactly the picture they asked for. All this helps but in the end it comes down to the pictures, pictures, pictures. I recently wrote a blog post on what to look for in a good architectural photograph which might help you to be a better judge of quality work here.
One issue I see with smaller firms is "good enough" photography. For obvious financial reasons, a smaller firm will look for the cheapest professional photographer they can find. Often this is an individual with no expertise in architecture but a good working knowledge of photography of all types. They have an excellent portfolio with gorgeous candid head shots and beautiful landscapes. I would caution that the skills to light an interior invisibly, are very different than making flattering portraits. There is the matter of lenses that are used by specialists that eliminate distortion and keystoning, then the sheer amount of lighting and know-how required to put a flattering soft light across a huge interior space. Even small spaces pose challenges that the generalist photographer would have difficulty conquering, such as cross lighting and barrel distortion. Firms will hire this type of photographer and think that they have found a good value, because the photographer enters the space shoots lots of photos from every conceivable angle and delivers the results which might be 65 images. Then the architect can decide which of these will best show off the space and add them to their portfolio. In the end, the photographer spends a few minutes per shot and if the architect ends up using 10 pictures or so, then the sum effort that is visible in the photos is 30 minutes. There are the occasional lucky shot where things look pretty good but this is largely luck that the timing of the day or angle was just right.
Contrast the generalist photographer with the architectural specialist, and the two are very different. It is true, the architectural specialist is often more expensive per image but they have a completely different working method. An architectural photographer is good at determining which angles to get, that show the depth and function of the space in as few images as possible. This is for two reasons, it keeps costs down and helps with another perhaps more important cost, your clients time. Think about this, It is a minor miracle if someone is willing to visit a website and look at your marketing, much less stay and look around for more than a few seconds. So if you have someone on your website you had better dazzle them. There is no time for extras, every image needs to be engaging and interesting, and the generalists "spray and pray" method just won't cut it.
So if the architectural photographer costs more and delivers less images isn't that kind of backwards?
To understand fully, you need to see how an architectural photographer works. In my case, first I use software that tracks the course of the sun during the day to help me develop a strategy of when to shoot each room or angle. I also use a tripod to insure the camera stays absolutely still. The tripod is fitted with a special geared head, which can do very fine adjustments necessary for the job. Often architectural images are very precise, so they use a finely geared tripod head along with some form of tethering, or working attached to a computer. Once the photographer is tethered and the camera is adjusted, the photographer looks at a blown-up version of the room on the monitor and then goes about making adjustments to the furnishings, straightening books, moving overlapping elements, and getting everything just right. The ability to zoom in and make adjustments is key to getting the details absolutely right. Once everything is arranged perfectly the photographer then shoots ambient exposures of the room which will be combined later in the digital darkroom. Then, if there are still issues to be remedied, the photographer makes additional exposures using black cloth to eliminate reflections, or uses supplemental lighting to bring out color or texture. Every shot is meticulously crafted like a painting. And every little bit of effort shows in the results. The architect puts years of effort into every detail of a design, it would be ridiculous to run through shooting snapshots. Architectural photography is very technical and exacting because the clients demand it. And anything less than perfect color or distortion free images will not suffice.
Given the difference between these two types of photographer, I can offer this advice, yes the architectural photographer is more expensive per image, however every image is a show-stopper. So the best way to mitigate this, if money is still an issue, is to scale down how many images you require from a shoot, this way every moment a potential client spends on your web site is spent looking at uncompromising quality, rather than being bored to death by an overabundance of poorly-lit, poorly composed mediocrity. If done properly, every image is an asset for your firm that can be used for many years, not an embarrassment or missed opportunity. When you compare budgets don't fall for the generalist as so many do, it isn't a better value, it will not help your brand and you won't save any money. I may be wrong, but I strongly believe that you are better off with a small website with uncompromising quality than a big sloppy site that no one has the patience to get through.
The generalist photographer benefits from the false-equivalency of the two styles of shooting in that they can charge handsomely because their rates are being compared to architectural specialists. However once you know that you are paying marginally less for about 20% of the effort, it is not saving money. If anything you are paying outrageously for images that are barely useful, and that will likely need to be re-shot. I know all this from the experience of being to re-shoot botched jobs.
As far as finding the right architectural photographer for you or your firm. A quick search online for "Philadelphia architectural photographers" should give plenty of results. Find someone with a lot of high quality architectural photography on their website. Pay close attention to how bright and saturated the colors look, how uniform and pleasing the color temperatures are and whether windows look blown-out and hazy or crisp. Once you have found a few photographers you like, contact them and ask for pricing information. Remember, depending on how the photographesr bid out their jobs It can help if you have a project in mind, with a set number of shots.
Philadelphia is a big city and represents some challenges in terms of competition, but it makes up for it in pure inspiration and opportunity. You can barely turn your head without finding something interesting to look at. With so many other business trying to be seen it can seem daunting. But keep in mind with such a diversity of needs that there is a place for everyone just as long as they know you are there.
If you are an architect, interior designer, builder or engineer and you want photography that can grab your client’s attention contact me here or visit www.danieljacksonphoto.com. I am located right outside of Philadelphia but work all over the Mid-Atlantic. There is no obligation for a easy free quote. I would love to hear from you.