When I first started out shooting interiors, I was mostly a real estate photographer. I was fairly set in my ways and a few years in, I was lucky enough to specializing in luxury listings. Then I received a call from an interior designer who wanted some photos of a recent project she just completed. I said to her: “great, that’s what I do” and thought to myself, how different can it be from shooting real estate? I delivered my “real estate looking” photos to the designer and she wasn’t overly satisfied. The work I provided didn’t show off the time and effort that went into creating her vision.
That was a turning point for me in my career. Not only did I realize I wanted to start shooting more design and architecture projects, but it also humbled me to the point where I realized I was so deep into my real estate photography formula, that I lacked the “look outside the box” mindset. I now knew I needed to change the way I photographed a home based on the type of client I was shooting for.
Looking back several years later, that was the best decision I made. When I started researching interior design and architectural photography, it opened up the doors to a whole new world of photography I had yet to explore and try to master. (I think I will be trying to master it the rest of my career.) I decided to put a short list together of some of the most important differences I have found between shooting real estate and shooting for designers and architects, and hopefully it will inspire other design and build professionals to consider the right person for the job.
This is probably the most obvious but necessary to mention. I invite you to go to Zillow.com and take a look at the listing photos of a home in your neighborhood. Chances are, you will find a common theme in all of them (unless an agent or photographer went against industry standard). You’ll notice a lot of super wide angles and images photographed from the corners, sometimes showing three walls of a room in a single frame. As a designer, builder or architect, a super-wide shot like that will be counter-productive in your branding goals, if the viewer cannot see the important design choices and build details you consciously made. Having a photographer that understands color, texture and proper composition, among others, is crucial to you being able to effectively use your new images for proper branding.
Typically, on a real estate listing, it’s “run and gun” style and the true way for a real estate photographer to make good money is by shooting over three homes in a day. That means in and out as quick as possible. I went to a photography convention last fall and a renown architectural photographer named Scott Hargis said something that stuck with me: “Slow the @#$% down”. Slowing down and taking a step back to really analyze what is happening in a scene, will always make for better images. From the camera standpoint, typically I take a “less is more” approach to staging and its crucial to take a look at every piece of furniture or accessory in the shot and make sure it has a purpose. If it doesn’t, it comes out. This slowed down approach really allows us to build the perfectly staged image.
Most real estate photographers shoot either one of two ways. Natural light or a small flash near the camera. For real estate photography it is a great approach because shooting like this is quick and will produce adequate results. When shooting for designers or architects, I am able to slow down and really analyze the natural light. At that point I can use additive or subtractive light with respect to the current natural light in the space. Additive lighting is adding light where needed through the use of flash or continuous lighting. Subtractive lighting is removing lighting in places I don’t want the light using flags, duvetyn or anything else that can block light. Controlling the light and making sure it only appears when wanted is a time consuming skill that experienced design and architectural photographers posses.
Currently, I use a device that allows me to shoot and control the entire camera from a laptop. It’s a wireless system so we can avoid having wires and a mess on set. To take a small step back to my business model, I don’t consider myself a hired service provider on any shoot, but rather a marketing partner for your business. To me, that means your shoot is a collaboration: you have a vision and I work with you to document that vision with great images. By shooting to a laptop, it allows you to be present in the shoot, see what I’m doing in real time and we can adjust accordingly. The last thing I want during a shoot is to disrupt the flow and have you look through the ¾” viewfinder on the back of the camera to make sure you’re happy. Shooting to a 16” laptop give us all a better perspective on the final images.
I am not going to get too in depth on copyright, as I will save that for another article but to make a long story short, the way the United States copyright law works, is the “artist” (or photographer in this case) owns the copyrights to the images, and they then license them out to you for your specific usage. On a real estate listing, the license typically includes usage of the images for the duration the agent has the listing. What that means if you hire a real estate photographer and they didn’t give you the proper usage rights, you can be violating a federal law. Usage rights can always be negotiated but it is crucial that you make sure your usage rights includes anything you would need to use the images for. Architectural & Design photographers typically provide usage for portfolio, web, social media and small print as a standard but I always recommend taking it on a case by case basis.
Some Final Thoughts
While there are a bunch more differences, and I’m sure I will add to this article over time, I wanted to make sure to highlight some of the most important and obvious. By hiring a professional, the goal is obviously to differentiate your brand and gain new clients. Hiring someone who specializes in your type of work will get you there. After all, would you hire a food photographer for your wedding?