When is the right time to photograph a newly completed building? Should you wait 6 months for the landscaping to mature or should you get in straight away while the earth is still bear and there are less distractions like client furniture or gardens that hide the best vantage points? There isn’t one right answer, but there are definitely some important considerations to take note of. Here’s 6 of them.

Landscaping

Landscaping can be a double edged sword. On one hand bare and barren earth is not particularly attractive, but it’s probably better than the landscaping hiding the building and preventing shots from key vantage points. This happened to me recently on a reshoot of a project where the trees and bushes prevented us from recapturing the building from the same places which meant that we could no longer photograph the building in its entirety. And shots that show the entire building are often the hero shots, so they’re very important. Landscaping also has the potential to become unkept and can detract from an image. The take away message here is to think through carefully what landscaping is being planted and if it will stop you from getting the shots you need. If it will, then shooting early (and bare) may actually be a better option. On the other hand, if you know exactly what the landscaping will be, and how it will mature over the next 6 months then waiting for it will ultimately deliver the best image.

Decking and timber

The clear coatings on timber have a very limited life span. If you’re in a sun intensive area then a re-coat often needs to be done every 6 months. So if you’re shooting after this then chances are the timber will begin to fade. Now if the intention is for the project to have greyed timber then you may actually want to delay the photo shoot, but for most timber finishes you want to photograph them within that first 6 month period. If your client maintains the timber then this of course becomes a mute point.

Weather

Weather is a big consideration. Get a beautiful day and the shots are likely going to be wonderful. Get a cloudy day and I might as well stay home. I use historical weather data to plan shoots when there is the highest probability of getting perfectly clear days. I’ve already talked about this in some detail over on this post here.

Furniture

If you have great clients with wonderful furniture to bring into the beautiful house you’ve just designed then using it as props is going to add to the photoshoot. If however you’re one of the other 99% of architects who have clients that can’t help themselves but bring their daggy furniture from their old house then furniture becomes a real issue. The photographer is going to be constantly trying to move or hide it from the shots and sometimes you get stuck with a photo of a beautiful building ruined by a piece of unwanted furniture. People also tend to accumulate furniture over time, so when people first move into a house it is relatively open and free of furniture distractions, but as they live in the house odd pieces of furniture start popping up. This is another reason why I’m leaning towards early shoots rather than waiting too long after occupation to photograph a building.

Clutter

Clutter is an amazing thing. It seems to grow wherever humans exist, and the longer those humans are there the more of it there is. When a building has been lived in for more than 2 years the chances of being able to get a clean photo shoot significantly diminish. And if the building has a large amount of glass where you can see inside easily this clutter becomes a real distraction for photos. This happens whether it’s a home or an office and even after a house has been cleaned well, several years of clutter will still exist. It’s stuff like papers, or office signs, or gym equipment, or an extra lamp that no one uses, or a second couch, or a deck chair that doesn’t match the others. The lesson here is that the longer you delay the shoot the more clutter that builds up, and if the client doesn’t want to remove it for the shoot then you may end up with less than desirable image

Media deadlines

This one is pretty self explanatory. If a magazine needs images now then you’re going to pull a photo shoot forward.

Conclusion

My current thinking is that the ideal time to photograph a building is somewhere around 3 to 6 months after completion. This allows the landscaping to mature, but is before maintenance issues like timber coatings, or human issues like clutter and unwanted furniture builds up. If the interiors are an important factor and there is a high chance that the people moving in are going to compromise the shoot with bad furniture and clutter then you may even want to do the photo shoot prior to occupation. This may mean bringing in styling furniture and doing the shoot a couple days before the clients move in. And if the project is going to be a signature project don’t rule out doing two shots. One at immediate completion and one 3 to six months later. This isn’t a cost effective, but it does mitigate risk and avoid loosing important shots of a project.

If you have any other items that you think should be added to the list leave a comment below. Looking forward to some discussion about this.