Architectural photography shoots don’t have to be boring. Here’s an easy way to make the shoot more fun and get better shots by including the design team.

There’s lots of different ways to photograph a building. Sometimes the architect comes with you, sometimes you’re all by yourself. There’s pros and cons to both, but here’s a way of doing a photo shoot which is ideal for homes that is not only fun, but I find actually gets better results. I didn’t come up with the format and it was something I picked up from working with Andrew Maynard when we photographed the Hill House, so all credits to the AMA team.  I liked it so much though that I now try and work this way whenever possible.

What you do is get rid of the owners of the house for an afternoon, a full day or even better if they’re on holiday. Then the architect and anyone who worked on the project comes to the photoshoot and they become the photo assistants. They help clean the house, move furniture and also jump into the shots as impromptu models. And to make sure it’s not all hard work you might as well try out the brand new stereo in the house and bring a couple beers and some food. Sounds like lots of fun (and completely unprofessional), but there’s some really valuable advantages to it.

Having the architect on site

I almost always prefer having the architect on site while i photograph. The two big reasons is that they can explain to me exactly what they are trying to capture. As we go through the building they can explain how important an angle or feature is. This avoids giving them back images and finding out they really wanted something they never told me about. The other advantage is that they can understand the limitations of what can be captured. You can show them what can be achieved with a given lens, or explain why what they see with their eye is different to what the camera captures. They also understand the time and effort that goes into a shoot. They understand that there are only so many hours in one day and that sometimes choices have to be made as to which shot is going to be captured during twilight for example. Basically it allows the architect to be part of the process and have better expectations of what will is possible.

Include the design team

It’s a rare occasion that an architect and their team gets to really enjoy a building they worked so hard to create. It seems like we spend years designing, documenting and building a project and then suddenly it’s handed over to the owner and its gone. By doing this type off photo shoot the design team gets a chance to experience the building, and it’s an unfiltered experience because the clients are away. The stress of the build is done and this is a chance to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and just take stock of what your team managed to accomplish. From a photography perspective it gives me lots of people to move furniture, polish shiny surfaces and anything else that needs to be done. This means I can focus on taking photos rather than trying to work around the parts of the building that weren’t prepared properly. This is of course a trade off because having lots of people on site means you may need to herd people around to get them out of the frame, but I’d much prefer to wait 2 minutes rather then have to lift furniture by myself. The other advantage of having lots of people on site is that you now have lots of models. You can get them to walk past kitchens or dangle their feet out of windows or even slide down astro turf hills. Don’t laugh, that last example actually got published which just shows you that architectural photography doesn’t have to be all serious after all.

Removing the owners

Now getting rid of the owners isn’t always possible, and often they’re really lovely people, but if you can do it then you will almost always get a better photo shoot for one simple reason. The owners have an emotional attachment to their furniture and belongings. It’s harder for them to be objective and to see what will make a great image or what will ruin a image. If they are on site during the photo shoot then we constantly have to ask their permission to move something, so rather then getting on with the job we end up balancing their sensitivities.

That’s it for this post, but before I close up I really want to encourage you to leave a comment below. I enjoy writing, but it’s even better when someone else shares their experiences. So if you’ve got any tips on how to have a fun photo shoot please write a few words. Maybe you’ve had some shocker clients too?

PS. I’m writing from a small Australian outback town called Texas. Amazing sunsets and red earth. I’ll try and post a few pics via twitter.