If you are looking for advice on how to take better architectural photos and have happier clients then this is the post for you!
In this post I give you 70 practical steps from start to finish that guide you through the entire process from getting work to creating great architectural photos for clients. This is is based on my personal and professional experiences as an architectural photographer and is straight talking, practical, actionable advice.
About the checklist
These are the things that you need to consider as a photographer working in architectural photography. This list has been created using my experiences of over 10 years working as an architectural photographer in the UK.
I work mainly for architects, developers and contractors as well material and product manufacturers, suppliers and installers.
- The brief the following areas
- Client considerations
- Planning considerations
- Preparing a building
- Construction issues
- Confidentiality/ commercial matters
- Photography gear
- Image issue
Before the checklist one thing
This is mainly about the architectural and client end of things. I will expand on the photography specific stuff in great detail covering the following
- Camera settings
- Image Processing
- Photography Gear
- Working on construction sites
But here is the checklist as promised.
1 – Agree the brief
You need to agree the brief with the client. This is the starting point in commissioning architectural photography. Just like any other professional appointment.
There are specific things that you will need as the photographer.
2 – Content of the brief – Scope
This is simply what the client wants you to take photos of. The more thorough the brief to the photographer the better the entire process will be for both parties.
3 – Content of the brief – Shot List
Shot list. This is important. Ask your client to write down a list of the specific rooms, elevations, products, materials, details – anything that they specifically want photographing. As a competent photographer you will capture everything on your shot list, and also other things that you think could be of interest. Don’t use the brief as a constraint, use it as a starting point.
4 – Content of the brief – Information for photographers
You will need some or all of the following
- Site address
- Overall site plan
- Building floor plans
- Building elevations
- Important features of the building/ project
- North/ South/ East/ West orientations
- Restrictions relating to the site
5 – Content of the brief – Timing
When can the photos physically be taken, and when does the client need the edited photos? Another critical thing that needs getting right to ensure the success of the commission.
6 – Content of the brief – Inclusions
What are the priority areas to be photographed? What are the headlines, the highlights?
Think how many photos your client will really need. For a private residence or small construction project I typically produce 30 images, not often more than that. Obviously, the size of the project and reason for the photos will dictate this. When I photographed an entire new build fire station there were well over a hundred images edited and issued, but much less would have been better with hindsight.
No-one wants to have to go through hundreds of photos. Start with the aim of issuing no more than 30 photos and take it from there.
7 – Content of the brief – Exclusions
What the client does not want to be photographed. Things like
- Utility spaces such as cleaning cupboards come into this category.
- Similar rooms
- Back of house areas
- Security/ confidential areas that are to remain that way
- Anything the client does not want others to know about
- Contentious things
- Or things the client just does not like!
There is no point wasting time photographing things that the client does not want images of.
8 – Content of the brief – Licensing
The photographer normally retains the copyright, but in the formal quote the basis on which the photos are to be used by the client should be clear.
Ask the client to tell you all the potential uses for the photos and agree what is/ is not permitted.
9 – Content of the brief – Exclusivity
Can the you sell the photos to others? This is the normal situation. Or does the client want/ need exclusive use of the photos.
Can you use the photos for your own promotional uses? Is the client happy that photos of their building might appear on social media?
It is usual for the photographer to use the photos for his/ her own marketing purposes, but I have quoted for and done shoots where I could not release the photos into the public domain.
If I am using behind the scenes shots I always promote the building and my client in a positive way.
10 – Content of the brief – Pricing basis
I advise a fixed fee inclusive of expenses and processing time. I tend to base my prices on a half day or full day rate on site taking photos. I include the time taken for processing and all that other good stuff within this fixed fee.
11 – Getting found by clients – Google
The starting point for most of us these days is Google. Obviously the first listings on Google are paid ads, so I always scroll down to the first two or three organic listings that are not ads and go from there.
So, if you can get in the top three for the relevant search phrases you are in a good place.
12 – Getting found by clients – Professional Photographers
Photography is just like any other profession, so in my opinion you should become a professionally qualified photographer. I have done this myself.
After all, would you engage an unqualified architect or electrician?
And you would not hire an electrician to do your plumbing?
13 – Getting found by clients – Professional Photography bodies
Here are professional photography bodies in the UK that I know. I am a member of the BIPP by the way.
I can only vouch for the BIPP, but there is a find a photographer page where you put in the location, type of photography etc which is very good.
Asa client you know that you are being given the names of professionally qualified photographers who specialise in the area that you want them to.
14 – Getting found by clients – Photographers Websites
Your website should tell a client what you do. It should tell them immediately that you are an architectural photographer, not a general photographer who photographs anything and everything?
Would you use a plumber to re-wire your house?
Would a client choose a wedding photographer to photograph their building? Nothing against wedding photographers, but I photograph buildings, so you won’t find me capturing someone’s special day!
15 – Getting found by clients – Your photographers Style
Check out my Architectural Photography page. Does the client like my photos? They might not. And if they do not that is a shame but fine.
I advise clients to engage a photographer whose style they like. I do what I do and am happy to do the same for clients, but if they do not like my look and style things will be difficult. My style and the clients taste need to fit.
It is important that the client finds the right photographer for him/ her.
16 – Quoting for work
Any commercial clients will get more than one quotation, just as they would with any other contractor or service provider.
Make sure that your quote is clear and complete and answers every point of discussions and the brief.
Hopefully the client will not just go with the cheapest but use quote but will make a qualitative decision.
17 – Getting found by clients– speak to them
When I receive an enquiry, I phone the client, thank them for their enquiry and ask them a couple of questions. I am convinced that this has helped me land some really good commissions.
And if you can meet the client before quoting then I recommend that you do so. There is nothing better than meeting face to face to really get to know someone. You can’t do that by email.
And if you get on with the client that helps to secure the commission.
In these difficult times we find ourselves in this is being done more and more online which is not as good as face to face but better than by email.
18 – Working locally or nationally?
Now this is a question for you to answer. Are you prepared to work locally of further afield? I now restrict myself to working locally. Planning shoots a long way away is a challenge. I did this once and regretted it.
I feel that I can provide a better service when shoots are local to me. I am able to provide more flexibility and reserve days are easier to manage.
And I prefer working locally too, helping local businesses.
19 – Timing – Construction works
When will the works be complete enough for photos to be taken? The works need to be complete, snagging done, and the site vacated to show the project as is intended.
And this is always a challenge!
20 – Timing – Client Fit-out
Does the client want the photos taken before or after client fit-out? Before and you have a nice, empty shiny building. After and you have the space as it is intended to be used.
21 – Timing – Planting
if a building is not completed to correspond to the planting season, which is often the case, there may be large unplanted areas which can make the building look unfinished.
22 – Timing – Time of Year
Obviously, the sun is lower, and days are shorter, but these are normally just things we photographers have to deal with.
23 – Timing – Bare trees
I love bare trees but who wants a spectacular new building photographing with bare foliage? If there is a substantial amount of evergreen foliage then this is not a problem.
24 – Timing – Orientation of the sun
Where is the sun shining? Is there a primary façade? Does the client want sunlight streaming in through the windows, or warming up the significant front elevation?
25 – Timing – Sunrise/ sunset
Are either of these important to the content of a photo? If so, you might want to cost this into your quotation – no-one should have to get up in the middle of the night for nothing to capture that headline shot for client!
26 – Timing – traffic
Is there a peak time for traffic/ visitors/ building occupants arriving/ departing?
27 – Timing – outdoors areas
I had a problem on a shoot as the client had just put the cover on the swimming pool. A big, bright blue cover which made the shoot of the lovely grounds a challenge! And I had to hide the swimming pool.
28 – Weather – Rain
No-one wants their building photographing when it is raining. Well no-one that I have met anyway! So, the changing weather causes mayhem with schedules and external shoots. And a dull grey rainy day can impact on an internal shoot, looking from the inside out.
29 – Weather – Cloudy Days
I am fine with cloudy days as I can change the sky. But if it has rained things become more of a challenge. So cloudy but dry I can live with.
30 – Weather – Contingency days
In the UK we need to plan reserve days in case the weather changes. Sometimes though this is just not possible.
And this is why working locally is easier to manage. Trust me I have had problems with this on shoots a long way away.
31 – Weather – ideal conditions
The ideal conditions for me are cool, dry, calm with blue skies with some nice white fluffy clouds.
I know. But I had to say!
32 – Preparing the building
This is a big thing, which can have a significant impact on the success of a shoot. I will go into detail about this.
33 – Preparing the building – the photographers’ perspective
From a photographers’ perspective, a building that has been prepared for a shoot is easier to photograph.
And the easier a building is to photograph the better the photos and the quicker a shoot can be successfully completed.
And preparing a building, and it’s grounds, means less editing time which potentially means less cost for the client, and the quicker issue of better photos.
34 – Preparing the building – the clients’ perspective
Think of this as though you are preparing the building for a viewing by a potential vendor – I don’t need the smell of fresh coffee and freshly baked bread (as nice as that would be).
When I say prepare a building, here is a list of things that I ask to be done before I arrive on site
35 – Preparing the building – my checklist
- Snagging works complete
- Make sure no works going on
- All materials, plant and equipment removed/ hidden
- Check all the lights work
- Make sure the light bulbs are all the same
- Turn all the lights on inside
- Disable PIRs/ absence detection (if photos are required with all lights on which is normally the case)
- Unlock all doors that need to be accessed
- Move vehicles/ skips/ scaffold/ piles of debris
- Get rid of hosepipes (which can be really hard to remove in Photoshop)
- Hide the bins
- Close doors to areas not to be photographed
- Cut the grass
- Remove any temporary barriers/ fencing
- Check for gravel spillage – another real time consumer
- Sweep paths/ roads/ driveways
- Get rid of vehicles
- Chewing gum on paths/ playgrounds?
- Clear work surfaces
And for residential shoots
- Light fires so they have that lovely glow
- Check light bulbs are the same in a room
- Straighten curtains/ blinds
- Straighten soft furnishings/ cushions
- Remove dog beds/ food bowls
- Tidy up toys etc (tidy not necessarily remove)
- Provide freshly laundered towels and bedding
- Tidy up stuff on bathroom/ kitchen surface
- Remove all personal/ confidential documents from show
- Put things in the garden away
But make the house homely at the same time!
And workplaces need to look welcoming and professional.
A good old general tidy up always helps – this applies to every building of course!
36 – Preparing the building – additions
Once everything is looking all shiny and sparkly a few additions that will finish things off nicely are these
- Imagine the building how you want others to view it.
- Publications on desks/ tables
- Colourful features
- Branding items
Suggest these additions to your client and they will thank you trust me.
37 – Preparing the building – one more thing
Sorry I forgot the one intangible in all of this. In my experience clients who have gone through the process of preparing their buildings have found that this has helped crystallise their shot list. It sort of started the thought process.
And this helps us photographers. A lot.
38 – Construction issues – access
Are there specific access requirements/ permissions/ inductions that need to take place?
39 – Construction issues – site activities
Is there anything happening on site that might get in the way?
40 – Construction issues – permits
Are there any permits that are required to be issued before photography can take place?
41 – Construction issues – PPE
Do you need to wear PPE? I of course have full PPE which is suitable for most construction sites, and my camera gear is also set up so I can get around live construction sites quickly and efficiently causing minimum disruption.
42 – Construction issues – CSCS
Do you need a CSCS card (UK), or are alternative arrangements going to have to be made? I am a current CSCS card holder by the way.
43 – Construction issues – incomplete works
This is a common problem when I turn up to photograph completed construction projects. Practical completion has been achieved but there are still works ongoing to sometimes surprisingly significant extents!
Of course, completion of a major construction project is a remarkably busy and stressful time – me turning up right in the thick of things with my camera is rarely appreciated by contractors, and I can’t blame them!
44 – Construction issues – when is the best time to photograph a completed project?
The best time to photograph a completed construction project is once everyone has packed up and left site, all the furniture, fixtures and fittings are in and but immediately before people start to use the building and make it their own.
45 – Construction issues – furniture
A building without furniture can look like a cold empty space. Furniture gives a space meaning and purpose, it helps to represent the original design intent and future use.
46 – Construction issues – client installations
And the addition of client installations sort of completes the building, making it not just an empty space but a living working environment. I am repeating myself here for a reason – this is particularly important.
Photos of a completed but empty building can be disappointing.
47 – The day of the shoot – client attendance
Does the client want to attend on the day of the shoot? Some clients do, some do not. It depends on many things. If it is a house then of course there will be someone there, be it the house owner or their agent.
And for commercial buildings it just depends.
48 – The day of the shoot – me
When I am working on a shoot, as a confirmed man and I can only do one thing at once. So, when I am in the zone and taking photographs there is little point in my client talking to me – I am not listening!
I tell them this so they are not offended.
49 – The day of the shoot – access
Is there clean and unimpeded access to all areas on the day of the shoot? I have often had to struggle through virtual mud baths to get to the inside of a shiny new building which has made things difficult!
50 – The day of the shoot – people in the photos?
Are people to be included in the photos? Normally not, unless it is a public space or public facility such as a sports centre, where people are preferable.
And that leads to a problem I encountered once – I went to photograph a leisure centre that had just been built but there were no people there at all – it was like a ghost town.
I ended up including myself in some shots!
No people means no complications, releases or consents unless the building is a public space.
51 – The day of the shoot – contingency planning
There are many things that can go wrong that can only be dealt with by both parties agreeing on a plan B. I have written about many of these things in this article and have a little checklist list of the most frequent problems that I have to address.
- Adverse weather
- Works not complete
- Access to areas not possible
- Furniture not in place
- Deliveries/ works on the day of the shoot
- Utility companies on site/ digging up the road outside
- Decant operations
- Ongoing site works
- Non-attendance of participants
At the very least a conversation needs to take place with the client about these potential problems, and the impact of any such issues documented and the consequences costed.
52 – Image Issue
I issue a set of fully edited images that in my opinion fulfil the brief issued to me. Sometimes I need to do further edits but normally the image set I issue is fine.
53 – Image files
You should issue photos in the universal JPEG format. No photographer should issue RAW files as you need specialist software to open such files.
54 – GDPR
Be a GDPR compliant photographer. You have information that needs to be safely managed.
55 – Data Integrity
Ensure that the photos are backed up by in case the client needs them again in the future.
I have cloud backups of my images, which I store for period of time yet to be defined. This has been added to my standard terms and conditions – I will guarantee to hold copies of data for three years from the time of image capture.
56 – Supply chain sharing
An interesting one. Are the photos to be shared with the supply chain? As the commissioner of the images it is important that any shared uses are agreed with the client as part of the appointment process.
You as the photographer retain the copyright so are well within your rights to sell the photos to other contactors or interested parties.
57 – Confidentiality – add to the brief
If there are matters of confidentiality these need to be raised right at the beginning as most photographers are pretty active on social media and might share things during the shoot.
I do if I am allowed to.
58 – Confidentiality – famous people
I have photographed buildings for famous people. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to say who these people are.
Client confidentiality is especially important to me, and I take this very seriously.
Again, this needs to be discussed and managed by agreement in advance.
59 – Confidentiality – people’s homes
This is particularly important when I am photographing peoples’ homes. I always agree with the client how I may use the images myself.
Whilst I might be the copyright holder as the photographer who has taken the images, I have a professional responsibility to respect the confidentiality of my clients.
At the very least I do not reveal the location of photos of people’s houses when I publish my work on my website and social media.
60 – Insurances
Like any other contractor you must have public liability and professional indemnity insurance.
OK – now for some additional photographer specific stuff to think about. I will be issuing detailed checklists that will cover this in much more detail.
61 – Photography Gear – preparation
You need to prepare your gear. Things to check
- All lenses clean and working
- Tripod legs tightened up
- All accessories are packed away
Create a checklist for your gear. I have one.
62 – Photography Gear – spares
I have a spare everything. Camera bodies, lenses, memory cards, tripods. Literally everything. If I lost one bag, I have another one that I can continue working with.
63 – Photography gear and construction sites.
You have to bear in mind that you might be accessing a live construction site, so you will need your hands free and not to be weighed down with loads of gear.
I pack the essentials in a small backpack leaving everything else in the car. And I rarely have to go back to get something that I did not pack.
64 – Photography gear and construction sites.
I strongly recommend weather sealed equipment. It is more expensive, but construction sites can be hostile environments.
65 – Changing lenses
You need to be careful changing lenses on site. I tend to just use the 17-40mm lens for probably 95% of my work so this is not an issue to me.
The problem is dust getting onto the back of the lens and onto the sensor.
66 – My core photography gear
- Canon 6D with Canon 17-40mm F4 L lens
- Manfrotto 190 Go tripod with geared head
- Sunway Foto L Bracket
- Peak Design Everyday Backpack
- 6 memory cards
- 4 camera batteries
- Neewer Loupe Viewer
- Lastolite Grey card
- Pec Pads and Eclipse Cleaning solution
- Hurricane blower
If I do not use anything else things have gone well. So, decide what your essential gear is and pack accordingly.
67 – Image capture – consistency
You need a system to enable you to produce consistent imagery. This is important as you will hopefully get repeat work from clients who will want their images to look the same.
68 – Image capture – file types
I shoot in RAW, process the RAW files in Lightroom and issue JPEGs to the client.
69 – Image capture – camera settings
- Canon 6D and Canon 17-40mm F4 L lens mounted on a tripod.
- F8 or F16
- AV Mode – the camera picks the shutter
- Camera tripod mounted for every shot unless impossible to do so.
70 – Image Processing
As with taking the photos you need a consistent image processing workflow which will help give you a consistent and hopefully distinctive style.
My standard terms and conditions
If you would like to receive a copy of my standard terms and conditions please get in touch by email, commenting on this post or by using the contact form – entirely up to you how you do this. Get in touch and I will send you them in a Pdf.
And finally, and I am so looking forward to removing this section.
I have written extensively about photographers and safe working during the Coronavirus Pandemic on my blog.
Check out these posts
I base my working practices on the Construction Leadership Council Site Operating Procedures, which have been broadened out to cover anyone working outdoors.
At the time of writing this, September 2020, we are on version 5.
I hope that you found this helpful. I wanted to include lots more on the gear and processing but they are separate subjects in their own right.
There are a few related posts and website pages that I would like to refer you to.
Construction Photographer – this is a page that lists lots of related blog posts.
Work with Me – this is the page for clients but the staff in there is all relevant to us architectural photographers.
And for anything else I have a page called Start Here – well its as good a place as any to start isn’t it?
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