Guest editorial by Jerry Blow
As I write this, scientists are developing cameras that will see better than our eyes will ever see. Cameras will also have high resolution, 3-D capability before long. But, until that time, you have to rely on current technology – and the skills of the photographers. All of us can go to a construction site or a finished building and take some pretty good pictures. Today’s cameras allow for a decent photo in most situations. They may be good enough to go into our company’s e-newsletter or post onto the firm’s website, but they don’t have the pizzazz needed for competition entries, public displays in the lobby or to be included in client proposals.
Simply buying a new camera doesn’t mean that your photographs will improve. We rightfully assume that we need to hire a professional to take high quality pictures, but how do we find the right person? What is a reasonable fee for these people to charge? Who owns the photos that are paid for? There are a lot of aspects to making these decisions.
You would not expect a wedding photographer to do superb architectural photos; and vice-versa. Experience is a major factor in getting great results. Also, an expert architectural photographer will be active in an association such as AIAP; the “Association of Independent Architectural Photographers.” This particular group is the only one in the country that qualifies their membership; that is, they have to pass a portfolio review, and present satisfactory industry references. All other associations simply require their members pay a fee to join.
You can also go online and simply type in “Architectural Photographer”, and the city your assignment will be in. But, be wary of the person who claims to be good with all types of photography. They will probably be like a multi-function tool; they can do the job, but not always very well.
Be sure to talk to two or three photographers about their fees. Explain your project as precisely as possible, including the deadline and how many firms will be purchasing the photos. If there is a fixed budget, be sure to mention that also. When you’re given the photo proposals, be clear exactly what is included. Is it just photography time, or also retouching, an assistant’s time, travel expenses, limited usage rights? Sometimes the add-on’s greatly increase the total price.
Don’t always choose the lowest bidder to do your assignment. Rely on your intuition and feelings about how the photographer responded to your RFP, how professional they sound during your discussions, and whether they ask intelligent questions about the project. Ask for professional references and talk with those people about the skill level and work habits of the photographer.
Ask also about “usage rights”. Some photographers will include “unlimited usage rights” with all purchased pictures. That’s a legal term that can give buyers the right to use the purchased pictures in any way that they wish, for as often and as long as they wish, with no further payment to the photographer. However the terms may not allow the buyer to give or sell the photos to another group or publication.
Other photographers will detail precisely how the photos can be used and for what period of time. Once that time (usually one year) is up, the usage fee will have to be renewed, or the buyer can’t legally use the pictures any longer.
In either case, the photographer still owns the copyright. That can be purchased as well, but the cost is usually prohibitive, and there is, typically, no good reason to do that. You will do better to purchase the unlimited usage rights. What you are actually buying are “usage rights”, not pictures.
A high quality photograph of a building requires more than an understanding of how that structure was built. It also requires an understanding of visual qualities – lighting, composition, contrast, color rendition, etc. The photograph might be the first impression that viewers have of the project, and indirectly, of the contractor.
Jerry Blow is principal and founder of Raleigh-based Jerry Blow Architectural Photography. He has worked strictly with the construction and design community for thirty years. His work has won clients a number of national and regional awards. He can be reached at 919-274-3776 or at www.jerryblowphotos.com.