In this day and age of impressive cameras it may seem unnecessary to worry about who you hire to photograph your model home. Certainly the technology is so advanced, all that's required is to buy an expensive camera and click the shutter, correct? Nothing could be further from the truth, and that's why I decided to write about it.
Don't get me wrong. I get calls from builders, marketing directors, etc. who know the value of the images they present to the public. However, there are many others who think cell phone photos are adequate because they assume people will be able to magically know how great something looks without the photo actually looking good... Crazy right? Sadly, this is usually worse than not showing any image at all.
After years of honing my craft, the following is a list of criteria I would use to judge an architectural/model home photographers portfolio if I suddenly found myself as the hirer and not the hiree.
1. First on the list - Are the walls in their photos slanted, curved or distorted? Do houses look like they're falling backwards? Frankly, that's an immediate fail. If any of those conditions exist it means they haven't taken the care to perform even the simplest of tasks in producing a decent photo. That's not even an advanced technique. It's about as "101" as you can get. If they show that little care for the simplest task then how can you expect them to come through on anything remotely advanced?
2. Is the furniture properly arranged? Furniture and rooms in general look different through lenses than they do to our eyes. The wider we go, the more that difference is accentuated. This means more care has to be taken in regards to framing and composition. Moving furniture is almost always a must for architectural photography of model homes. The end result should be a view that makes sense and the resulting image should be balanced across the frame. Another thing to consider is if the camera is too high or too low. An accomplished photographer knows what height will look correct and will even employ techniques to make the view even better than another photographer shooting from the same height.
3. Are the window views unappealing? Photographing model homes is a higher end production than photographing homes for the MLS. Photographs for the MLS are required to be a faithful reproduction of the home listed. Architectural photography of model homes is product photography of large objects. Often, the area is a construction zone. No one wants to see a port-o-let outside their window, nor do they want to see mounds of dirt or partially built homes. It's essential for backgrounds to be replaced with something that is visually appealing. That home will most likely be built in a lot of different places and may even be constructed on a clients existing lot so replacing the background to something pleasant is far from unrealistic. Think about it this way - Have you ever seen a Mercedes-Benz photographed in front of dirt, partially constructed homes or port-o-lets?
4. Are the inside of homes dark in exterior images or are there very dark entrances? This is something I see constantly. Well designed homes that no doubt are stunning in person look underwhelming in photographs because steps weren't taken to make them look good. Shaded entrances are dark and unsightly, if they're even able to be seen at all. This just doesn't present well. Again, we're selling here. The insides of homes should be lit. It simply results in a better presentation just like well exposed eyes do in portraits and headshots. To accomplish this during the day requires at least one light moved around. For twilight shots, the inside ambient lighting can be used but there is less control than with strobes. Granted, sometimes it's not possible to get inside of properties when exteriors are being captured but all efforts should be made to do so.
5. Are the images dynamic or lifeless? After all the technical ins and outs, this is where the rubber hits the road. Lifeless images are like a monotone speech. It's uninspiring, unmemorable and chances are that nothing comes of it. Lifeless photos are a mere afterthought as potential buyers scroll past them in search of something that catches their eye. You can probably guess though that the more dynamic an image is, the better effect it will have. Dynamic images are the motivational speakers of photography. They stop people in their tracks and greatly increase the chance of an inquiry or a visit. They generate excitement and subconsciously promote the almighty call to action. This is the goal, right?
Final thought - HDR or lit photography? For those of you who don't know, HDR is where multiple exposures are made and then either run through a software "meat grinder" or hand blended. Results can be from terrible to pretty decent. I prefer lighting because there is more control over situations and the results are crisper. The technique I utilize is sort of a "lighting on steroids" if you will. Literally everything in each scene is hit with light to build texture, mood and richness. It's tedious and requires more time but this what I do to separate me from the pack, much like my clients want their images to do.
In wrapping up, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I'm hopeful that this list will be of help to some of you that are in a conundrum on which way to turn for architectural photography. Or possibly, some of you have have been working with someone that isn't quite tickling your fancy but you weren't sure why and now you can search in earnest to find the one that does.
Please feel free to reach out directly if there's anything you want to discuss!
All the best.