How To Choose a Photographer and Avoid Common Pitfalls

Adrian Wilson and Daniel Haim1

From L to R Adrian Wilson (Interior Design Photographer) Daniel Haim (Bloginity) and HGTV’s Libby Langdon, Photo Credit – Lindsay Marks

Artistic Tile recently hosted a Bring it To The Table (BiTTT) networking event, panel discussion and Q&A titled, “Getting Your Work Published & Getting Recognized in the Industry.”

Panelists included our very own Daniel Haim and good friend and photographer Adrian Wilson. Editor Carolyn Sollis, interior designer Libby Langdon, and Interior Design editor Helene Oberman were also in attendance.

Adrian Wilson shares some of his observations from the night and includes tips for architects and interior designers on how to choose a photographer, avoid common pitfalls when dealing with magazines and deadlines, and how to collaborate and work best with other photographers, clients, architects and designers.

On Photography..

Clear everything with the client. They must be aware of what you will shoot, that the interior may be restyled, and that the images from the session may appear anywhere – potentially on video, too. Find out if they want to be anonymous or pose for portraits. If possible, get a property release which will prevent the home owner from rescinding their permission later.

The first goal is to know how the shots are to be used .“Everywhere” is not an answer because it shows you have no marketing plan. Show the photographer your folio or website so they can fit in with your current style and image dimensions. Work out if you want to enter competitions and what those submission guidelines are.

Do your research. Go to magazine stores, look at all of them, see who publishes them. Consider international press as second level marketing. EVERYONE wants to know what is happening in NY so there’s more of a chance of being published abroad than here. Consider syndication agency. There are lots of international buyers of NY real estate, so if they read about you in a Milan magazine, you are going to be on their shortlist.

Look at target magazines and see what images they publish and who shoots for them. Observe what subjects (kitchen and bathroom, NY, holiday villas, etc.) appear in each magazine. I just shot a project which is exactly an in and out project that would have fit in the current Arch Digest so it is unlikely they will run it for at least another year.

Many magazines or their websites have schedules of what will appear and certainly have submission guidelines. Read them carefully. After submitting the project, prepare to WAIT. Arch Digest has had projects of mine for consideration for 3 months without decision. Some waits are longer than others, but do not harass the staff for a decision.

How to pick the right photographer

See who other people use or call at the magazine for a recommendation, but be aware that one photographer may be a favorite of one editor and so may be a deterrent for other magazines. Be aware that even if the images are fantastic, the interior may have to be reshot by the magazine and propped/shot the way they like it.

Trust them, get their rates and usage – you don’t want to deal with extra charges for publication. Make sure to sort out deals on resales. Also, watch out for magazines selling PDF’s, as that will mess up your shoot contributors and maybe upset clients who don’t want contractors to get hold of the images. Make sure the photographer will respect your marketing plan and your client, too. Don’t let a photographer bully you. Look at the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) website – there is a list of tips when commissioning an architectural photographer. Read it!

Decide if you want a photographer to post on social media (Twitter / Linkedin, etc.) that he is shooting for you. It can help with your PR, but also may not be appropriate for the owner.

Make sure you know what size files will be delivered. For this, web size and print is needed. Make sure that the designer is listed in the metadata of each image. Ask the photographer if retouching is included and, if it isn’t, what the charges will be. Make sure they have liability insurance. Make sure you know how many hours a “day” of photography constitutes. Some people charge overtime. Always issue a purchase order and get an emailed quote with all the terms and conditions. Plan a walk through, if possible, so that the photographer can see how the light works in the space, what props/flowers might work and if any furniture needs moving around.

About the shoot..

On the day of the shoot, make sure everyone is clear about the objectives. Don’t let the photographer bully you, but instead work as a team. The shoot is not for the photographer’s portfolio or one magazine, it should be something you can be happy with. The first part of the shoot with a new photographer is always slow while you get to understand each other and set up. Don’t panic at the beginning and stress everyone out. The photographer will be used to worried clients but things always speed up.

Help support the photographer, don’t worry about things being moved or if they shoot something that you do not like. In a project, there’s always an element the designer hates because it didn’t turn out as expected but looks visually good. There are also things that the designer is really proud of that they want to fight for and want to accentuate but aren’t as good visually. Depending on what magazines you are aiming at, take straight on shots, lots of lighting, no lights or natural lights, details, with or without portraits of the owners.

Look at the props – simple, ornate, in the foreground, brands the recur – see how it fits with advertisers. Cindy no white orchids, Margaret Russell no lights on. Never show too many personal photos and look carefully at artwork.

Shoot different versions of the same shot – some with lights on, some with different props for each different magazine, and be sure to get a mix of horizontal and vertical shots. You should end up with a set of images for each purpose. Keep images clean of clutter unless that is the style you are looking for. The Paige Rense style of images is out.

Try and keep the photographer and your client separated so that they don’t try and direct the shoot. At the end of the shoot, make sure the photographer will help put everything back and account for everything so you don’t upset the client.

Preview shots should be delivered within a couple of days and final retouched images should take no more than a week. High res files should be 60Mb as that matches a double page spread. Always supply images to a magazine as Tiffs, not jpegs, and outline the photographer’s your rights to use them.

Out of courtesy, let the photographer know when things are to be published (plus they may PR the fact they are getting published) and thank the editors (websites too) when they run your story with a hand written note.