In the age of Instagram, people have become adept image makers in their daily lives. But little of that social imaging skillset has transferred to corporate photography in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) world.
Darrin Scott Hunter, with architecture and design firm Dyer Brown, is out to change all that. And as a professional photographer himself, he conducts workshops to help AEC firms shift away from old habits and toward a “hive mind” of mobile and social photographers.
“Most AEC firms only use photography within a very narrow style range—typically very structured and clean modernist imagery. But social media has driven vastly increased sensitivity to other photographic styles,” says Hunter, Dyer Brown's new senior design manager for Digital, Visual and Brand. “Firms shouldn’t be afraid to loosen up and use imagery that is more emotional, more personal. People are primed for more than typical architectural glamour shots.”
Hunter spoke recently at programs for the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and for AEC marketing group SMPS in Connecticut. Here are his top five tips for better photography of buildings and interiors:
1. Train all staff members
"If you’re not already training in-house staff — including firm owners and marketing leaders — to photograph your daily business and project lifecycles, you need to start,” says Hunter. This vastly increases the range of imagery available to design firms over time.
2. Source end-user photos through social media
Firms should regularly scour social media for imagery of their projects. Clients and end users share personal life moments they experience in those spaces and buildings every day. "Contacting them to acquire usage rights kills two birds with one stone: You get inexpensive imagery that’s not staged, and you show the social media community that you're engaged with the people you design for,” he explains.
3. Treat photos as corporate identity
“The photo archives built by design firms today become the source material for their corporate identities in the future,” Hunter says. He encourages firms to think of it as an autobiography—not documenting the past, but rather an act of self-authorship and identity construction. “During a shoot, you are writing your future self in light,” Hunter states. “And you can’t be
what you can’t see
4. Show the service
“AEC imagery usually focuses on the artifact — the final built architecture,” says Hunter, rather than the valuable services the firms provide. “We sell expert creative and technical advice, and there are convincing ways to show that in our photography."
5. Share the real cost with clients and consultants
Many firms split costs of professional photo shoots among project team members. But they rarely cover the time spent coordinating the shoots or processing and archiving the photographs. Nor do they think to share rights to in-house photography with each other.
“Many firms have no idea they hold photo libraries worth six figures, sometimes seven!” Hunter advises. "The photo management services you provide are equally valuable to your clients and consultants as any other billable hours. It is up to you to make the case for adding it to your scope of services."
Last, says Hunter, contracts should always include clauses preserving rights to shoot built works before, during, and after construction—with weather and schedule change provisions.