Why do architectural photographers charge so much?

01/14/2014

Joshua Dool, Blue Planet

Blue Planet Aquarium, Copenhagen. Designed by Danish architects 3XN. All images © Joshua Dool

Joshua Dool is an award-winning architectural and industrial photographer based in Vancouver, Canada. Joshua was interested in both architecture and photography from a young age but photography won out. We wanted to hear about the skills required to properly photograph a building, the costs to the architect, and how a photographer can be creative in meeting budgets – he was kindly most forthcoming.

Q: What justifies the cost of strong architectural imagery?
JD: Photography isn’t much different than anything else. Fast and cheap doesn’t equal good. With architecture photography, it takes time to get the perfect angle and the perfect lighting, so the fast category doesn’t really even apply to it. So then, we are left with either cheap or good, and you probably aren’t going to get both.

My experience has been: the cheaper the photographer, the poorer the image looks, and in a society that is becoming increasingly visually literate, thanks to social media and the internet, fantastic photos are a must! Strong images strengthen a brand, weak images diminish a brand. This is true for all advertising, and it is especially true for architecture. Great projects deserve great photos to represent them, because at the end of the day, for the vast majority of an architect’s future clients, this will be the only way they ever get to interact with that design!

This doesn’t mean the more expensive the better, but it does mean that good imagery comes at a justified price. Half-rate images can make a fantastic project look crappy, and fantastic images can make an average project really stick out. The strength of the imagery is going to define whether the local paper or national magazine features it; it will affect how professional your website looks; it’s going to be the face of that project for awards consideration, and it’s going to determine whether the project images get onto social media which can generate A LOT of buzz and flow to your website.

Q: Why do architecture photographers charge so much, and what is associated with the cost?
JD: Several things are associated with producing professional images. In order to produce great architecture photos, you need a decent amount of gear, and a lot of knowledge specific to the field of architecture photography.

It takes time to scout locations, find angles, and map the sun through the course of the day in order to show up and capture great images on the day of production. Most shoots require one day of scouting, and one or two days of actual capture, but then the images are not ready out of the camera either, and can often take another one to three hours per photo in postproduction. So, there is a considerable time investment in photographing architecture properly.

Professional camera equipment and lighting is not cheap either. I arrive on a shoot with usually $20k+ worth of my own gear. I have pro-camera systems, tilt shift lenses, a few strobe kits, large reflectors, multiple tripods, and then a swath of gear at home for editing the photos in post production. It’s an incredibly expensive form of photography. And then, in order for me to hone my craft and get proficient at using all the cameras, lighting, and reflector systems I use, I’ve put my time in assisting other photographers, doing lighting on movie sets, and in photo school. Architecture photography is a very specialized form of photography, and isn’t something that just anyone can do, especially if you want quality results.

Q: Do you find that a lot of clients are suprised at the cost of photography?
JD: Price is often a big factor, especially for smaller/newer firms. I am cognizant of this, and I am always happy to try to meet a price point where I can in order to build a relationship with a new firm.

I’ve had a specific scenario happen a few times this last year, where a firm has contacted me requesting a quote for me to photograph several of their projects. After collecting bids from a few different photographers, they called me back to see if I could budge my rate, basically saying that they wanted me as their photographer, but at the other guy’s price. So, I did my best to make something work, but they ended up going for the cheapest quote they’d received. In both of these instances, they didn’t end up posting any of the photographs from the other photographer on their website because they were unhappy with the results.

It’s a common practice for newer, less experienced photographers to try to compete on price point instead of on quality of imagery. The truth is, in order to work at some of these cut-throat prices, these photographers have to be either jet-set trust fund kids who are doing it as a passion and not for the money, or they are photographers who don’t have the same level of expertise and quality of equipment, and who probably won’t be around in another year to photograph your next project. That is, if you would even want them to!

I’m a big fan of architecture so it saddens me to see great projects end up being captured poorly.

Q: Is there a way that architects can keep the costs down or operate within a budget?
JD: YES! There are a few ways:
They can let the photographer know the budget they are working with, and see if the photographer has any suggestions. Personally, the best way to lower the price for me is to book me for two or more projects, as I offer discounts to firms when they package together a few commissions.

Or perhaps the photographer has a month with nothing booked they could move the shoot to, and offer a reduced rate. Here in Vancouver, it rains from November to March, so I would be more inclined to offer a discount on an interior shoot if it took place in the months I’m not busy shooting exteriors in the sunshine!

Another way is to perhaps shave a couple images off the wishlist, and make it a one day shoot instead of a two or three day shoot. Would you rather have image 12 images that look great, or have all 18 and run the risk of the discount photographer messing it up?

Q: What gets you excited about architecture photography?
JD: I am especially intrigued by the human interaction with architecture. Architecture is after all designed for people. So I try to include a human element in my photographs. Early on, I noticed that most renderings the architects had included people, because this is how they sell the functionality of the design, but most photographs I was seeing were empty spaces devoid of human life. Being around great architecture is exciting, and seeing how structure are utilized, how they shape peoples daily experiences, and how they serve there intended purpose is one area I’m especially fascinated with in my photography.

Joshua Dool Location: Specialties: ; ; .

Joshua Dool, Blue Planet
Blue Planet Aquarium.

Joshua Dool, Peace Bridge

Peace Bridge, Calgary. Santiago Calatrava.

Joshua Dool, 8 House

8 House, Copenhagen.  Bjarke Ingels.

Joshua Dool, UBC Pharmaceutical

UBC Pharmaceutical, Vancouver. Saucier + Perrote.

Joshua Dool, Bella Sky Hotel

Bella Sky Hotel, Copenhagen. 3XN.

Joshua Dool, Private apartment

Private apartment.

Read about the cost of hiring an architectural photographer.

Read about how to hire an architectural photographer, from a rep’s perspective.

Read about how to hire an architectural photographer, from an architect’s perspective.