How To Get Good Photography of Building Materials and Products

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How come thousands of installations of building materials can yield very little usable photography?

When onboarding a new client, one of the first things we do is audit their existing resources. The biggest asset a company can have is a good photography library. Unfortunately, few do.

Why is a photography library so important?

Because good photography is one of your biggest sales tools.

Prospects—whether it be architects, designers, builders or homeowners—are visual beings. They want to see the product or material in a variety of applications so they can imagine what it will look like in theirs.

Sales reps need good photography to build Pinterest boards for their clients and to inspire them to specification.

Building material companies face a unique challenge.

With projects spread out across the country, or globe for that matter, sending a photographer to capture every installation is unrealistic. Most building material and product

companies focus their resources on capturing a few high-profile projects annually. The rest of the time, the sales rep is left trying to gather whatever images they can from the design firm. Some even resort to shooting photos themselves on a smartphone.

I try to look at building a library as a balance between resources and desire. The challenge is to create a strong library using a minimal investment.

One approach is to select two to three of your most important projects and find a local photographer to capture them. The local sales rep can set up the shoot and be there with your company style guide to make sure the images are right. The rest of the library can be filled out with in-field photography taken by sales reps. (See the 12 tips at the end of this blog.)

Another way to build your library is to partner with design firms and split the cost of photographing important projects. This is a good option because firms need the images for their portfolio and usually throw in the staging and art direction for free. It also keeps your product or material top of mind and makes your company feel like a partner who is invested in their success.

Of course the very best way is to have your building product or material used in high-profile, PR-worthy jobs that industry publications want to profile. The magazine usually shares or licenses the images for a nominal fee.

What if those options don’t work out and you’re forced to take things into your own hands?

Here is a checklist to help you capture the very best photography possible, even if it is just on your smartphone. Send this to your reps in the field to improve the chances of capturing something worth keeping.

  1. Get a tripod. This is not negotiable.
  2. Shoot high resolution, 300 PPI or higher.
  3. Use natural light. Yes, even in interiors. Logistically, this makes it a bit trickier if you are trying to shoot a public space or even an office when in use. Start by turning off all the lights to see what you have to work with. Fire off a few test shots from various places in the room to find where works best. Cameras are very picky about what they pick up and highlight; make sure you are getting the very best exposures possible. Here is the rub; natural light can be too strong and “blow out” images, essentially eliminating all details. When this happens, time is usually on your side. Wait for the sun to shift and for the light to become more defused. 
  4. If you are using a camera or an iPhone, you can shoot with all of the lights off, even in less-than-optimum conditions. For a camera, you can slow down the shutter speed, meaning that you open the lens for a longer period of time. The slower the shutter speed, the more light and detail the camera is able to capture. If using an iPhone7, you can manually adjust the shutter speed and ISO to do the same thing. Either way, a tripod must be used to avoid a blurry picture.
  5. Never use your flash. Never. Ever.
  6. Shoot all of your images RAW if possible. RAW files capture rich data that can be accessed by a retoucher to improve poor image quality. Choosing a compressed file like a JPEG sacrifices space for quality.
  7. Try to shoot straight and wide. Align your camera with a wall and shoot in the horizontal format. Images shot wide are best for websites and the goal is to maximize the number of places the images can live. Use the natural lines in the room’s architecture to make a grid and align your camera with it.
  8. Photograph the entire room and the space around the installation. This gives context to the product or material.
  9. Stage the space. Some of staging is an art and some of it is just about cleaning up. Go through and remove all garbage and excess items, including furniture, fluff pillows, hide cords, pull out competitor products, etc. Less is more.
  10. Try to stage the install with props that are brand-appropriate and relevant to the location of the install. This will keep the shot from looking cold or barren.
  11. Where appropriate, capture close-up shots to show texture and detail. This is also a good way to show any installation details such as hardware or wiring.
  12. Have models in 40% of shots if possible. This will give the photos life and brings in the human element. If the person is walking or moving in the photo, capture them with a motion blur. If you are shooting with a slow shutter speed (tip 4), the camera will capture the motion automatically.

Now that you’ve obtained some great photography, be sure to pass it by a retoucher. A good retoucher is worth their weight in gold. They can color correct, add resolution to, and polish the image so it looks beautiful and professional. We tend to send our retoucher photography in batches to negotiate a more favorable rate. Developing a lasting relationship is a time-saver as well—ours knows our clients and their brand standards and can make the adjustments with very little input from us.

The sooner you can build your library of images, the happier specifiers and sales reps will be. Now that you have the 12 easy steps, your company should be able to build a vast and diverse product photography library at a reasonable cost.

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Want to grow your sales by increasing specifications by architects and designers? Click here to download our guide: HOW ARCHITECTS AND DESIGNERS SPECIFY BUILDING AND ARCHITECTURAL PRODUCTS. If you have a question that hasn’t been answered or to find out more about how Epiphany can help you get specified, give me a call. 804.377.0106