~ 8 minute read
Note: In the context of this article, visual communications refer to photography and video and the terms are used somewhat interchangeably, as the principles enunciated here, generally apply to both fields.
It is oh-so common for us at rvltr to witness architects and designers get into panic mode, once they realize that they’re on a deadline to document their latest project because winter is coming, fast. In many cases, it denotes that this is just and overlooked aspect of running and promoting a design business and is treated like an afterthought.
This is a tremendous missed opportunity as it leads to rushed projects that cannot be properly planned and often end up costing more as a result, not to mention the risk of getting imagery that does not represent the project in its best light, tired pun intended. Good visual communications take time, thought and ignoring that fact leads to and undifferentiated identity that in turn, leads to being perceived as a commodity.
Let’s look at some of the things you can do to make the most of the documentation of your projects:
What is the purpose of documenting my projects?
The first thing you should ponder when considering documenting your latest project, is the use you’re going to make of those pictures and how they are going to help you further your short and long-term goals as a business. By defining clear business objectives, you will define a path for the photographer to take and help you further those objectives by taking pictures that serve them. Before you even consider hiring a photographer, it is a good idea to have a written, or even verbal brief that outlines what your objectives are.
This will do two things for you. First, It will allow you to seek a photographer who will be aligned with those objectives, as you will be able to use these objectives as a yardstick for compatibility. The same way it is in your best interest to position yourself clearly to attract the best clients, you’ll want to look for a photographer whose expertise is aligned with your vision. You should be prepared to ask tough questions and expect well articulated answers. Second, it can also be used by your photographer of choice as guidelines for the execution of the project.
While finding a suitable photographer aligned with your vision is a critical first step, we are going to look at the things you can do to even make that process more streamlined for the long term documentation of your work.
Transcribing values and company culture into visual communications.
You may ask yourself, “ But, what does that have to do with taking pictures of my projects?”
I’m glad you asked. By viewing the documentation of your project through the lens of your company values and culture, you will be able to articulate how those values may translate visually. For example, if creativity is your thing, showcasing your projects in a way that is unique to you may be the way to go. If your company is adept at choosing and implementing building materials in a unique way, images that are going to be more abstract and focused on details, textures and colours and how those interact with each other, will likely to be a good way to express those values. If you’re very good at designing spaces that foster social interaction, overall shots a space showing people interacting in a natural way, will make more sense.
Understanding that some of those values may be more challenging to express visually, they should nonetheless always underpin your photography efforts, even if only in an abstract way. If If you are so inclined, you can always go Full-Kubrick and play with the symbolism of your images, spaces and the objects within them.
Even if only at a subconscious level, these images will speak to your company’s uniqueness and manifest it visually in ever so subtle ways. Just like your company values may not be evident to an outsider, having them allows you to be consistent in your interactions with your stakeholders. In the same manner, being able to photographically express those values will contribute to establish a consistent visual language.
For example, a client of mine makes sure that when they need to shoot a project, they are able to both convey the values of their business and how these translate into imagery, as well as hire a photographer who has the ability to produce such imagery. They have painstakingly developed visual style guides that are very prescriptive, yet do not expound on the technicalities of the photographic process. Instead, they use past images as great examples of what they’re looking for, accompanied with descriptive texts that describe emotions, feelings, light and spatial qualities. As a result, it makes photographing their projects a lot easier as the parameters of the documentation process and the goals are clear, yet it leaves a lot of room for interpretation and creativity. Since they hire many photographers across the world, this process has become a necessity to them, in order to ensure that they can use images from photographers working across the globe side by side, while maintaining a coherent visual identity.
The exponential value of collaboration.
You may think to yourself, but I just want beautiful pictures of my projects. Can’t I just hire a good photographer and be done with it?
Of course you can. However, missing this opportunity to get involved in the production of your photoshoot, is likely to leave you with nice images, but also images that look like every other architect’s images. A good photographer should bring a lot of these ideas to the table, but without your involvement and ideas, they will only be able to fill in the blanks with their own ideas where they’re missing information from you on the creative direction.
A great photographer will act as an art director and try to get that information from you in order to produce images that showcase your work in a unique fashion. But if you come prepared with you own photographic guidelines and a clear sense of what you’re looking to express, the photographer will be able to use his experience and technical expertise to transform this raw material made of ideas into imagery that fits your identity like a velvet glove.
Allow me to speak from experience for a minute. We’ve shot hundreds of projects over the years and had all kinds of clients, from the control-freak type who wants to micro-manage every aspect of the process, to the 100% hands-off clients who let us do our thing. Pondering what made our best projects stand out from the rest, we noticed a pattern emerging over time. We invariably produce our best photography, from a creative perspective, when we work with engaged clients who are not shy to get their hands dirty and work with us closely on the documentation of their spaces.
When working with these clients who understand the value of collaboration and its power to exponentially improve the quality of the work, a dialogue emerges and the boundaries blur as we are able to get into a state of flow, where we challenge each other to think of new ways to showcase a space and we get to experiment with new techniques or non-codified ways of photographing that would not have happened without this creative conversation emerging.
This is also applies to working with other professionals like stylists, photo assistants, models and post-production experts. When working with the right people, the production process becomes a back-and-forth conversation where each team member has something of value to bring to the table and the result is greater than the sum of its parts.
In the age of digital photography, social media and ubiquitous online presence, it has never been easier to take pictures of architecture. As a result, everyone is able to easily blast their projects online with some imagery. If that’s going to be the standard in the industry, you owe it to yourself to ask: “How do I stand out above the crowd”?
The process described above is only a piece of the marketing pie, albeit a critical one, because imagery is what catches people’s attention first. We see a lot of projects on a daily basis. So much so that it has become a bit of a running gag in the office to not be able to distinguish one project from the next, especially in this age of ubiquitous pastel hues, nordic wood tones on white backgrounds and rounded edges. Occasionally, one of them stands out and they usually have been very well photographed. Not only that, but there is usually something very unique about the imagery that reveals the architecture in a whole new way.
When visual communications are thought of and planned as an integral and critical part of your business efforts, starting with a clear positioning and solid values, all the pieces of the puzzle come together nicely and all of a sudden your mission becomes crystal clear. It is a lot of work to develop and implement these systems, but nothing worth accomplishing is easy, or is it?
Arnaud Marthouret is the founder of rvltr and leads their strategy, visual communications and media efforts. He has helped numerous architects and interior designers promote themselves in their best light - pun intended - in order to help them run more effective practices and grow in a meaningful way.
If you have questions about this article or rvltr, or want to chat about your strategy and communications, you can leave a comment, share with a fiend, or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.