Ask APA: Hourly Hotel Rooms, Making Dope…, Clipped Reds, and Ovaltine

Ask APA: Hourly Hotel Rooms, Making Dope…, Clipped Reds, and Ovaltine


R asks: When trying to expand and grow your network and brand as a photographer, do you think “mailers” with a small handwritten note can work or what do you suggest to getting more clients to work with you?

In the past I think this worked, today, not so much. An email introduction done right and not done creepily is all you need. Courtesy is a function of time, so just get on with it. Once you get the gig, send a personal thank you that is relevant to the client and will make them laugh, maybe? Just be cool, not weird, you know? I also think the best thing is face time, personal connections, and trust.

As far as building a brand goes, personal projects are still #1 in my opinion. What do you bring to the table that makes you you? I don’t think taking pictures of buildings is inherently hard. I think taking pictures of buildings in a way that looks like you took those photographs and nobody else could have ever taken those photographs is very, very hard – and personal projects are a way to help you find that signature voice and look. Not to mention – they are a great marketing tool.

J asks: When the architect intentionally incorporates different light temperatures into the design of their work, what is the best way to work around this while having a balanced looking shot?  Are there any tricks or am I looking at more complicated lighting setups to work with this while not losing his vision in his designs?

You may have to selectively desaturate / alter the hue of individual color tones to make it look ‘right’ as many cameras struggle to accurately depict colors from artificial lights (modern DSLRs are notorious for clipping reds, for example). In some cases it may help to reduce the power of the practical lighting by adding flash to control the ambient lighting of the room.

Another trick is to shoot the room with the lights off, and then shoot it again with the lights on – and blend them together in post production.

Q asks: So I have two questions. What advice do you have with regards to gaining clients? I assume the most important thing is to first have a good portfolio…

  1. Be a good person
  2. Make friends in the industry. Friends, not “here’s some small talk before I thrust a business card into your hands” type of friends. I can’t tell you how to make friends, but hopefully we all learned on the playground in elementary school
  3. Consider making introductions to early-career architects and designers who need good photography but may not have the funds yet to spend thousands of dollars on a top end photographer. Get to know them. Grow with them. You’ll become indispensable to each other over the years
  4. Be fun to hang out with for 12 hours in a day. I really believe half of the people who fail at this career fail because they are difficult to hang out with, stubborn, unwilling to compromise or brainstorm, can’t take a joke or make one, or lack social grace

Q’s second question: How do you build a solid architecture and interiors portfolio that would impress our intended clientele (architects, interior designers, hotels, shelter mags, etc.)? In the past I’ve reached out to dozens of interior designers and architects offering a free shoot to build my portfolio and I only got one reply which never even panned out.

Wanna shoot hotels? Check into a hotel for a night and shoot the room. Currently a real estate photographer? I challenge you to spend ONE FULL HOUR making a single photograph of a nicely designed home you got hired to shoot for a real estate listing. Take a trip to New York, Sydney, Shanghai, Tokyo and shoot buildings. Hey, it’s a writeoff and you’ll have fun and come home with some nice portfolio pieces. Write your own story about the local architecture in your city and shoot the photos to accompany it. Do a series on a local furniture maker and photograph their furniture when it gets installed. Etc. These are just a few ideas of countless.

Q also says: I wanna be doing what Mike is doing, traveling the world making dope photos (don’t we all?)

There are no secrets, just obsession and determination. Also don’t forget that the engineered facade I put on social media isn’t always the reality. It’s work. It’s Saturday night in front of the computer, panicked wakeups at 6am, spending Sunday afternoon getting on a flight to Dallas, leaving my girlfriend for weeks at a time.

A asks: How to be a international architectural photographer? how to market interior designers and architecture?

Be sure to drink your Ovaltine and read your APA. I don’t know, how long is a piece of string? How does one do anything in life? Set small goals, one at a time, achieve them. Do your best, etc. Local, regional, countrywide, international. Big things are possible if you break them into many small things.

To submit a question to Ask APA, navigate to our contact page and select the “ask an architectural photography related question” button from the dropdown. Answers are reflective of the questions and we make no guarantees that your question will be answered (or answered well, for that matter). Questions are copied verbatim or edited for clarity depending on our mood.

About Mike Kelley
Mike Kelley is an architecture and interiors photographer who has photographed projects all over the world. He is a self proclaimed airplane food enthusiast and the founder of the Architectural Photography Almanac.
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