My career began some 20 years ago as a staff photographer for an advertising agency. I was a part of countless brand discoveries where we started from scratch and developed a company’s brand strategy. The style of photography was selected to match the brand that had been devised based on market research, customer analytics, demographics, unique selling propositions and what would resonate on an emotional level to inspire a consumer to buy. My job in those days was to adapt the photographic “look” to the brand. I had a limited range of creative freedom to add my own flair; ultimately, the client and an artistic director dictated the foundational look of an image.
Fast forward to 2022 and I now work almost exclusively as an architecture and hospitality photographer. To this day, I can’t help but to find myself thinking about “the brand” and the client’s desired look. With architectural photography, that tends to be somewhat irrelevant as the design of a space often dictates the look that the images should have. Or does it? This is a question that I wrestle with often.
Working primarily as a hotel and resort photographer, I am used to 65 page brand guidelines telling me how and what to shoot. For me – and I may be alone on this – achieving the client’s desired look with little room for artistic interpretation is a challenge and opportunity that I am happy to embrace. With that said, it is also nice when a client says to you, “I don’t know what I want, that’s why I have hired you.” Both present advantages and disadvantages to us as photographers.
When discussing the desired look of images with clients, I start by breaking it down into two very basic categories: “light, bright and airy” or “dark, moody and romantic.” I will often present examples of similar spaces captured at different times of day and ask the client if there is a direction that they lean toward. Sometimes I will even reference scenes in movies to try to describe lighting styles or composition. On other occasions, I will ask them if they have a Pinterest board of images that were an inspiration to them when designing the space. This can provide clues to their design intent and to how they envision the space in their mind. I find myself equally as excited when they reply “I definitely want this” as I am when they say “I don’t know, whatever you think is best.”
Without Light, There is no Dark
On occasion, I have been hired by an architectural firm whose website, brand and previous images look like the Black Gates of Mordor but their latest residential design looks like it could be the set of a Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercial. As photographers, we have an opportunity to shape light and create whatever looks we want in a space. Even that big, bright open space with white walls can be made to look moody and dramatic. Of course, much of the look will often come down to what time of day that we choose to shoot. So how much of a client’s brand should influence the look of our images? Do clients hire us for our signature look or is part of our job as photographers to study the client’s brand and adapt our photography style to highlight what our client is known for?
Photography As Time Travel
As much as possible, I try to let the natural and designed light within a space guide the direction of the photography. But sometimes it is difficult to choose whether a space should be captured during the day or at dusk, thereby dramatically altering the look. In situations like this, I try to think about when that space would typically be used. I love to shoot bedrooms at dusk because I tend to think of bedrooms as a place to be at night with dim lighting. I have the same thought with patios that are draped in string lights. Dusk just feels like a natural fit for these spaces. But then what about that white walled living room with the fireplace in the corner that could go either way? I find that most of the time it just comes down to scheduling and logistics. There is only so much time in a day for dusk shots so I will choose the one or two shots that really fit the dusk look.
I would love to know your own approach and how you communicate and choose basic looks with your clients. Do you give clients a choice on the final look or are they entrusting you as the photographer to deliver what you think is best for a particular space?