How to Become a Professional Architectural Photographer and Find Valuable Markets For Your Work
Architectural Photography is both a creative and potentially profitable area of professional photography.
Surprisingly, when amateurs seek to turn professional, often they ask the wrong questions about how to go about it. The questions they ask, more often or not, are technical ones to do with the making of the images. In the old days (before digital) such questions architectural marketing tips were frequently about what kinds of films should be used, whether to use specialised shift lenses and what kind of lighting techniques should be used in interiors. Today, in the digital era, amateur photographers are more likely to ask questions about how images should be processed on the computer.
The perspective correction tool in Photoshop may take care of some of the more straightforward issues of controlling those often unwanted converging verticals, but an obsession with such technicalities can blind the budding professional to the toughest issues facing a professional architectural photographer today, namely markets. Determining who your target customer base will have a major effect on both the kind of photographs you want to take and how much you are likely to be able to earn.
Today the whole architectural scene is very tough because of what has happened around the world with property markets. While I’m still working with clients with whom I have a long term relationship, even I’ve found that a lot of the random little commissions that paid for a frivolous bit of camera equipment or a shooting trip have dried up almost completely. For this reason, both established and new professionals need to keep their market focus as a primary area of concern.
The markets listed below are just as start point, and as I’ll tell you later, you will need to be as creative about how you construct your business model as you are about how you make your pictures if you hope to succeed as a professional architectural photographer in the tough markets of 2010.
Very often, an amateur begins architectural photography by focusing on the exteriors of iconic public buildings. It can be a little disillusioning to discover that only a few architectural photographers can earn a living taking photographs of this type. In general while having photographs of these subjects can liven up and make a new portfolio look great these images are hard to take professionally because there is so much competition to make images of that kind.
The reality of a successful business in architectural photography is to know who your customers are and to provide what they want. There are many sub-markets which have radically different needs, here are a few of the main ones.
- The art market
If you really can’t stop taking those pictures of iconic buildings (who can!) then one place you may find a market for them is in art galleries or via art consultants. This is probably your best bet if you want to produce images that are not performing an explicit commercial function.
- Property developers and real estate agents.
I’ve put these two together but they encompass a wide variety of possible customers and uses. Your average local real estate agent will use a lot of architectural and interiors photography but in general they will shoot it very cheaply and its far from easy to make a living today shooting work of this kind. At the other end of the scale a developer of a $20 million dollar building will want great final photos of the construction. Surprisingly even these customers may pay quite poorly and be price sensitive on occasion, but find the right way to sell to them and there is the possibility of earning a good income from this work.