When Uncle Bruce Can't Get the Damn Job Done - Hiring the Photographer of Your Design Dreams

Your work is fabulous, daaaaahlin'. Your furnishings are drool-worthy, your accent pieces are hot sex, and your style is all around legendary - or it's about to be, anyway. IF, that is, you can capture it in a photograph. 

interior design photographer

Wait just a second, though - you're not a photographer and you DON'T want to mess around with DIY. Also, you know your Uncle Bruce has a big camera and says he's got this, but you're pretty sure his black and white bird photos don't qualify him to take the perfect photos of your work (because they don't. Just don't hire Uncle Bruce.)

So you've got to FIND, HIRE AND COMMUNICATE WITH a true blue interiors photographer. Sounds like a pain in the posterior, right? Naah, it's totally do able. With these tips and the willingness to spend some time and cash-ola on this OH SO IMPORTANT part of your portfolio, you'll have the great images you need to snag design-thirsty clients in no time. 

How to Find Your Architecture and Interiors Photographer

Here's a really short answer on what NOT to do - don't go cheapie cheap just because "It seems so easy, all they're doing is pushing a button, right?" I know, I know, of COURSE I'm saying that, I'm a photographer and I really like money, right? Well, YEAH, but it's also for your best interest - just like interior design and many other creative professions, you get what you pay for. 

You found a local stay at home mommy who takes photos of sports, and events, and hair bows, and families, and interiors while her two year old naps? There's a student on Craig's List who's building their portfolio and will give you a killer price? Good ol' Uncle Bruce will do it for free? Nope, probably not, and hell to the no. 

Architecture and interior design photography is an entirely different skill set than portraiture or nature photography. It calls for an understanding of structure, light, and materials. It also may require different equipment - these jobs call for different lenses, lighting and accessories. Editing interiors photos calls for a deft hand, as well - it's more than just fixing bad skin and whitening teeth. You will want to find someone who gets all this and is a kick-ass professional - someone who can deliver well composed, well lit, and well edited images in a timely fashion. 

Here's how we find that white whale:

First, skip the Google. Ask around. 

If you're part of a local group of interior designers, ask who your peers have used and been happy with and THEN - this is the trick - ask to see examples of the work. If Mary Sue Smith is happy with the local photog because they were cheap and fast, but their work looks like WalMartography, it's a no go, right? Get four or five references to look at and check them out to see who you love. 

Get back in bed with the Google if need be. 

If there's no one you like from your peers' recommendations, you will have to search on your own. You'll want to look for "Your Location Here Interior Design Photographer" or "Your City Architecture and Design Photography". Try a couple of different permutations and see who keeps coming up - "Temecula Interiors Photographer" might get you a slightly different set of results from "Temecula and Orange County Design Photography". Don't just search for "photographer" - remember, you're looking for a specialist, not a generalist. Also, Houzz has lists of photographers in some areas - it's worth a check, too. 

Skip Real Estate Photogs.

Real estate photographers typically take very plain photos for a very low price. They are so important at what they do BUT they won't capture your work in any sort of artistic fashion. Save them for when you're selling your house and go with a ID specialist this time. 

Make a shortlist. 

When you've got some results, check out each site and see whose style you like and whose work would complement your own. Even if a photographer is great at sweeping exteriors shots at sunset, they may be weak at cozy-but-bright little powder baths. Try to get four or five photographers who fit your needs and your style. 

Price it out. 

When you've got a few choices, start contacting them for prices and scheduling information. Start with something like, "Hi, I'm Denise from Fantastic Design Co. and I just looooooove your work. I thought you'd be a great fit for my sumptuous master bedroom project - I need photographs done within the next two weeks for my blog and a possible feature in a local design mag. Can you tell me your pricing and availability?" One, this strokes their ego (again, we're all artists! We all have big, juicy egos! Wouldn't you love it if all your inquiries came with compliments?!) and two, it helps them respond to you in a concise, timely fashion. I'm sure you hate vague inquiries that lead to 45,087 back-and-forth emails - photographers do, too! 

What to Expect From Your Photography Contract

After hearing back from the photographers you contacted, you should be able to narrow down the field and make a choice quickly. The next step is to talk contracts and expectations so both you and the photographer are crystal clear on: 

  • What the shoot will be like (How long will it take? What should you bring?), 
  • What you can expect to receive (How many files? Full resolution or web size? Watermarked or not? When will they be complete?), 
  • What you can use it for (Personal use? Web use only? Publications?),
  • And what to do if something needs to change - for example, if your client wants to use it, if a magazine wants to feature it, or if it doesn't meet your expectations. 

If your photographer says you don't need a contract, RUN THE HELL AWAY. In the USA, the photographer owns all the copyrights - usage AND publication - to the images unless very clearly stated otherwise in a fully executed contract. This means without a contract, YOU will be the one who gets screwed, so don't ever enter into a shoot without one. 

If I were a client, I'd take a bit of time to write all my wishes into a list before we got on the phone or began emailing. That way, I could clearly communicate that I wanted 15-20 images, both details and whole room, fully edited, with full resolution and web sized versions so I could use them for my own blog and possible future publications without getting flustered and forgetting important details. Also, this leaves room for the photographer to come back and say they're happy to provide all of that, but will require the publications to contact them directly, or similar before the contract is written so there's no room for misunderstanding and unhappiness down the line. 

NOTE: The contract you create is between you and the photographer and that's IT. If the rug vendor/tile installer/sexy cabana boy who worked on the job wants to use the images, too, they need to contact the photographer to create their own agreement. (Wait, you don't hire sexy cabana boys on your design jobs? You might want to add that in next time.)

How to Communicate Your Wants and Needs to Your Photographer

Now that the binding details are out of the way, you can get to the fun stuff. Tell your photographer the specifics of the space and what you want to highlight, and if there's anything you need to hide. If you plan to add accessories and lifestyle items on shoot day (and you TOTALLY SHOULD, but that's another post for another day), let them know what to expect from that, too. For example - "This client has an eclectic modern dining room and I really want to showcase the handscraped walnut flooring, the chandelier and the buffet. There's a crappy Barcalounger in a room just off the side entrance, so let's hide that as much as possible. I'm also bringing a bar cart full of chic little goodies and glassware so we can add styling items as we go."

Finally, create a Pinterest or Houzz secret board of what looks you like and what you'd be ecstatic to have on your site. This way, you've communicated your wishes both verbally and visually - it doesn't get any clearer than that. 

And that's all she wrote! You and your photographer are good to go and you're all set to get the photos that do your design justice.

Any lingering questions? Add them in the comments and we'll clear them right up. If you have an interior design friend or colleague who's struggling in this area, send this article their way, too. 

Happy designing!

You can connect with Misha Hettie at her home on the web Hello Misha.