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The Importance of a Shot List for Architectural Photography

We usually insist on using a shot list when shooting architectural photography.

We find it an indispensable tool to insure that the client gets what they need and we avoid wasting too much time and energy on unnecessary angles. A shot list is a simple list or diagram that lays out the shots or angles that my client needs. It can be very specific and give instruction for each shot, or can be a simple list of the shots needed.

A well-defined shot list can make all aspects of a shoot go smoother. To illustrate my point, we should take a quick look at what goes into an architectural photograph:

The process begins when the photographer surveys the area and takes scout photos to determine the exact placement of the camera. Small movements in camera placement, can solve issues where objects are overlapping or simplify issues that require later retouching.

The next step in the process is to remove any objects that can be pulled from the shot, like personal effects, signs and bins. A few minutes of clean-up can save hours in post.

Setting up the camera, clearing and arranging can vary from shot to shot but sooner or later you get a shot that requires an hour of cleanup, occasionally several shots in a day that need massive effort to clear before shooting.  A interior may seem absolutely clean to the untrained eye but will still require a great deal of effort to get things looking their best. Please note that we do not provide styling, cleaning or box/furniture removal services.

Architectural photography is one of the most precise and technical types of photography and is all about getting the absolute most out of the camera possible. Since an architectural photographer’s camera usually mounted to a heavy tripod and tripod head we can stack multiple exposures together to capture what would be impossible in a single shot. What this usually entails is shooting multiple exposures from light to dark of the room with lights on, then again with the lights off, and then if there are any issues that need correcting or if time allows, the photographer will make a few more exposures using supplementary lighting. As you now by now the process is fairly tedious. We usually tell clients to expect it to take 45 minutes or so on location per finished image.

Once the photography on location is complete, all of the images are combined in post. Post-processing is comprised of everything done to the files after the shoot. First the images are given the proper exposure and color balance in RAW processing software to keep the files pristine. Then, all of the files are exported to an image editing program where they are combined to make a single perfect image. Combining the images is done in a number of ways but usually involves making complex selections and masks in order to make selective adjustments to exposure and color balance. Once the files are combined the images can be retouched where the photographer goes through the image with a fine-toothed comb removing dust bunnies, window smears, footprints, wrinkles, signs and clutter. Usually post processing takes roughly as long as shooting. But sometimes, if things are rushed during the shoot the post-processing will go a good bit longer.

A common way to stray from a shot list is a request like “oh, and shoot the kitchen if it looks good.” The problem with a request like this is that the image is conditional, it is up to the client to decide if it was worth shooting after all of the work has been done. Most often it is a harmless request and an easy way for me to grab an extra shot. The problem arises when there are more than one or two of these requests. Then the photographer is speculating which image the client may or may not like. The obvious result is that steps will be skipped and rather than focusing on getting the best results possible, the focus becomes working quickly to minimise loss. Time ends upping pulled from important images and wasted on shots the client wasn’t sure they wanted in the first place.

Considering the effort that goes into a single finished image you can imagine the importance of a clear shot list. As the photographer we need to make a careful estimation of how much work a particular shoot might require and bid based on that estimate. A clearly defined shot-list can tell me how many shots are needed, what types of rooms are to be photographed and what equipment we may need. All of this information lets me streamline my estimate and insure that the clients budget is spent wisely and will stretch to get the necessary images done right.

When it is proving impossible to get a client to provide a shot list and the location of the shoot is not too far away you can consider doing a scouting shoot. A scouting shoot is where a photographer goes days ahead of the shoot and makes some preliminaries to help eliminate angles that are unnecessary or unflattering without committing to finished shots. The downside to a scout is extra cost and time but it can smooth out issues on shoot day, and ensure a happy outcome for all.