It’s an inexpensive and easy way to show off your best work /
By Jane Martinsons NFBA staff writer /
When it comes to photography, post-frame builders can learn a lot from Keith Pinkelman, owner of Lynnman Construction, Morrice, Mich. Years ago, he bought a good digital camera and sought advice on photography from a knowledgeable customer. Today, he never goes anywhere on the job without taking a slew of photos of his post-frame buildings, inside and out. He takes shots of projects under construction, just completed or months after completion when the landscape has filled in. He sometimes posts a series of photos of a single project, from start to finish, on his company’s Facebook page and then advertises it to current and prospective customers.
After downloading images, he selects and edits the best ones to post on the portfolio section of his website (www.lynnmanconstruction.com) and on the company’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/LynnmanConstruction) and files the rest by category on his computer for later use. He keeps a camera in his truck or his foreman’s car at all times.
Why all the effort? Because Pinkelman knows something that most post-frame builders may not realize: high-quality photos help sell post-frame construction. It’s why one of his building images currently graces the cover of a Wick Buildings brochure (right). “Every minute I put into taking photography has paid us back tenfold. It really has,” he says.
If that’s true, why is there a shortage of exceptional post-frame building photos? The answer is simple: We don’t know how to take images or how to take very good ones. That has got to change.
“To showcase your work to customers, you need a variety of high-quality images of your buildings,” says David R. Bohnhoff, PhD, PE, professor of biological systems engineering at University of Wisconsin–Madison and a member of the National Frame Building Association’s Technical and Research Committee.
As a Building-of-the-Year Award judge, Bohnhoff says it’s important to showcase architecturally appealing post-frame buildings to the greatest extent possible. This means showing multiple views of a building’s exterior and interior — not just a single front-elevation shot.
Bohnhoff notes that even the simplest buildings can be aesthetically pleasing when properly detailed. He points out that 100 years later, people still continue to admire the understated beauty of prairie- and craftsman-style houses. “Many are very, very simple and very efficient structures, a lot like post-frame buildings. When we adhere to some of the tenets of classic architecture, we can create post-frame buildings to which people are drawn. It is important to demonstrate this to potential customers.”
To do that, here are 12 tips to help you take high-quality photos of your projects.
1. Commit to photography.
“Make a commitment to taking pictures,” says Pinkelman, a self-described “construction guy” hooked on photography. “From there, you start to learn how to get yourself in the right position, take pictures at the right time of day, adjust for daylight and get yourself up in the air,” he says.
“Often when I write a contract, I’ll take a picture of what the area looks like right before anything is done. When we are checking the site, I’ll snap a picture of the site. I just keep capturing that job, particularly unique features of the job. A big building under construction right now has massive door openings — 30-foot sidewall doors and a 60-foot door on the end — and I take pictures of those for sales purposes. I have documented everything we have done on that job to provide a time line for customers.
“[Builders] just don’t understand the value of pictures from a sales standpoint,” he says. “Our customers get so excited when they visit us at [show] booths or look through our picture books and see pictures of their buildings in there. Believe me, I get people at shows who ask me, ‘Hey, how come my picture is not on the board?’ They know if their building is on my board, that’s a good thing.”
2. Buy a quality camera.
It’s a sound marketing investment. Pinkelman says that his $2,000 digital camera was well worth the investment but that a less expensive ($300–$400) digital camera with auto-focus — even a high-end camera phone — is suitable for taking high-resolution photos.
Katie Lohr, marketing project coordinator at Morton, Ill.-based Morton Buildings, recommends that more advanced photographers who are adept at adjusting for light and resolution consider buying a digital single-lens reflex camera. But, she warns, avoid using a wide-angle lens for exterior images of post-frame buildings. “When you’re up close to a building and looking up at it, the angles of the building are really skewed,” she says. “The walls are going to look like they’re real wide at the bottom and real skinny toward the top.” If done well, wide-angle shots can add artistic flair to a promotional piece, but customers generally prefer realistic photos of buildings, she says.
For interior shots, a wide-angle lens is ideal but not a widely purchased item among builders. “So the only thing to do is to try to get as much of the interior in the photo as you can,” Bohnhoff says. “You’ve got to back yourself into a corner or shoot through a door opening to capture as much of the inside of the room as you can,” he says, even if that means also capturing peripheral aspects of a room, such as the ceiling or floor. These can be cropped out later.
3. Steady your camera.
Always steady your camera to avoid fuzzy images. Bohnhoff says to use anything available for camera support — your arm propped on your knee or the roof or hood of your truck.
4. Clean up your site for photos.
This is more important for photos of finished projects than for construction images, where equipment and pickup trucks are common. For finished shots, “make sure your site is cleaned up and nothing is lying around, such as a pile of trash or dirt,” Pinkelman says. Or return to the site a few months later, after the landscaping has matured.
5. Use photo-enhancing software.
Bohnhoff recommends using or downloading image-enhancing software such as Picasa; it’s free and easy to use for even those who aren’t the least bit computer-savvy. By pressing a button, you can enhance, rotate and crop photos — and even make dull photos more vibrant.
6. Seek expert advice.
Find someone who can give you tips on proper lighting and dealing with the effects of reflective metal in a photo. On the advice of a former boss who once told him to always allow extra time at jobsites to take photos, Pinkelman now keeps in his truck albums full of photos of local projects — farm buildings, stables, storage facilities — strictly for sales purposes. A customer who is a professional photographer taught him about lighting and showed him ways to best position himself for photos and to take advantage of backdrops such as autumn foliage.
7. Shoot high and away.
To avoid distorted images in which the base of the building appears wider than the top, step as far back from the building as possible and shoot from an elevation more near the mid-height of the building. Bohnhoff points out that portrait photography is almost always done with a telephoto lens to avoid such distortion. “Although a wide-angle lens may let you stand closer to the subject, you should avoid doing so. Stand back. You may capture more of the surrounding terrain than you would like, but you can always crop it out later.”
For extra elevation, Pinkelman and Bohnhoff use their pickup trucks. Pinkelman frequently captures images while standing on his truck tool box or rack. Bohnhoff will stand in his truck bed and hold his camera above his head to gain an extra two feet. Getting up higher can enable you to shoot over an unwanted item in the foreground such as a vehicle or fence, or to capture a special building feature such as an attractive steep-slope roof. Inside, it can help you capture a larger portion of a room.
Getting both distance and height is especially important for shooting large projects like strip malls or maintenance or storage facilities. You may want to ask for permission to take photos of your project from a porch, balcony, or window of a nearby building.
8. Know lighting basics.
• Keep the light at your back. “It’s better to have the light at your back and on the front of the building when you’re taking pictures,” Lohr says. “Otherwise, the building will appear silhouetted.” Likewise, try not to shoot the shaded side or areas of a building.
• Track the position of the sun. Try not to take photos at high noon or under a bright sun, which can shade most of a building. For good diffuse lighting, Bohnhoff recommends shooting the building’s sunlit side within an hour of sunrise or sunset.
• Overcast days make for great photos. Although clear blue skies are always a plus, overcast days provide diffuse lighting that makes details “pop” in photos, provides vibrancy to buildings and helps sidestep issues with shadows.
• For interior images, use the automatic light-balance feature on your camera or a flash. Know that some kinds of indoor lighting, such as fluorescent or tungsten lighting, tends to change the color of a photo to yellow or orange.
• Shoot well-lit rooms. If there is a shortage of natural light, use artificial light.
• Be mindful that light reflects off metal siding and roofing and may cause sun glare in photos.
9. Check for contrasts in photos.
To check for proper contrast, look for the darkest item in the image. It should be as “black as black can be,” Bohnhoff says. Not having proper contrast means the image is overexposed, but photo-enhancing software can easily remedy that problem.
10. Know when to crop.
“Typically you always want to capture more of the surroundings in your image than you initially plan to use,” Bohnhoff says. “You can always crop things out that you don’t want to show, but you can’t show what you never captured.” Just keep in mind that the more you crop, the lower the resolution of your final image, he says.
Similarly, you never want to over-crop a building that you’re trying to capture for the viewer. “If your goal is to show your whole building, then show your whole building,” Bohnhoff says. “Do not cut off part of an overhang, cupola or chimney. And unless you are after some special effect, center the building in the photo.”
Also, look at what is surrounding the building. Lohr notes that keeping a beautiful rural landscape in an image is one thing, but if it is an urban image, you may want to crop out telephone poles, cars or anything else that may detract from the building. In short, cropping should be done on a case-by-case basis.
11. Be mindful of composition.
To assess the straightness of images, focus on vertical lines of the building at the very center of the photo, Bohnhoff says. A side window frame, for example, should be straight up and down. Regarding resolution, online photos should be 300 dots per inch, and photos in print publications and brochures should be at least 300 dpi, preferably as high as 600 dpi.
12. Connect with your inner artist.
• Size up a jobsite from a photographer’s viewpoint. “Walk around the building and see where the shadows are and how they are going to affect the shot,” says Pinkelman. “You have beautiful settings at some projects but not at others, which make [the latter] tough to photograph.”
• Do some staging. Inform your customers of your plan to photograph their building. “Most customers will get extremely excited about that,” says Pinkelman, noting one customer even staged his porch with a table, chairs and flowerpot. “For some pictures of buildings, I like to have doors open, people moving around and some equipment.” If a project is located near farms, Pinkelman will wait for crops to appear to avoid featuring dirt-covered fields.
• Frame your images. Bohnhoff recommends creating an attractive natural border to photos by incorporating leaves, tree branches or entire trees on the site. Also include horses, people, attractive signage, classic exterior light fixtures, and canopies; all of these accents lend interest and context to photos.
• Be creative when posting photos online. Overlap photos to provide visual interest and help hide empty spaces in some photos.