When karaoke machines came out, suddenly everyone thought he was Frank Sinatra. Now digital cameras are clicking up a storm, and everyone thinks he's Ansel Adams. Don't get me wrong, I think they're a wonderful invention. I've got one and it's great for documenting the leaps and bounds of my new puppy—and e-mailing the JPEGs around ad nauseam to friends. Of course, I think that's a harmless application of the technology (although my friends may aver). What's a potentially harmful use of your super-megapixel Sonycam? Shooting your own projects for professional publication and awards entries.
There's a reason why you're good at what you do, and there's a reason why professional photographers excel at their metier: It's a matter of training and talent. Think how cranky you get when builders believe they can design something just because they're familiar with the elements. Professional photographers will not simply document your work for posterity, they will actually make it look better than it is. Really. They bring their art to your art, and the result can be remarkable.
I'm reminded of this every time we hold our annual design awards competition. With almost 600 submissions, we see the gamut of photos—from the sublime to the ridiculous. Our judges do their best to look beyond the deficiencies of photography when evaluating a house for an award. But sometimes the images stalemate them. Poorly composed ones sever important visual connections, making the house difficult or impossible to fully comprehend and appreciate. More frequently, photos suffer from dull, flat, or obscure lighting. Those houses appear lifeless. Photographer Madeleine Isom, who's studied both fine arts and architecture, explains how she captures that indefinable dynamism in her work: "When I photograph architecture, I believe that I'm photographing a living thing: A building breathes, gets sick, needs repair, evolves, ages, and sometimes dies."
The best photographers "get it"—they understand what you're trying to accomplish in your architecture and they conspire with you to bring that across in their medium. They conquer the myriad technical snafus that can occur—over- or underexposure, the wrong emphasis in depth of field, errant reflections, color distortions, and that slight misfocus only our art director's eagle eye can detect. We editors will love a project and want to publish it, but she'll look at the images and dash our hopes.
Digital cameras have compounded the problem of overreaching amateur photographers, because they do seemingly solve so many technical problems. And they save a ton of money in film and processing. Even in the hands of fabulous photographers, though, they are still not as rich, accurate, and sharp as 2x4 or larger transparencies. That said, they're an excellent communication tool. Use them for project administration, to document questions or ideas for your clients or builder, and so forth. And with us, use them as a scouting device. Before you go to the expense of hiring a professional photographer, snap zillions of shots of the house and e-mail them to us. We'll give you a provisional thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
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