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Photo Ops: onsite staff plays an important role in improving the quality of images displayed in a community's marketing materials.

The competition to attract prospective residents who begin their apartment searches online is fierce. Securing this Web traffic can be greatly improved with high-quality photography.

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When hiring a photographer, you often get what you pay for. But onsite staff can influence the process in significant ways before the photographer arrives, ultimately improving the quality of images to be displayed in a community's print and online marketing materials.

Interior Production

Done properly, interior photography involves specialized, crafted lighting. For the photo production process to work smoothly, the interior decorations and space arrangements should be prepared and pristine before the photographer arrives.

At least one week prior to production: Management, maintenance and housekeeping staff should walk interior areas that are to be photographed (common areas, interior amenities, model units, etc.) to assess needed repairs and updates.

Look for and immediately address the following:

__ Touch up paint

__ Refresh decorative items

__ Repair broken or malfunctioning cabinets and doors

__ Fix damaged baseboards

__ Replace damaged blinds

__ Address damaged or malfunctioning light fixtures

__ Be consistent with interior lighting color values in a given space. Don't mix cool and warm fluorescent bulbs or clear or opaque incandescent bulbs. Mixing lights of varying color casts looks ugly in person, and it doesn't look any better in photographs.

One day prior to photography:

__ Dust and vacuum or mop all areas that are to be photographed

__ Replace any burned-out light bulbs

__ Clean all glass, metal and hard interior surfaces, including mirrors, windows, counter tops, shelving, tubs, sinks and the top of the refrigerator

__ Dust window blinds

__ Dust ceiling fan bodies and blades

__ Remove bugs or debris from carpeting, furniture or other surfaces

On the day production is slated to begin:

__ Straighten and freshen all decorative elements

__ Refresh bed linens in model units

__ Make sure bathrooms look complete (i.e., no empty toilet paper rolls)

__ Vacuum again

__ As best as possible, limit entry into areas being photographed

__ Turn off model minders/self-timers

__ Turn off fans

__ Turn on the lights

__ Turn off televisions

__ Organize desk surfaces

__ Remove any visual clutter

__ Set computer screensavers to an image that reinforces the company brand

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Exterior Production

Outdoor photography involves more variables than interior production, not the least of which is weather. And because natural light is a critical component, time is limited for optimal production, so proper due diligence aimed at preparation is critical.

In a comprehensive production cycle, the photographer will likely spend most of the day at the community. Because of the nature of light, the community's orientation and many clients' desires for nighttime photographs of exterior elements, photographers will likely arrive prior to sunrise (and during the summer months, that's well before most staff arrive onsite for work). Similarly, production may not end until well after staff typically goes home.

Commonly, there are three or four hallmark beauty shots requested by the community. Most often, these include the pool area and a front-side identity shot. Depending on the scale and amenities offered at the community, there may be several other key images that must be produced during the brief time when natural light is ideal. Therefore, the community must be "camera-ready" prior to when the photo shoot begins.

At least one week (and ideally one month) prior to production:

Management and maintenance staff should walk the property together and:

__ Look for areas that need touch-up paint on building facades, trim, property amenities such as playground equipment, curbs or parking lot areas, and address those needs

__ Look for and repair any broken iron work (gates, railings, etc.)

__ Check all exterior lighting, including pool and spa lighting, and repair broken fixtures and replace bulbs

__ Check hard surfaces and power-wash stained areas

__ Note and address landscape issues (shabby shrubs, sparse flower beds, dead trees, etc.)

__ Watch for resident balconies that include visual clutter and ask residents to remove the clutter--at least during the day of the shoot

__ Replace damaged window screens and broken glass

__ If residents' blinds are out of place, contact the residents and request that they correct them

__ Make sure all signage shows at its best, and only display flags that are in good condition

__ If there is a pool or multiple pools to be photographed, make sure that the pool area amenities (tables, chairs, umbrellas, etc.) are clean and in good condition

__ Make sure the day scheduled for production does not conflict with your landscape maintenance schedule or trash pick-up.

One day prior to exterior production:

__ Remove all bandit signs and non-permanent banners

__ Remove all balloons or streamers--and don't replace them until production day ends

__ Assign a staff member to be onsite and available when the photographer arrives and make sure they have each other's contact information in case problems arise

__ Ensure the photographer has access to the property

__ Turn on interior lights facing pool areas for "nighttime" photographs, whether they are produced in pre-dawn hours or after sunset

__ Close the pool to residents the night prior to production

If all goes according to plan, the day of the shoot should move smoothly.

On the day of the shoot:

__ Neaten exterior community amenities

__ Skim leaf debris off the pool surface and sweep the pool deck

__ Make sure sprinkler systems are not timed to turn on during production

__ Turn lights on and make the property look alive for nighttime and twilight shots

Lifestyle Production

Some companies are incorporating lifestyle photography into their marketing and advertising materials. While stock images can be found for next to no cost, companies aiming to set themselves apart are creating proprietary libraries of images that specifically reinforce their branding strategies--and that won't also turn up in the advertisements of their competition.

Companies contemplating lifestyle advertising photography for their marketing materails should plan ahead and:

__ Identify and articulate the key branding messages that the lifestyle photography should express.

__ Collaborate with the photographer and advertising agency to develop narratives that reveal specific branding messages, and work together to create a lifestyle-photography shot list. Working together on the list tends to create more effective ideas compared to individual efforts.

__ If working with models, agree on who will handle casting for the lifestyle production and allow ample time to identify the models to be used. Consider the additional costs if professional models are needed.

__ Whether staff, residents, aspirants or professionals are used, make sure each model signs a release form.

__ As with all things in creative fields, remember it's a process and some of the best results arrive from left field.

Things To Consider

Color Temperature and Cast. Light sources should be consistent, and this is most critical in interior areas. Each type of fluorescent, incandescent, halogen and LED lamp produces light of a different color temperature and produces a different cast.

When mixed inappropriately, the results can be unpleasant. Select light sources for interior fixtures carefully, and don't mix different types of light bulbs in the same light fixture. (Search "color temperature" and "color cast" on Wikipedia for more details.)

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Why not just fix it in PhotoShop? No matter how well prepared a community may be, it's likely that there will still be post-production work necessary to remove minor blemishes. The more post-production work required, the greater the project's overall cost. It's more cost-effective to properly prepare the community to be photographed.

Film is better than digital, right? Luddites may think so, but in reality, contemporary digital camera systems produce photographs that are at least equal to that of their film counterparts in terms of quality. While there may be exceptions (for instance, an 8-by-10 inch view camera), photographers shooting with professional equipment produce images that are more than adequate for even large-scale marketing materials.

Digitally speaking, more pixels are better, right? Digital photographs are measured by pixels (width x height). An images 4,256 pixels x 2,832 pixels is 12,052,992 pixels--12 megapixels--spread across a sensor array.

However, the physical size of the sensor array is more important than the number of pixels. The more tightly the pixels are packed, the more likely there will be interference (noise) between pixels. Image sensors on most consumer point-and-shoot digital cameras are not as large as the fingernail on the average person's pinky.

In contrast, most professional cameras have image sensors the size of 35-milimeter film negatives (and most digital SLRs have sensors approaching the size of film negatives). More isn't necessarily better, but better quality is better.

Why should I pay a professional when the guy in Unit 308 will do it for next to nothing? Why do you pay a professional plumber or electrician to work on your infrastructure? Why do you hire an accountant to handle your accounting? There are many good--even great--amateur photographers, but professionals stand apart from the crowd for the quality of their work, for their experience, for the processes they employ to produce and maintain the art they develop for you, for their ability to work with your graphic design and advertising service providers and for the integrity that says they will stand behind what they produce. The guy in Unit 308 may be there today, but in six months or two years when you need those files again he may be nowhere to be found.

The other guy does it for less money. Commercial photographic art is like anything else: You get what you pay for. Sometimes you get a bargain, but it's more common that when you buy something cheap, you get something that looks cheap.

Remove Seasonal Decorations--If you want your photographs to have a life beyond an annual holiday or the term of a special promotion, pull down seasonal decorations and temporary promotions prior to the shoot.

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Clean Surfaces--whether a result of run-off from a roof, poor drainage, environmental challenges or mishaps by residents or staff, concrete and other exterior surfaces can quickly stain. This shot couls be cleaned up through PhotoShop during post-production, but the better option is to clean surfaces prior to production.

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Turn Fans Off--When photographing an interior space with ceiling fans, turn them off. Otherwise, you'll likely have something like this.

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Turn Lights On--Photographed for Orion Real Estate Services, this nighttime shot of the 2/15 Yale Apartments illustrates the importance of having interior lights on for nighttime photographs. The lit interiors bring the building to life.

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Balanced Lighting--Beautiful in person, the model unit kitchen at Nolan Real Estate Services' Providence in the Park Apartments (right) has four types of lighting: halogen, florescent, incandescent and natural sunlight. If photographed using available light, the differences in the lighting types is noticeable. Here, photographic strobes balanced the competing light sources and allowed detail sources and allowed detail from the world outside the windows to be retained.

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Timing is Critical--Exterior photographs must always consider the orientation of a property in relation to the sun, and most often that means there are only small windows of time for optimal lighting. This view of the Houston Housing Authority's Historic Oaks of Allen Parkway Village property was best photographed in the transitional light of the very early morning.

Mark Hiebert is owner of Hiebert Photography & Professional Imaging, a commercial studio based in Houston that specializes in advertising, public relations and editorial photography. Hiebert's photography has appeared in units magazine. Visit www.biebertphotography.com or e-mail mbiebert@biebertphotography.com.
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Author:Hiebert, Mark
Publication:Units
Date:Feb 1, 2010
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