Working with an Architectural Photographer

This handbook was developed by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) to illustrate the fundamental principles involved during a typical architectural photography assignment. By defining key terms, answering commonly asked questions and using easy-to-follow case study examples, it guides you through the entire process of working with an architectural photographer.


Working With An Architectural Photographer [COVER]


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Marketing Your Services

Identifying Your Needs

The first step in planning for photography is identifying which views of your project might best represent your designs. Are there any specific concepts, architectural elements or other features you'd like to highlight? Are there areas that illustrate creative problem solving? Are there specific interior or exterior views? After you develop your list, prioritize the views in order of importance.


Next, consider how you will use the photography as an integrated part of your marketing plan.


  • Will the photographs be kept in your archives and used for in-house reference and documentation only?
  • Will the photographs be used in your internally produced publications?
  • Will the photographs be submitted for competitions?
  • Will the photographs be used in trade or consumer advertising?
  • Will the photographs be submitted to editors of trade magazines or books?


Knowing the answers to these questions and discussing them with your photographer before production starts will facilitate the estimating process and enable you to clearly define assignment parameters.


Selecting A Photographer

Architectural photographers often excel in many areas. Some are adept at photographing interior design, residential spaces and scale models. Others may have expertise with industrial locations, construction documentation and aerials. Still, others may be well-versed in exteriors, commercial spaces or special lighting techniques. Each of these areas of expertise requires special knowledge and equipment. Depending on the scope and complexity of your project, you may choose one photographer or you may prefer to collaborate with several.


Try to match your needs with a photographer's strengths. The right photographer for you should understand your design ideas and be able to communicate them visually and verbally. Other factors to consider when making your decision include professionalism and compatibility with your style.


Members of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) can be located by geographic location and specialty through "Find a Photographer" at: Once you've identified a group of photographers, you may choose to visit their web sites, request samples of their work for review and/or schedule meetings for portfolio presentations. You may also request to see photographs of assignments similar in scope and building type to the project you have in mind.


Don't underestimate the value of a photographer's enthusiasm and experience, as he or she can become an important part of your marketing team.


Estimating An Assignment

As a creative professional, you understand the importance of accurately defining the scope of work in order to determine your firm's design fees. Similarly, in order to prepare an estimate for you, a photographer must have a detailed description of the assignment. One way to help you grasp the scale of your project is to compare it with one that you may have seen in a photographer's portfolio.


An estimate typically involves three components:


  • The Assignment Description
  • Licensing & Rights Granted
  • Pricing


The Assignment Description

In addition to a description of the project (e.g., name and location), some of the elements you may find in this section include: the number of views, the film and/or digital file format, a description of deliverables and a timeframe for completing the assignment.


Licensing & Rights Granted

A photograph is considered intellectual property. The photographer owns the copyright to the images he or she creates and has the exclusive right to license their use. Licensing agreements are specific with regard to use and, in general, should answer these three basic questions:


  • Who will use the images?
  • How and where will the images appear?
  • How long will the images be used?


This information may be detailed in the Licensing & Rights Granted section of the estimate or in a separate licensing agreement that grants specific rights to commissioning clients. If several commissioning clients choose to share in the cost of an assignment, make certain that each party is provided with a written licensing agreement describing them as a licensee and detailing their rights granted.


It's important that you and your photographer agree on the scope of a license before photography has begun. Should your marketing plans change, be sure to discuss them with your photographer.


Similarly, if you plan to share photographs with third parties who have not been involved in the commissioned assignment (e.g., members of the design team, contractors, consultants, product manufacturers, clients, tenants or magazine editors), permission must be obtained in writing from the photographer.


The right to use images cannot be transferred by anyone without the written consent of the copyright holder. If you've received photographs without written permission for their use, it is your responsibility to secure licensing rights before using them. As a rule of thumb, a good way to avoid any misunderstandings is to contact the photographer before passing along photographs. You should also advise the party receiving the images to contact the photographer directly to secure a license granting permission for their use. Any copying, reproduction, distribution, public display or creation of derivative works of images without specific permission from the photographer is a violation of Federal copyright law.


Simply having physical possession of photographs, slides, prints, transparencies or digital files does not grant the right to use them.


A LICENSE is a legal agreement granting permission to exercise specified rights to a work.


A COPYRIGHT is a collection of exclusive rights owned by the creator that controls the use of creative works.



A photographer's estimate typically has two components:

  • fees
  • expenses



There are two kinds of fees: Production and Licensing.


Production Fees (sometimes referred to as Creative Fees) reflect the time it takes to complete the entire assignment. This includes intangibles such as the photographer's experience, creativity and vision that he or she brings to the assignment. Other variables contributing to the Production Fee include: the total number of views requested, travel time, scheduling and deadlines, site logistics, and artistic considerations such as vantage point, time of day and composition.


In addition to the actual time spent behind the camera, a photographer's pre-production and post-production time may also be included in the Production Fee. Pre-production tasks commonly include: client meetings, site visits, meetings with the facility's management to organize access to the location, conversations with building engineers to arrange technical assistance with lighting, landscape maintenance and other related site-specific preparation. Post-production tasks commonly include image editing and selection, digital enhancement, client meetings and preparing images for final delivery.


Licensing Fees (sometimes referred to as Usage Fees) reflect the value of the usage for each image in the assignment. This is determined by a number of considerations including how widely the images will be viewed, reproduced and distributed. Typically, the more extensive the usage, the higher the fee. Similarly, the fee increases correspondingly with the number of unique views being used.


To obtain the best value at the outset, negotiate usage for the entire group of images based on your currently planned needs, with the understanding that additional rights and related fees for unique purposes can be arranged in the future.



Expenses for traditional photography may include: material costs such as film, processing and supplies. For digital photography, they may include: image capture charges, file conversions, post-production charges, archiving, digital retouching and file delivery.


ASMP has established a digital imaging standards committee to help develop industry guidelines on these issues. Be sure that you understand digitally-related terminology and associated costs when negotiating your estimate.


Additional expenses may include charges for assistant(s), travel, photo finishing, special equipment or prop rentals, stylists, costs for location access, models, special insurance and miscellaneous expenses.


Finally, be certain to discuss your final presentation needs as they relate to specific forms of media. Do you require transparencies, slides, black and white prints, color prints, electronic files or other specific
deliverables? Remember to specify the sizes and quantities you will need.


Illustrating These Concepts

Consider a project of yours which requires two views. One view may be complex and require six hours to complete, while a second may require only one hour. If you require identical usage for both views, the License Fee would be the same, but the Production Fee for the first view would be considerably higher than the second.





Case Study - Multiple Party Licensing

Identifying Your Needs

An architect wants five views of an office building he designed. He knows that the building owner and one of the contractors may be interested in using some or all of the images.


Estimating An Assignment

As the primary commissioning client, the architect sets the scope of the photography. An estimate is generated that states the terms of the agreement, names the architect as primary commissioning client and lists both the building owner and the contractor as participating parties.


While all three parties will be sharing the Expenses and Production Fees, each will also need to pay their individual License Fee according to their corresponding use of the image(s).


The architect and building owner sign and return the estimate; however, for whatever reason, the contractor does not. Production of the assignment begins the next day.


Licensing & Rights Granted

In this case, only the architect and the building owner are participants under the terms of the estimate. The contractor no longer has the option to license the images at the pre-negotiated license fee and terms. However, at the conclusion of the assignment, the contractor and other interested parties may still license the images as stock photography at significantly higher rates.


Key Points To Multiple Party Licensing

  • All participating parties must sign an agreement before photography begins.
  • Each participant is charged a Licensing Fee commensurate with their specific usage needs.
  • Each participant is responsible for ordering and paying for his or her individual deliverables.





Case Study - Licensing Editorial Use

Sharing Photographs With Non-Commissioning Parties

An architect commissions a photographer and does not choose to have editorial usage included in the license. Soon thereafter, the architect submits the images to a magazine for editorial consideration. A few weeks later, the magazine calls the architect and tells him they've decided to write a story and would like to use the photographs. Excited about the news, the architect notifies the photographer, who then calls the magazine to negotiate a licensing fee, only to be told the publication doesn't feel they should have to pay for use of the images.


Acknowledging Value

Editorial content has tremendous value for both the publisher and the architect. The magazine is benefiting by using high-caliber professional photography which adds to both the design and depth of the stories. This may attract higher readership, circulation and subsequently justify higher advertising rates-all of which can increase the magazine's total revenue. The architect is benefiting by getting visibility and notoriety. He is getting this value at a cost that's exponentially lower than if the same space was purchased as advertising. Additionally, he can purchase reprints from the publisher at a significantly lower cost than if a similar piece were created on its own.


Securing An Editorial License

Since the magazine is directly benefiting from the use of the images, the photographer is entitled to be compensated for that value. The publication should secure an Editorial License from the photographer, for a fee commensurate with the value his images contribute to the magazine's success. Factors taken into consideration when determining this fee include the image's size and placement as well as the publication's circulation and advertising rates.


Key Points To Editorial Licensing

  • Editorial publication rights are not typically granted to architects unless specifically stated in a written licensing agreement.
  • A publication's content is its most valuable asset, attracting both readership and advertisers. If the publication refuses to acknowledge the value of the photography and does not secure an Editorial License, the responsibility for compensating the photographer may revert to the architect.
  • A photo credit is not equal to the value of the content (images) received by the publisher.





Tips For Controlling Costs

If your needs outweigh your budget, don't get discouraged. Here are a few ideas to relieve the pressure on your budget.


  • Share the costs of the photography assignment among several parties who participated in the job (e.g., contractors, product manufacturers or tenants). With this option, each party will still be charged separate Licensing Fees; however, Production Fees and Expenses can be shared among all parties. If this is your plan, it is essential to let the photographer know about it before the initial estimate is prepared.
  • Prioritize the views you'd like and phase the work over a period time. This option may also provide you with an opportunity to highlight your design with a variety of changing seasonal elements.
  • Ask your photographer if there are any creative ways for him or her to realize efficiencies.
  • Consider reducing the number of views.


The quality of the photography you use to represent your designs is a reflection of your firm's values.


While there will always be someone willing to photograph your project for less, what may initially appear to be a bargain can easily turn into an expensive problem when the resulting images do not meet expectations and have to be rephotographed. In the long run, commissioning a professional photographer is an investment that can save time, money and frustration.






In this article, some of the words concerning rights and licenses are used in a narrow, technical sense. The PLUS (Picture Licensing Universal System) Coalition has developed an online database of definitions for most of the common terms used in photo-rights licenses. It's a valuable resource for everyone.


The ASMP Architectural Photography Checklist

The most productive assignment is one with few or no surprises. With this in mind, ASMP has compiled a checklist which includes many of the details involved when photographing architecture and interior design. Paying attention to details, time management and collaborating closely with your photographer will maximize efficiency and productivity.


This publication was made possible through the generous support of the ASMP Foundation whose mission is to support the education of ASMP members and the creative community by encouraging professional and artistic growth.