13 Tips on Good Photography for Decorative Painters

People say to me all the time "wow Lynne, your work looks amazing!"
Well amazing it may well be, but here is my beauty secret: much of the reason it looks so good is the quality of the photograph.

When you've just finished a great project, often all you have as a record of your fine work is the photograph. So it follows, the better that photograph, the better your work will look, and unless you are yourself a very skilled photographer, you really must consider getting professional help.

Learn what makes a Photograph work for you:
  • When your work is part of an interior design scheme, showing a picture of the whole interior, rather than just a shot of one wall, is very important, to show how your painting works with the room. It helps sell the work to the next client who wants to visualize what you do as part of the design process, to show the scale of what you painted; how you got the color to match surrounding materials, etc. This is very difficult to accomplish, even with a good digital camera.
  • Take some responsibility for what's in the shot. Ladders, tarps, construction paper, unfinished rooms with missing hardware or wires hanging down for lighting that has not yet been installed... is that a finished room or a construction site? is that blue tape part of the look? Do you want to give future clients the impression that you leave tape behind? non! Such pictures do not belong in your portfolio! Make it part of your contract, that you be allowed to return to the site to document your work in a finished setting.

Why you should hire a professional photographer
  • If you need to shoot something large, or a whole room, a large format camera with a lens that won't distort the room, and proper lighting, make all the difference.
  • You are far more likely to get your work published if you can provide a good high-resolution image to the editors.
To get the Lacemaker shot in this house in Corte Madera, CA, back in 1993, David Papas and his assistant had to haul their equipment up four flights of steep exterior fog-dampened stairway, rearrange furniture, spend two hours lighting the room to reduce glare and eliminate shadows on the mural, style the 10 foot wide Michael Taylor table using the homeowners own dishes, and the result is I got a 4"x5" positive transparency of a gorgeous room, which has really come in handy for the six times this mural has been published in magazines and books.

Establish a relationship with a good, professional photographer.
  • Work with the same photographer over a period of time, and consider that person part of your team.
Over the last 20 years most of my better work has been shot by my friend David Papas, who has not only made my work look great, but he's taught me a lot about photography in general.
David is also expert at digital photography, taking large images, correcting problems on the computer, and turning that image over for publication as quickly as possible.
photo by David Papas ©Lynne Rutter 2007
This image of my Vintage Laundry room for the 2007 San Francisco Showcase House was taken by David Papas in two shots, seamed together on the computer. He also "airbrushed" out undesirable clutter like the extension cords and extra lighting that were visible in the shot, and then de-saturated the image to give it the look of an old, tinted photograph.

Factor In the Cost of Photography

Photographers cost money to hire, and with good reason: some of those large format cameras cost as much a luxury automobile, and it takes years to learn how to deal with the various problems of capturing the desired image, and to know how to make the most of what's there.
So, for a large project, I factor in the cost of the photo shoot in advance of making my bid whenever possible.

However, I know well, that the going rate for decent photography may be well more than the profit on some of those smaller projects, and sometimes you just can't get back to that site. So, here are some alternative solutions...

Some low-cost ways to get some great shots into your portfolio:
  • Often your project is going to be photographed anyway, so team up with the others involved! The contractor, interior designer, architect, drapery workroom, or carpet showroom, may already have plans to take photos of the finished job. Talk to them about sharing the cost of a photo shoot.
  • When working with an interior designer, for a client, or showcase house, ask about the photography of the finished job before you quote a price or do any work. Ask for a detail shot of your work that you can use in your portfolio. Often the cost of one extra shot will be nominal and/or can be considered part of your fee.
  • If your client plans to photograph the space when it's finished, ask to participate in that photo shoot. If you can't be there, talk to the photographer yourself to tell them what you need to emphasize.
My client, the David Allen Company in Raleigh, NC, had a photo shoot done of their headquarters and showroom, and the photographer , Jim Sink took an extra shot of the Nine Muses ceiling mural I painted there, and sent me a CD of this photograph:
which was extremely fortunate given the horrid "available light" shot I had taken myself - I simply did not know how to deal with a mix of halogen, fluorescent, incandescent, and natural light coming from the door.
  • Offer to trade services with a photographer. Your decorating skills might be just what [s]he need to make a backdrop, finish a room, enhance the studio, etc.
  • If your project might get published, ask the photographer from the newspaper or magazine, if you may use one or two of the shots [s]he took in exchange for a link on your website or some usage fee. Sometimes a photographer freelancing for a magazine or newspaper will even contact you.
This picture of an historic home in Diablo, CA, for which I painted the floor and faux bois woodwork, was taken by Bernardo Grijalva while shooting for an article in the East Bay Home and Design, which included some of my work, and he was kind enough to email me a larger format copy of the image to use on my website.

Credit where credit is due

  • Remember, whether you paid for the photo shoot or not, always give the photographer credit when you use one of their photographs. While you own the copyright on your work, the photographer owns the copyright on the photographic image, and you must have permission to use it.
  • Just like you, photographers like to have their good work seen and get their name out there to attract more business. Work with them, and they will help make you look good, too.

    1 comment:

    1. Thank you for the tips Lynne. And sharing your secrets.


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