Sink or Swim


Last week I got a call from someone at NanaWall.  I had never heard of the company before, but apparently they make glass partition-like doors that open and close to give a room more versatility.  They are really quite nifty, but that’s beside the point.  Long story short, they needed me to deliver some photos on Friday for a magazine article.

I got off the phone and thought, “Praise God!  I just got a new client, and I’ll get to shoot some real architectural photos, and it will be published in a magazine.  Not bad for a day’s work.”  …and then I saw their online photo gallery.  Page after page of excellent photographs, and here I am thinking, “Um… if that’s the quality they’re expecting, then I might be a letdown.”  Most of my experience consists of weddings and special events, and honestly I wasn’t sure if I could match the quality I saw on their website.

Determined to give it a shot, I knew I would need to rent some extra equipment for this, namely a Perspective Control Lens, a full frame D700, and a second SB-800.  Three hundred dollars later I was good to go.

Even though the location for the shoot was at the Gaylord National hotel, I had not yet been to the room where I would be shooting.  The day before the shoot I scoped out the location to see what I could learn.  Here’s what I found:

Timing is critical. Shooting during sunset was my only chance for success.  I simply did not have enough fire power (i.e. lights) to properly compensate for the vast difference in brightness between inside and outside light.  This means that I only had an hour or so to get all the shots I needed.

Light placement is tricky. Even though I was shooting at sunset, I still needed to add extra light inside.  It’s a tricky balancing act to position the light where it will be most effective, and where it will not create obtrusive reflections in the glass.  Glass is transparent and reflective, thus making it a tricky subject to photograph in it’s own right.

Colored gels can be useful/necessary to make sure your White Balance looks good across the image.

Attention to detail. It’s hard enough making sure you’ve got a good exposure, but don’t neglect the other details of the scene.  …it turns out they are very important.  Make sure the furniture and everything else in the room looks orderly.

Plan your shots carefully. After the test run, I reviewed the photos and printed a contact sheet with 11 different angles I wanted to capture.  I then prioritized them in order of importance, and made a few educated guesses about the order in which I could shoot them.  Having this plan helped save valuable time.


The next day I had a host of thoughts running through my brain…

  • “I’ve never used this lens.”
  • “I’ve never done architectural photos.”  …good ones, anyway.
  • “I’ve never lit a room this big.”
  • “The photos have to be delivered tomorrow.”
  • “These photos have to be magazine quality.”
  • “I have to work around a large pool.”
  • “I have to race against the sun.”
  • “I have to make a good impression on a new client.”

For better or worse, I was more nervous about this than I am before shooting a wedding.  I did a few test shots with the new lens (more about that in a later post), packed my gear, and then went on location about three  hours before sunset.

As it turned out, all of my planning the day before really paid off.  The shoot went smoothly, and I came away feeling like I got some decent shots.  The only thing I didn’t expect was the mild case of dehydration.  As the sun was going down I was literally sprinting from the camera to the lights, to  the walls, and back to the camera.  The client needed a series of shots showing the wall open, closed, and partially open.  I didn’t have an assistant, so that meant I had to open and close the wall between photos.  By the end of the shoot I was flat out exhausted.


The next day I did some minor retouching and then sent the photos to the magazine editor.  As usual, I was still a bit nervous because I didn’t know how the photos would be received.  Only a few minutes later he responded; this would be the moment of truth:

Wow, these are really great. I think there are a few our art director might want to consider for the main feature, not just one for the product blurb/highlight that accompanies the main story.

Needless to say, I was stoked to hear that.  =)  I had put so much effort into this job, and I exceeded their expectations.  You can check out some of my favorites here.

All in all I did my best, I learned a lot, and my client is happy.  Not bad for a day’s work.