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Shooting Your Own Installation Photos

Dec 4, 2009 12:25 PM, By Don Kreski

Follow these guidelines for photography that will gain you marketing coverage.

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The Starbucks flagship store in Chicago, showing a videowall installed by Media Resources, Lisle, Ill. A composite of two images shot from the camera locked on its tripod: one with the color and exposure set for the room; the other set for the screens.

Color controls

Color can be tricky because architects often mix the types of lamps in a given room, and daylight may mix with artificial light. Each light source has its own color characteristics.

If you’re shooting to JPG images (standard for most digital cameras), you’ll need to be very careful with the color settings. There’s only so much you can do to fix them later. If your camera’s auto setting doesn’t give you a pleasing image, try the florescent, incandescent, and other settings. You’ll probably find that screen images look best with the camera set for daylight.

If you can shoot in RAW mode, you’ll be able to go back and choose your color settings later in the computer. Buy a neutral gray card at your camera store and shoot an image with it positioned so the most typical lighting falls on its face. (Be sure to put it away before you shoot your final shot.) Later on in the computer, you’ll click an eyedropper over the gray spot and the software will instantly adjust your color. There are other software adjustments as well, and if needed, you can keep playing with the color until you have something you like. Adobe PhotoShop (CS3 and later versions) includes a very good RAW processor, or you may prefer Capture One LE or Capture One Pro.

South Milwaukee High School auditorium, shot for Lewis Sound & Video, Waukesha, Wis. A composite of two images, each with its own exposure and color settings.

Exposure controls

Exposure can also be tricky. For the best results, set your camera on its aperture-preferred setting or on manual mode and choose a small aperture. (The larger numbers designate a smaller opening in the lens. You want f/11, f/16, or f/22.)

Be sure your on-camera flash is turned off. A single flash on the camera will not light the whole room or hall, but it will, at best, create a hot spot on the areas close to the camera. Note that with the aperture at f/11 and the flash turned off, your shutter will probably stay open for several seconds. That’s fine as long as the camera is on a tripod with the tripod head locked.

Bracket your exposures: Take several images at faster and slower shutter speeds than what the camera tells you is correct. See your manual, but most likely you’ll need to press a +/- button to change the exposure.

Bracketing helps in two ways: 1. Often the camera’s monitor is darker or lighter than it should be, so you’re protected against an easy, but crucial mistake. 2. The screen image often requires a very different exposure than the rest of the room. For best results, you’ll probably need to combine one shot of the room with a separate shot of the screen in PhotoShop.

The screen will also, most likely, require a different color setting than the rest of your shot, and you have the choice of whether to fix it or leave it alone. I have a strong bias against leaving it alone. It’s true that a washed-out, cyan-tinted screen is more naturalistic than a corrected screen, if only because that’s how the camera actually sees it. It’s not how our eyes see it, however. Our eyes instantly adjust to the brightness and color of a projected image when we focus our attention on it.

One step at a time

I realize that not everyone will be able to do what I’m suggesting, at least not on the first try, and so I’ve been careful to put my advice in priority order. Start out by buying a decent camera and a tripod. Pay attention to the composition and play with your color controls until you have something that looks good in the camera’s monitor. At that point, you should have an acceptable photo.

It will get better if you can shoot in RAW mode, bracket your exposures, and combine images in PhotoShop. Hiring out just the PhotoShop work is always possible and a lot less expensive than hiring a photographer to do the whole job. (Contact me if you have trouble finding someone to help.) And if you want your images to be considered for a magazine, study the cover composition and ask for art guidelines as to resolution, image size, format, etc., from the editors in advance. That will greatly increase your chances of seeing your installation in print.

Don Kreski is the president of Kreski Marketing Consultants, offering marketing services to the AV industry. You can reach him at

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