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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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A TGI Friday’s in Chicago was shot for Sportscape/OnSite Network. The final image is a composite of two images, where I dropped a close-up of one of the monitors into the two screens later in Adobe PhotoShop.

How can you take and submit photos of your work to ensure they will be considered for coverage in print magazines?

A magazine needs two or three good photos to illustrate each story, but good photography is in short supply. A lot of great stories never run because the photos are not of acceptable quality and size, or the composition does not suit the format of a magazine cover.

My own view is that it’s well worth the cost of hiring a professional photographer to capture the work you do. But, with a little care and some basic equipment, many AV contractors can shoot good installation photos.

The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame shot for Sharp Electronics. This shot is a composite of five separate images and would have been impossible to create had I not locked my camera very firmly on my tripod. I probably shot 200 or more images at various exposures to get the pieces I needed for this multi-layered file.

Equipment needs

A print magazine needs high-resolution images. In practice, a 6-megapixel camera is fine most of the time; 10 megapixels is better should the editor decide to use your shot across a full page or on the cover. Make sure you set your camera at its highest resolution and compose your images to fill, or nearly fill, the frame.

A wide-angle lens is a must. It’s hard to buy a lens that’s wide enough to work in a small boardroom or control room. For this reason alone, a point-and-shoot camera will not do the job. There are a few prosumer cameras with very wide zooms, but if you’re buying a new camera, consider one with interchangeable lenses. Buy as wide a lens as you can afford.

Manual exposure control, or at least an aperture-preferred mode where you can choose the lens setting (also called f/stop), is mandatory as well. A camera that will shoot in RAW mode is well worth the extra cost. Because .raw files are large, you’ll need a lot of storage. I carry 30GB in flash memory, but you can probably get by on 16GB, possibly 8GB.

You need a tripod. Because conference rooms are often dark, and because you’ll want to shoot at a small aperture so more of the room will be in focus, your pictures will be fuzzy if you try to hold your camera rather than supporting it on a tripod. You will also want to take multiple exposures from the same spot, and that’s possible only with a tripod.

Boardroom at Calamos Investments shot for AVI-SPL. In this case I shot close ups of each screen image, then put them together later in PhotoShop. Each of the five images had its own color and exposure settings.

Composition basics

1. Clean up the area. You don’t want a ladder in the shot, a soda on a table, or the chairs at every angle and height. You have to look very carefully to see what’s askew, and it’s easy to miss a crooked drape or a knot of cables. I generally clean the whole room and straighten all the chairs, whether they’re in the shot or not, knowing that I will move the camera later and forget to check again. Take the opportunity to reduce the number of elements in the shot. If a potted plant is not adding to the story you’re telling, move it out. Your images will be used in conjunction with graphic elements such as headlines, so the simpler the better.

2. Take your time. I personally have to be in a room shooting photos for at least half an hour before I start to see what the finished image should look like. You can’t rush the process. Experiment with wide shots and very close-up shots of important elements. Be sure to shoot vertical images if you’re hoping for a magazine cover.

3. Pay attention to what’s on the projection or monitor screens. The screen is the focal point of most shots. Try projecting your customer’s website, but be prepared if it doesn’t look good. I often buy stock photos from an inexpensive site such as iStockphoto or BigStock and carry them in on my laptop. Otherwise, turn the monitors or projectors off, so you have a blank screen rather than an ugly screen.

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