There are several items that truly can make a huge difference in the success of an architectural photography shoot. I only learned this from being on the job and from assisting other professionals on shoots. These items come in handy all of the time. As a photographer your job is not only to produce photographs, but to solve problems. There will always be problems… adverse conditions that can compromise the quality or productivity of a shoot. But it is your job to find solutions and make it happen. Add these items to your gear list and maybe you will be able to do your job better.
1. A miniature bubble level.
As an architectural photographer you NEED straight and level images. Straight lines are at the core of quality architectural photographs. This little baby will help you every time. Just rest it on the flat edge of your tilt/shift lens. If you are not shooting with a tilt/shift or “perspective control” lens then you should be. But in the meantime you can use the back of your camera, depending on the one you are using, some are more convenient then others. I typically do not trust bubble levels in tripods just as a general rule of thumb. It is also useful if you need to check the straightness of a table or wall. Your camera could be totally level, but a wall that was not properly constructed could be throwing your vision off. Just a quick check can give you the answer. And these are CHEAP.
2. Large Sheets of White and Black Foam Core Board
These are a phenomenal addition to any set of gear. They can be used to reflect tons of soft light from a window into shadow areas, to add a little highlight on matte surfaces, to block light from a source that is causing unwanted reflections, color or shadows, to shade the lens from flare causing light…. And I am sure there are a ton of uses for foam core I just have not discovered yet.
3. Large White Bed Sheets
These come in handy ALL of the time. If you are shooting an interior with large windows, and hard wood floors or a table or any other reflective surface, that light entering the windows will most likely try to blow out the surface, or at least cause ugly highlights and wash out the texture. The fix for this? Hang the bed sheets over the windows to capture an exposure just for the reflective surfaces you are trying to save. It also can be used if you have a large light source that is out of frame, but it lighting the scene. Too sunny? Use the bed sheets to diffuse the light and create a softer more beautiful light.
4. A - Clamps
A clamps are often times the best solution for holding the bed sheets up, or clamping foam core some where to block light (called flagging), or for holding something else. Basically you never know what you are going to need to hold to what, so be prepared with some A clamps.
5. A High Quality and Sturdy Tripod
As a professional architectural photographer, the worst thing you could do is take an out of focus image. But with all of these potentially long exposures for bracketing and exposure blending, we really need to think about and prevent camera shake. This means two things. If you are using a professional digital SLR camera, set the camera to the “Mirror Lock-Up” function. This will make the shutter release a two part process, opening the mirror on one click, then releasing the shutter on another. This cuts the camera shake down tremendously when exposing for more than a quarter of a second. On top of this, you need to have a sturdy tripod! If the tripod is a dinky little thing, with skinny legs, and a crappy plastic head, you are not going to be able to set the camera very well, and when you do, and are shooting 5 or more exposures, I guarantee that tripod will move. You will tap it, the client will tap it, the wind will blow, a foot will knock it, and your images will not be aligned. This means more time aligning layers in Photoshop. Save yourself the trouble and get yourself a large sturdy tripod that can be extended to a tall height while still being reliably sturdy.
6. An Extendable Ladder
I would recommend the Little Giant ladder, mine raises to 7 feet. These can be set to sit on all different angles, on stairs, and can be raised or lowered to the desired height. Great if you are shooting an exterior and need to achieve a higher perspective. Definitely important to have.
7. A Qualified and Motivated Assistant Willing to Learn
This is so important. I am not saying get a freebie! As somebody that has assisted countless times, I can tell you it is definitely hard work and very rewarding. But you can’t have what you don’t pay for. It certainly doesn’t need to come out of your pocket, build the cost of hiring an assistant into your pricing. Now of course it is not necessary for all shoots. But if you are on a shoot that requires a lot of gear, a lot of lighting manipulation, even natural light, you need somebody to hold foam boards, sheets, move furniture, turn lights on and off, deal with cords and wires and to move the room back to the manner in which you found it. These are tasks that you could do, but having some help will save you time, energy, and headaches, and will make your shoots more productive resulting in better shots and a happier client.
If anyone has any other “necessities” they have in their gear list, I would love to hear from you.