Photo Finishes

Photo Finishes

Because the kitchen and bath industry is visual by nature, professional photography and styling can be among the most worthwhile investments you can make.

By Nicole Hogarty

For that reason, getting a photo of your project should be a top priority. Once you're convinced of the value of getting a photo, then getting a good photo should be your focus.

Getting a photo. A photo of your product or project is essential because it not only sells your "stuff" to prospective clients, it can also be your ticket into a magazine, a television program, a book or a vendor brochure.

In the kitchen and bath industry, everyone is looking to see what you have to offer. There are those unique salespeople who can talk a dog off a meat wagon, but most folks won't buy until they actually see the product. Therefore, a few photos of your best products or projects are the key to getting publicity for your company and getting more business in the end. As you plan out next year's budget, add a line for photography. It's a worthwhile investment.

Getting a good photo. With the advent of digital cameras, many contractors, designers, and salespeople think they are professional photographers. They aren't. The camera equipment does not make you a professional. And, while getting a photo is your first priority, and a digital snapshot for your Web site is a good start, there's nothing that compares to a professional photographer's efforts when you want to stand out visually.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $1,200 to $5,000 per day for a professional photographer, depending on where your business resides and where the project is located.

The best way to go about finding a professional photographer is to call photographers in your area. Interview them. Ask to see portfolios. Ask for their day rates. Ask if they shoot on an hourly rate or half-day rate, as well. Most times, you'll need a full day to shoot a room or a selection of hardware or faucets or flooring. Sometimes you'll need more than one day. Discuss this with the photographers, and call more than one so that you can compare work and prices.

Selecting a photographer is a very personal decision. Don't just choose the cheapest day rate. A more expensive photographer may give you a far better product in the end, so make sure you scrutinize his or her portfolio and ask for references.

You have to feel comfortable with the person. You should ask if you own the photos, if you are buying certain rights (for instance, use in a brochure or on a Web site), or whether you need to pay a usage fee every time you use the image.

There are many considerations, but don't let it dissuade you from finding a professional photographer to capture your work. This is essential as the market tightens and you want to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Styling is essential to good photography. Once you are committed to photography and you find a photographer in whom you feel confident, you have one more hurdle. You must consider styling the products/projects so that they are photographed to sell, sell, sell.

Try this exercise. Pick up three shelter magazines. Go through the magazines and look at each photograph that is portraying something similar to your product or service. Look at the editorial photography. Look at advertising photography. And, as you go, imagine taking away all of the fresh flowers and food. How do they look now? Pretty blah, huh? Take away the stacks of books, the pillows on the beds, the copper pots hanging in the kitchens. Wow! Very different, huh?

Some of you might say, well, what's left is my product. My beautiful cabinetry or my handcrafted hardware or my exquisite floor plan or layout. That, you may say, is what you want the viewer to see. But that's not what sells. Look at the catalog or magazine that you drool over. The one in which you wish you were featured. Chances are, it doesn't have just stark shots of products. It's more likely that it creates a mood, a slice of life, a lifestyle.

What sells is the dream. You need to create the dream for the viewer of the photograph. The well-stocked refrigerator without a hint of leftovers. The large center island for all the entertaining we envision ourselves doing if only we had that island. The freshest ingredients we'd use, if only we had that new kitchen.

Your photographs must turn brick and mortar, tile and wood, stainless steel and water into a room where children are never fighting, husbands are never late for dinner and there's no junk mail or papers to clutter our lives.

This is all about props. If you're in the kitchen and bath industry, you should fill your photographs with fresh flowers, luscious food, fluffy towels and steaming pots. Even if you're selling a drawer pull, it's the life that your drawer pull will bring the customers that will make them select your product.

That's not to say that the drawer pull or your cabinetry or your faucet shouldn't be prominent in the shot. It should. It should never be overtaken by the props, but appropriate accents will create a photograph that will make the viewer believe that such a livable room could not exist without your products or design expertise.

So, how do you achieve this? Well, you can do it yourself, if you have a keen sense of what I'm talking about and the time to make it happen. Or, you can partner with interior designers. Pay them to transform the room you want to photograph. Perhaps you can barter finished photos for their portfolio in return for their time styling for you.

Another option is to hire a professional stylist. This is a person who makes his or her living helping the photographer create just the photograph you imagine. This could cost you an additional $400 to $800, but it's what will get you that great photo that will get the editor interested in doing an article, the manufacturer interested in featuring you in the next catalog, or the customer dedicated to using your firm.

You must learn to think of photography and styling as an investment, not an expense. The initial cash outlay will often sting, especially if you're a small firm, but the reward for big-picture thinking will be huge.

In this bear market, the surest investment you can make is in great photography of your best projects and installations. If a customer is making a choice between two resources and there must be a deciding factor, it will be a photo finish. The one with the better photography will win.

Nicole Hogarty is an interior designer and photographic stylist based in Providence, RI. In addition to her design work with homeowners throughout New England, she has assisted builders in designing spec homes and decorating model homes, and she works with several professional photographers on styling residential and architectural photography. She can be reached at