How Photography Can Support Building Materials Sales Efforts

For building materials firms, one of the most important components of your sales toolkit is photography. Good product and project photography can help architects and owners understand what you offer, how it works, and how it would look in a finished building. In this post, we walk through what “good photography” means, what it can do for you, and how to get it.

What “Good Photography” Means for Building Materials

When we talk about “good photography,” we’re talking about photography that meets certain technical standards and tells a story. This combination is what makes a photo valuable to your sales team.

Technical Qualities of a Good Building Materials Photograph

The technical criteria that a building materials photo has to meet is similar to photos for pretty much anything else. Photos should be:

  • In focus. If any part of the photo isn’t in focus, that should be the result of an intentional choice.
  • Sharp. Lighting, camera type, aperture, and f-stop all contribute to how crisp a photo looks. If it looks grainy or soft, that’s the opposite of what you want.
  • Hi-res. Photos should originate in the highest possible resolution so they can be used for print and digital.
  • Lit appropriately. Whether you use unfiltered daylight or studio lighting, people need to be able to see your product and its detail in the photo.
  • Undistorted. There is no place for fish eye lenses in building materials photography. None. The point of the photograph should give architects and owners a feeling of looking at the actual product, not a funhouse version of it.

How a Building Materials Photo Tells a Story

A photo doesn’t need a lot of props and costumes to tell a story. A building materials image that tells a story is one that:

  • Sets the product in context. This can be done literally, like showing a sink inside a bathroom. It can also be done more abstractly, like showing clay tiles set against a desert mountain range. Both images tell the viewer something about the product.
  • Shows respect for the product. This is similar to taking a picture of a person. If you were photographing someone you respect, you’d make sure their lighting was good, they were at their best angle, and they didn’t have anything in their teeth. The same is true for products.
  • Prompts a reaction from the viewer. This could be, “That’s beautiful,” “That’s really cool,” “I didn’t know you could do that,” etc.

How to Spot Bad Building Materials Photography

Bad building materials photos are ones that (surprise!) don’t meet the technical criteria and don’t tell a story. Things to watch for include:

  • Grainy, fuzzy, out of focus, stretched, or distorted photos
  • Editing that is so heavy that the photo looks fake
  • Photos that look “dead,” lifeless, without any energy
  • Not being able to tell what the product is or what it does

Because building materials companies have to sell to people who are very visually focused, using bad photography is a cardinal sin. The assumptions will be that (1) you don’t care about visual things, so you don’t understand design; (2) you don’t care about details in your presentation, so you don’t care about details in your products; and (3) you cut corners on your sales, so you likely cut corners on your products. These are harsh conclusions for people to draw based on your project photos — but they will still draw them.

Good Photography Makes It Easier to Sell

Salespeople will be the first to say that good photography makes their job easier. Talking about the product is one thing, but being able to show an architect – who is by nature a visually oriented person — an image or video of what the product looks like and how it works is truly worth 1,000 words.

Photos can convey in an instant what it might take five or ten minutes to verbally explain. They also allow you to not have to rely on someone reading a description of your product when they’re sourcing options.

When you invest in quality photography, it sends the message that you believe in what you’re selling enough to spend money to show it to others.

Good photography says you understand the importance of how things look, and that how they look makes a difference. It says you’re not trying to hide anything about your product. It can even help justify a higher price point; no one is going to want to pay a premium price for a product that is represented by grainy photos.

Perhaps most importantly, good photography can be used across a variety of channels: your website, print materials, digital presentations, social media, and targeted emails.

Obstacles to Good Photography and How to Overcome Them

There are legitimate reasons that many building materials companies don’t have good photography: it’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, you’re a distributor who has to use what the brand makes available, you think your product doesn’t photograph well. These can all be worked around.

    • If you can’t afford to invest in original photography, contact the architect, owner, or contractor of projects where your product is installed and ask if there is a way to purchase or license several of their photos. You can also offer to include a firm or photographer credit on your site if that will lower the fee. (Sometimes this may be a requirement regardless.)
    • If the photos haven’t been taken yet, ask the architect or owner if you can share the cost of the photographer for a proportionate use of the final photos.
    • Try to arrange for photos to be taken before the space is occupied. Knicks and scrapes from move-ins will detract from your products, as will rooms that have been decorated in a particular style by a client whose aesthetic may differ from yours. Depending on your product, it may also be difficult to see or get to the product to photograph it well once there are other things in the space.
    • Finally, good photography is likely to be expensive. Photography is a highly skilled profession, and while anyone with a camera phone can take a picture, it takes a combination of training, experience, and instinct to create images that will sell your products.

Why Building Products Manufacturers Should Rethink Crowdsourced Photos

Many building products manufacturers who sell through distributors rely on “crowdsourced” photos. They ask distributors to send in photos of completed projects, and then these photos are used on the brand’s website, in its social media posts and sales materials — and provided to all distributors to use on their own websites, social media channels, and sales efforts.

There are two problems with this model. First, distributors who don’t use professional photographers often submit photos that are out of focus, at an odd angle, not hi-res, or with a color imbalance. The brand will simply add these photos to its bank and rely on distributors to use them, even though the photos don’t do the product justice and may even hurt sales efforts. Second, the rights management of these photos is difficult for the brands to manage and may inadvertently cause a distributor to violate the copyrights owned by a photographer, architect, owner, or even another distributor. This puts both the brand and the distributors at risk.

Building materials brands would be wise to revisit how project photos are collected and maintained. If you are a distributor, securing your own photography and understanding the rights that come with those photos is a good investment in your business and your peace of mind.

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Patience Jones