Selling To Architects: A Visual Approach

Architects think visually. In addition to technical data about your product, they need to see how it looks. The two major ways of presenting your products are still and moving images. First, I need to dispel two prevailing myths.

Myth No. 1: “The new software allows me (or my nephew, or my secretary) to do everything ourselves; we don’t need professionals anymore.” This myth goes back to the time when Microsoft Word had acquired some layout capabilities, and the market immediately became flooded with terrible-looking, hard to read and highly inefficient fliers, ads and brochures. The second act of this drama was emergence of software allowing creating web page without any knowledge of HTML, such as FrontPage, GoLive or Dreamweaver. The result was a proliferation of bloated, slow loading, search engine unfriendly and ultimately very ugly web pages.

This era is coming to an end. The overcrowded and highly competitive Internet space has forced many advertisers to admit their own incompetence and to rely on professional designers and programmers.

Myth No. 2: “The new hardware allows me to shoot photos and videos at very high resolution. I don’t need photographers and videographers anymore.” What’s wrong with this myth? Two things.

  • High resolution is probably only 10% of the success of any photo and video production. Other factors include lighting, color balance, depth of field, geometrical distortions, noise reduction, compositional balance, etc.
  • More importantly, your still or moving images must be able to tell a story, and not just any story, they should convey your consistent marketing message. Professionals may be better equipped to do it.

Practical recommendations.

There are many cases when you may need to take pictures or video yourself. Make sure you use the right equipment.

  • Still cameras. As I mentioned above, resolution is only a small part of the story. It’s great if your camera can give 10 or more megapixels, this way your image theoretically can be used for a magazine cover. But equally important is the size and quality of the lens and the size and quality of the chip and image processor. To avoid geometrical distortions, use the highest quality lens. Unfortunately, the better the lens, the bigger and heavier it usually gets. Find a reasonable compromise. If you can spend around $3,000, get Canon EOS 5D Mark II. In addition to stunning still images, you will be able to shoot full HD 1920x1080 videos. For smaller budget, you may consider Canon EOS Rebel T1i, which also will let you shoot HD videos. If size, weight and price are important, consider Canon PowerShot SD990 IS. Other manufacturers (Nikon, Olympus and Pentax, for example) make similar products.
  • Video cameras. Even though some still cameras give you the video option, you may want to consider having a dedicated video camera, especially if you shoot a lot of video. Any universality usually results in lower efficiency. If you have a budget of $4,000 and need to shoot for both American and European markets, you may consider Sony HVR-Z1U, a semi-professional camcorder capable of shooting in both NTSC and PAL as well as in various HD formats. It also allows using external professional microphones. Remember, the quality of sound is what immediately betrays amateur recording, more than the image quality. There are many compact inexpensive HD camcorders on the market. Just make sure they have an external microphone jack.

Still image format and resolution.

If someone tells you they need an image with 300dpi, it means absolutely nothing unless they also give you the image size. A 4” x 5” image at 300dpi is virtually identical to a 16.7” x 20.8” image at 72dpi. What counts is the number of pixels, and in this example, the number of pixels is the same, 1200 x 1500. It is true, for high-quality printing, the images need to be 300dpi, which means that they need to have 300 pixels per inch. So, for an 8.5” x 11” page, the images must have (8.5 x 300) x (11 x 300) pixels, i.e. 2550 x 3300 pixels. The actual file size will depend on the color space. For Grayscale images it will make the file 8.03MB, for RGB, 24.1MB, for CMYK, 32.1MB.

RGB images are used for video and web. CMYK images are used for offset printing. In addition to color space, images can be saved in various formats: TIFF, EPS, PNG, GIF, JPG, etc.

Warning: JPG (or JPEG) format uses compression that degrades the image quality. It is OK to use JPG for the web (usually no lower than at 60% JPG quality). It is totally unacceptable to use JPG format for any high-quality printing. Always try to use TIF (or TIFF). There are rare cases when you need to send an image via email, and the TIF file is just too large. In that case, use free file uploading sites (such as, for example) or, if all else fails, use JPG but with at least 60% quality or higher.

Video formats.

Always keep your original raw video files untouched (either on tape or on disk), you may need them for another project one day. If you do video editing yourself, you probably know all the basic video formats. The important distinction to keep in mind is the difference between interlaced and progressive scanning, usually indicated by the letters “i” and “p” (as in 60i or 50p). Interlaced scanning was invented in the beginning of the TV era, when broadcasting equipment could not transmit all 480 horizontal lines at the same time, so the picture was broken into odd and even lines, and these was transmitted one after another. The TV receiver was designed to interlace odd and even lines to create a complete picture. This awkward system is still in place in standard definition TV even though there is no practical need for it other than many years of investment in equipment. The computer screen uses progressive scanning, which means that lines are not broken into even and odd and are transmitted in regular order.

Regardless of how the video was shot, exporting it for TV or DVD requires interlaced scanning. Exporting for web requires progressive scanning.

Where do we go from here?

In this brief article, we just touched the tip of the iceberg. Both photo and video production is both art and science. My final advice: if you need to impress architects with the way your product affects the environment and contributes to the interior or exterior space, hire a professional. It pays in the long run.

Vladimir Paperny, PhD