Are photos really important for trades?
Interview with Sarah Toon Photography
Our special guest is today is Sarah Toon, founder of Sarah Toon photography, a professional construction and architectural photographer.
Today, we’re excited to discuss with her whether photographs are really that important for the trades.
Over the government-mandated, oh so familiar Zoom call, she’s going to give us some tips on what photographs to take for your website, how you should stage them and what you should avoid doing.
Grant: Hi Sarah, nice to see you. How are you?
Sarah: Very well thanks, nice to see you.
Grant: Excellent, very good. So would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?
Sarah: I’m Sarah Toon of Sarah Toon Photography and I am a professional construction and architectural photographer. I shoot a variety: Warehouses, building sites, multi-million-pound houses, buildings, any interiors, exteriors. If people want to show off the millions of pounds they’ve spent on a building, I’ll be there to help. But primarily, I am a construction photographer, so I spend a lot of my time on construction sites
Grant: That must be a really interesting job, being able to go round the different projects going on across the country
Sarah: It is, it is wonderful! Because if you work on a building site, you see it every day, you don’t see the progression, but if I go back every four, six, eight weeks or so, every time I turn up I get that ‘Wow, look what they’ve done!’. Then, of course, I have to switch back into work mode and make sure I’ve got all of the shots of the floor as they build them up. It is amazing to see a hole in the ground become a fabulous building at the end of it, regardless of what the building is. I love my job, yes.
Grant: Well, that’s good news! So today, we were going to ask you to give out some tips for trades, just to help them know exactly what they need for their website.
As you know, we build websites, and more often than not, we get sent some slightly blurry, unfocused photos from people’s iPhones that aren’t much help to their website at all. So we thought we’d have you explain to us: what makes a really good photo?
Sarah: It’s making sure you’re photographing exactly what you’re trying to show. Pick a building for instance. But maybe they’ll take the picture on the wonk – and there’s a difference between taking a picture of a building and an artistic wonk.
You just must show exactly what you’re trying to portray. Yes, if you’re taking pictures of a building site, it’s going to be a work in progress – but it’s a record shot. Include something of interest in the shot, people maybe, concentrate on what you need to show, as opposed to the lunchbox in the foreground (or just general mess in the foreground).
Again, with buildings, it’s important where people have spent millions of pounds, it’s worth paying to have a professional photographer to come in and take a photograph, as opposed to taking it on an iPhone. And you can really tell the difference.
For websites, at the end of the day, you’re selling your product. You’ve supplied the bricks, the roof, whatever you’ve supplied, but if your images on your website look like someone’s just stood there and lazily gone ‘click’, it really does show.
Grant: So it’s a question of giving it the time that it’s worth to accurately portray all that effort you’ve gone into to make this work. If you take a bad picture, you’re doing your awesome work a disservice.
Sarah: Well, you’re not doing yourself a disservice, you’re doing the building a disservice. Even if you supplied the cladding and you want to photograph that, just avoid it being blurry. Just show it in it’s perfect light. I see an awful lot these days of phone shots – and yes, phone cameras are fantastic, but have you got the eye for the photography of it? Can you see the essence of the building as opposed to just taking the snap?
That’s where the difference between taking a mobile photo or actually using someone who does it as a profession. If you’ve spent money, time and effort on your website, but the images don’t match the content, it will show.
Grant: So, let’s say, you’re a heating engineer and you’ve just finished a job, and you want to take a picture of your work so you can put it up on your website and show prospective clients or people who have worked for you in the past. What should people be avoiding doing?
Sarah: Getting in your own light. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone’s just had a brand new heating system put in for thousands, the tradesman’s trying to show and portray what he’s done, and he can see his own shadow.
The best thing here is to turn the light on, put in some effort, get a torch, take the time and look at it on your phone. All phones come with a basic editing suite, so brighten up those shadows. Move the lunchboxes out of the way! Move the tools out of the way! No one wants to see it. We want a clean, presentable and straight shot.
I know it’s difficult in confined spaces, so concentrate on what we want to see. The audience doesn’t want to see the boiler at the side, concentrate on the pipework – on exactly what it is you’ve done. It will really look so much better.
Grant: Excellent, so really highlight what you’ve actually delivered. One of the things I’ve noticed is that you can tap on the screen to make your image lighter.
Sarah: On most phones, you can change the focus of your light and camera. Phones automatically focus on the centre, just keep tapping until you get the right looking image. If you use flash on your phone, you will get a flare. If you’re really struggling for lighting in darker spaces, get someone to use a torch. You really will see the difference.
Grant: We’ve found on our end, when people go to the effort of putting up these higher quality images, customers certainly react far better to it, because they can see you’ve taken the time to make your website look professional
Sarah: If you want a tradesman, you’re going to look for them, you’re going to Facebook them, you’re going to look for a website. It’s hard to say someone is unprofessional, but at the end of the day, if your images portray you took that little extra time to get some good shots of your work, it really does show. It’s all about trust. Everyone Googles looks at Facebook, Social media and everything is governed by images today. I think it’s fundamental that you have decent images
Grant: Cool. So in terms of getting that right picture, we’ve covered having decent light, including details that give the picture some flavour, moving your lunch box out the way.
Sarah [laughing]… yeah, I see a lot of lunchboxes.
Grant: Do you have any other top tips for people taking pictures of their own work?
Sarah: If you spend hours and hours and hours creating something, take those few extra minutes to photograph that work. Don’t just take the one! Take several!
I’m only 5’4” and I wouldn’t take a 5’4” picture. Get on the floor, lie down, get perspective right on your phone. Play around with images and angles. Spend time afterwards doing a little bit of editing – it’s amazing what you can do from a phone, increasing the clarity, definition, sharpening. It won’t take long – you can sit at home and do it and then post them.
Don’t just take a few quick snaps and think ‘that’ll do’. If the client is super happy with what you’ve done, you should be super happy and proud of what you’ve done. At the end of the day, you’ve done this. So take the little bit of extra time to get those images looking awesome.
Grant: Awesome. But obviously, if you’ve got the resources to do it, it’s well worth having professionals take a look at your photos, or take them for you of course.
Sarah: After the ToolFair in Alexandra Palace, 2020, I did put on Twitter that if anyone wanted to send me images, I had quite a few people get in contact and ask for advice. Things like how to get rid of reflections from the shiny chrome of newly installed bathrooms, or increase highlights in images, or dumb them down.
It took me all of five minutes – it’s wonderful to be able to give that back – to give that little tiny piece of advice on those that don’t need a professional photographer like myself. It’s all about what your images look like at the end of the day.
So if I can help, send me the Twitter pictures over on Sarah Toon. I can do it! Oh, and I have a brand new website! It’s been a bit of an issue, but I’m excited to share and it’s up and running. Check it out.
Grant: And people will be able to see lots of examples of really good photos on there, no doubt…
Sarah: Sure, sure! There are still bits missing because hundreds of pictures need trawling through, but yeah, I’m really pleased with it.
Sarah: They can indeed! But I mostly use Twitter and LinkedIn these days.
Grant: Well, thank you very much for coming on to speak today Sarah!
Sarah: No, thank you! And hopefully, we can link up at the next ToolFair, whenever that might happen!