Making Windows and Doors Shine

Photography that will help sell your products requires more than a good camera
Philip Clayton-Thompson and Donna Pizzi, Blackstone Edge Studios
September 1, 2009
FEATURE ARTICLE | Sales & Marketing

In the world of selling windows and doors, one rule should always apply–make your product the hero. Whether you’re designing a brochure, revamping a Web site, or promoting a new product line in an advertisement, the product must always be the focal point.

In putting together printed or Web materials, too often manufacturers lose sight of the importance of a good promotional photograph. Digital photography seems so deceptively simple that many companies rely on non-professionals to “snap” a shot. Nothing could be more wasteful. Getting good photos of windows and doors requires numerous steps beyond using a decent camera.

Choosing Locations
Finding the right location is a good place to begin.  It can be a big challenge. Asking sales reps to recommend homes using your product is one road to follow. This can yield good results, but it can also be a bumpy ride that invariably includes uncooperative homeowners, and numerous visits to homes that have lousy curb appeal or weak interior design before a good setting is found.

Some manufacturers rely solely on showcase homes, which present their products in a well appointed environment. Even these waters can be difficult to navigate if one doesn’t request sufficient shooting time. Another tricky issue is the mixture of competing brands in one showcase locale. Other companies rely on studio environments, where sets are built with interchangeable illuminated backgrounds. This methodology often creates stiff, old-fashioned images through the over use of hot lights and dated furnishings and backgrounds.

The value of a professional photo shoot is evident in two pictures of the same door built for a Gothic style home. The above, taken by Blackstone Edge Studios, was shot tethered with 23 mg digital camera, from a ladder placed in a small area between a nearby garage and the entrance. Strobe lights were used inside and out. It was later digitally manipulated to enhance the look of the door even further.  

Another route some companies take is to rely on pickup shots taken by architectural photographers on behalf of the builder or architect. While these photos are usually professionally done and beautifully shot, they are taken with the global view in mind and not the manufacturer’s product. This does not sell windows or doors.

The Photo Shoot
Once a good location has been found, the next step is to have a team that directs the photography, i.e., an art director and/or stylist who works in concert with the photographer and client. In terms of protocol, think of a feature film, where the director advises the camera man what to shoot, not the other way around.

The benefits of giving reins in a photo shoot to the stylist, rather than the photographer, are nowhere more apparent than in the work of Martha Stewart. This approach made the photography in her magazine the yardstick for all interior design magazine photography worldwide.

The photo below was taken by John Gardner, owner of Old World Door. In this case, the physical placement of the door made it extremely hard to shoot even with a good digital camera. 

What an art director is looking for in "a product as hero" shot is a photo that draws the eye to the product set in a pleasing environment. The lighting should make the window or door the focal point, not the building or room itself.

Choosing a good photographer is also imperative to this scenario. You don’t want a wedding, events or portrait photographer to shoot a door or window. You want someone with experience in shooting interiors and exteriors, who has an equipment package that includes a top-of-the-line digital camera(s), an assortment of lenses, a decent strobe (lighting) system, and preferably, one that shoots “tethered,” i.e., with the camera attached to a laptop, where the client can see and comment on the images as they are being shot.

Stylists are responsible for making the environment pleasing by adding props, flowers, fruit, etc. Manufacturer should be certain the product is clean by hiring a cleaning crew and/or window washers, if necessary.  Having a photographer's assistant as part of the crew is handy to have for extra tidy-up, toting props, and, of course, assisting the photographer at setting up, lighting, and digital assistance. Photographers and stylists/art directors, usually work on a per day fee basis.

It should be noted that in addition to putting together a good team to create the "product-as-hero" photography that will help sell your windows and doors, it is also essential to get high-quality product shots. Traditionally, these are shot in studio locations where the windows and/or doors are silhouetted against a white background. These shots can be used to produce effective brochures, Web sites and other marketing materials. As noted below, they can also be used by dropping the window or door into existing photos to create the "product-as-hero" image. Companies need to invest the resources to get product shots that are well-detailed and beautifully lit to make their products stand out.

Enhancing the Images
Today, all digital photography must go through post-production, where color balancing, sharpening and clean-up are taken care of. This is usually done on an hourly basis. As one of the few agencies around the country that specialize in the window and door industry, our digital department takes existing photos and upgrades the look of products through a series of careful steps.

Within this department, another tactic that can be used is to drop product into an existing photograph.  This cannot be done in a haphazard way, however. There are many necessary steps to make this method look realistic. If manufacturers choose to manipulate existing photos in this manner, they should watch for the following:

  • Consistent light sources
  • Proper lighting on product and throughout
  • Integration of product with existing imagery
  • Choosing believable images for background as seen through windows or doors.

Once a company has a great product-as-hero-photograph, what should be done with it?  Promote, promote, promote. Update the company  Web site with new imagery. Make it the focal point on the opening page of a brochure. Design a postcard using the fresh images. Create a slogan if you don’t already have one. Or make up a new one that’s witty, memorable and ties to the imagery.

Contact builders and architects via your Web site, postcards or brochures that feature fresh photography of new lines or improved looks. Design an eye-catching ad with crisp, concise, humorous copy to illustrate the fresh imagery. Create a brochure that has consistent, product-as-hero photography.

Again, the tendency in difficult times is to stop advertising to save money. In fact, this is the time to catch the public’s collective eye. Be ready. Poise your company for the upswing that undoubtedly will occur. No better way to do that than start promoting now with creative, eye-catching photos and copy that will drive new customers your way.

Philip Clayton-Thompson and Donna Pizzi are the owners of Blackstone Edge Studios, based in Portland, Ore.  A full-service boutique ad agency that produces ad campaigns, Web sites, brochures, films, and on-site photography primarily for the building industry, the company has worked for numerous window and door clients including Associated Materials, Alpine Window, Alside, Gentek Building Products, PGT Industries, Southland Windows, Old World Door, Jeld-Wen and Portland Millwork. More information is available at www.blackstoneedge.com or by calling 503/234-4883.