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Management Perspectives: Shooting Your Own AV Systems Photos

In my March column, I wrote about the value of a great photo of a system you’ve installed. It helps customers understand what you do, it adds credibility to your sales efforts, and if you’re trying to publicize your work, it fills the magazine’s need to illustrate an article.

Management Perspectives: Shooting Your Own AV Systems Photos

Apr 1, 2007 1:00 PM,
By Don Kreski

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Calamos Investments. Click here to see a larger image.

In my March column, I wrote about the value of a great photo of a system you’ve installed. It helps customers understand what you do, it adds credibility to your sales efforts, and if you’re trying to publicize your work, it fills the magazine’s need to illustrate an article.

Several of my customers have tried to shoot their own systems photos, but they have bumped into problems with color, composition, and capturing projected screen images. Even those who have hired photographers have often had the same problems.

I thought it might help if I showed you some of my better efforts with a brief explanation of how I shot each installation.

By the way, people often ask me about camera equipment. I use a Nikon digital camera, but the brand really isn’t important. Being able to change lenses is very helpful; it’s also possible to do good work if you buy a fixed-lens camera with a very wide-angle zoom. Beyond that, you need to be able to set a custom white balance, focus manually, turn off your flash, and set your exposure manually (so that you can shoot above and below the recommended setting). You need a good tripod as well. If you have questions, I’ll be very glad to answer them if you’ll call or email.

Calamos Investments

This photo is all about composition, and actually it was a fairly easy image to shoot. I achieved the dramatic effect by using a very wide-angle lens (14mm) and positioning the camera so that the distortion from the lens accentuated the shape of the table. Note how carefully I placed the chairs: I probably spent at least 30 minutes making sure they were all the same height and the same distance from the table. I also carefully removed every piece of paper, coaster, and other clutter from the shot.

As with all of these images, I used a custom white balance and the lighting already in the room. I shot the four screen images (including the control panel) right from the monitor or projection screen, but I shot them separately. The problem with screen images is that the white balance is never the same as the room (you generally need to use your camera’s daylight setting for screens), and often the exposure setting is different as well.

I did do some work in Adobe Photoshop (as I normally do) adjusting the brightness of various parts of the image, but that would not have been necessary to get a good shot. My client was SPL Integrated Solutions.

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Christ the King Baptist Church

This, too, was a very simple shot: It was really a question of picking the best spot to shoot from and having a wide-angle lens (14mm). White balance in this room was tricky. There was so much red reflecting from the seats that even the ceiling has a red tint. I took my camera in hand and walked to the middle of the sanctuary, then balanced from a white piece of paper positioned so a ceiling light was shining directly on it. There’s no way an auto color setting would work in this room—actually, it rarely works in any room.

One more trick: I bought a Photoshop plug-in called Debarrelizer, which corrects barrel distortion—the bending of straight lines—caused by wide-angle lenses. It can really help. (Client: Lewis Sound & Video Professionals, Waukesha, Wis.)

Click here to see a larger image.

Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame

Here capturing the screen image was the hard part. The room features a nearly 360-degree projection screen showing photos and video clips.

First, I white balanced my camera to the room lighting and shot one image of the room itself (actually a series of images at different exposures, since it’s very difficult to be sure you have the right exposure while you’re still at the site). Then, without moving the camera even slightly, I reset my white balance to daylight and began shooting the screen images.

I shot a lot of photos. These had to be time exposures, so I needed to hit spots in the program where the action paused to get a clear image. Patience is the key for a photo such as this. I ended up having to combine several images in Photoshop to get the full wrap-around screen effect. (Client: Sharp Electronics.)

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Marengo High School

This shot was much more complex than the others. The lighting was not very even in the room, yet there was no way I would attempt to light a room this large. My solution was to plant my camera very firmly on my tripod, shoot several images at different exposures, and combine them later in different layers in Photoshop. (I can explain this process if you’d like to contact me.) The main reason the photo works, however, was the angle I shot from and the screen image I chose.

I want to say a word about screen images. The screen can never be an afterthought, since it’s normally the focal point of your photo. If you try to shoot the screen and the room in one exposure, it will probably look washed-out and tinted cyan, which is not what it looks like to people sitting in the room. (True, the camera doesn’t lie, but people’s eyes and brains adjust much faster and better than a camera ever could.) You need to shoot the projected image separately for good color and good exposure, if you want to document what your installation really looks like. To do so, you need to ask your customer, in advance, to provide an appropriate image to project, or you need to find a page from their website, in advance, which you think will work.

Sometimes there isn’t any choice but to add an image later, which is what I had to do for this photo. You still need to strive for realism, however, so you’ll need to adjust brightness and contrast to degrade the image to what a projected screen would actually look like. You’ll want to add a little blur and noise from filters in Photoshop as well. (Client: Sound Vision, Elgin, Ill.)

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Nationals Association of Realtors

Adding people to a conference room photo can create a lot of extra interest, but they’re difficult to shoot yourself, because you’ll almost always have to add lighting. I’ve always liked this photo, but I have to admit that I didn’t shoot it. I hired someone with more experience in lighting groups of people: Wayne Williams of Indianapolis, Ind.

I like Williams’ work because he supplements the lighting in the room rather than overpowering the existing lights. Here, he used several strobes with umbrellas to add fairly flat, even lighting mainly on the models. Notice how carefully and how well he posed them. (Client: United Visual, Itasca, Ill.)

AV systems photography is not rocket science. If you have a good eye and some background in photography or videography, you can learn to take these photos yourself. A lot of people in our industry start out by taking photos of their more run-of-the-mill jobs, hiring professionals for the larger, more impressive installations. If you make the investment, either in time or money, you’ll gain a huge payback in your marketing and sales program.

You can reach Don Kreski at

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