The Landscape Library was honored to speak with Cailtin Atkinson, a freelance landscape architectural photographer in our new series of “Through the Lens”, a series of articles showcasing insight to photography for professional landscapers.
Caitlin grew up in a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas amongst trees, mountains and rivers instilled a love of the natural world. Her work captivates breath-taking landscapes designed by award-winning landscape architecture firms.
What attracted The Landscape Library to Caitlin’s photography is her keen sense of juxtaposition with the environment, allowing individuals to feel a sense of place with highly curated details designed by architects.
Caitlin not only uses the natural landscape surrounding the project to her advantage, but communicates how the architects and designers are blurring the boundaries between the existing and proposed landscapes.
This early childhood experience has certainly shaped how she views and captures the landscape. Her work has appeared in national magazines such as Architectural Digest, Martha Stewart Living, Gardenista.
Take me through the standard process of photographing a residential property. What are you looking for? What is the process before you enter the site?
Yeah, so different photographers work differently. I will say in general – I don’t scout the site beforehand, so I usually just try to speak to whoever I’m shooting for and help them determine the best time to photograph the project.
So that means partially in terms of time of year. Obviously spaces have a peak time, for example flowers or grasses or whatever it is, definitely grow out during specific times of the year but usually you know depending on what part of the country you’re in, sometimes certain areas generally have like a peak time all at once.
If you’re shooting in Arizona you’re probably going to shoot early spring. If you shoot in parts of California, there’s definitely more of a rush in spring but in the East coast, it sometimes can be a little later because of the fact that it just depends on what the plants are.
I typically shoot more in the West coast than anywhere else and the light is pretty harsh midday compared to the Midwest and in the East where you can have humidity and a build up of clouds.
I usually break my shoot down into either a half day or a full day and if it’s a half day and steer people towards the afternoon. I do that for two reasons:
- Partially because there is a build up of particular matter and in general you get a little more time in the afternoon evening.
- If we’re doing a half day, generally I want to walk the site with them and have them point out any kind of features they want to highlight or anything they want to avoid.
I like to gain all the knowledge upfront before I shoot and have clients point out special views that formed the project. For example, if the photoshoot is in the afternoon evening, we meet prior and it gives me a chance to familiarize myself with this space so I can be efficient. Because once photographing begins, there might not be a huge window of time. However, if it’s a full day of shooting, I’ll do it afternoon evening and then the next morning so that I know the space.
How do you prepare at the site?
It depends, sometimes when you arrive at a residential space, you might have to do a little cleanup. For example, like removing furniture covers and all that kind of stuff and you don’t want to be doing that in the dark at like 4AM because when sun comes up it can be exciting and you can get some great shots first thing in the morning. But if you’ve never been to the site, it can be tricky if you’re not ready.
Are there any times where an unexpected scenario has happened?
I’m usually tracking the weather and if it looks like it looks like it’s going to rain – I might reschedule.
I was shooting in San Jose and it did rain but I got back in the car while it was raining and when it stopped raining – it was kind of beautiful (the way the light broke through the clouds). So it’s not that I can’t shoot when it’s raining, depends like if it’s a solid day of rain.
In certain cities like San Francisco, I’d say the wind always picks up in the afternoon evening, so there’s different considerations fin each city, but I usually am tracking the weather.
Are there outdoor elements that clients prefer certain images of?
I guess if people have revitalized a pool and it’s a special feature, then I’d say yah. But it’s usually dictated by what the landscape architect is most excited about.
In some cases, it can be a stairway, or materials the project has incorporated. But in general, whatever it takes to make a good photograph. Obviously if it’s a well designed space, the ground is an important aspect. You know what I mean? What’s it like to move in this space and what elements are within. I’m not necessarily like “oh I gotta find this element” – it’s more about trying to find a view and an angle.
What would you say is the goal of each photoshoot?
The idea is to actually represent a space, it’s hard because you’re translating a photography into a two dimensional image. You’re trying to help create the sense of being there. It’s your job to tell the story or whatever they they want to know or highlight.
By the end of a photoshoot, how many photographs do you have?
So the way I work and the way some others work are different, but it’s in terms of how I charge people. I charge them either a half day or full day and then I charge them per image processing fee. And the reason I do that is – I shoot a fair amount. I would say for a half day it might be somewhere in between to 100 and 50 images, but each image might be a slightly different variation on an angle.
After the photoshoot, I’ll send the client a rough proof where I haven’t done any extensively touching up, just some basic like if it has a building in it I’ve probably corrected it so it doesn’t look like you’re looking at some weird angle on the building.
Afterwards you use some sort of post-processing program like LightRoom, and by then I’ll have already gone through everything and just let clients pick the photos they want and then I’ll do the final retouching; and how many images people order really depends on per client. Some clients always order 12 images with interesting views and angles. But typically clients can order 10 to 14 images.
Is California where the most of your projects are? ?
I travel a little and I’m open to traveling. I had been traveling a little more prior to the pandemic and then I was just in California for most of the last two years.
I might be traveling a bit more this next year, but it’s just changed over the last couple of years. But yeah, mostly in California – Southern and Northern California.
To inquire about Caitlin’s photography services, you can reach her directly [email protected]