Unearthed Episode 6: Before the Shooting Starts

Our expert panel gets image conscious as they focus on creating great film and photography for property marketing.

“I did not intend for the film to have any specific meaning to any particular viewer.” If you’re still wondering what to make of Elegant Hedonism, the brand film created for Melbourne developer BPM, we’re sorry to say that we cannot help you. BPM founder and film-maker Jonathan Hallinan prefers you draw your own conclusions.


Things are heating up in Jonathan Hallinan’s world. Image: BPM“I intend for my films to be deliberately provocative and thought-provoking – I encourage people to make their own interpretations in the same way that they might interpret any other art form. I enjoy pushing the boundaries of what people would expect from a property developer.”

While Hallinan uses film and photography to tell an emotional story of his brand, other experts on the Unearthed panel use their marketing images as a way of setting the bar for customer expectations – and holding themselves accountable as developers.

“The good thing about our brand - and this comes from the top - is that all CGIs and imagery must be a true reflection of what we are going to produce for the buyer,” explains Megan Skippen, head of marketing and public relations at Meriton.

“When we take images and films that we create, and compare them to the finished product, we like to see them looking exactly the same. I think it’s important for people to know the brand and believe in our brand and then align that with our product.”


Whether captured or created, authenticity is becoming key for image-makers. Image: MeritonWhether they consider property films to be commerce or art, our expert panel were united in their belief that images, both moving and still, are among the most powerful tools at their disposal. In a connected world infested with screens, that means we need to think more deeply about the images we create.

“We are a very visually literate society and we understand our audiences want to be communicated to in an authentic manner, however we remain conscious that it’s a very polished and curated authenticity. There’s a balance between inspiring viewers with aspirational scenes and producing images that are also believable,” Amber Sinclair, executive producer for Melbourne’s Lynton Crabb Photography said.

“In property and lifestyle photography, we explicitly want to connect emotionally with our audiences. We want prospective purchasers to feel ‘that could be me, these are the experiences I will be able to enjoy by living here.’ We understand that the images we create are somewhat self-reflecting; people need to relate to them and see themselves in the lifestyle and narrative we are representing.”

That need for meaning is something architectural photographer Rob Tuckwell understands only too well. “At the end of the day we’re trying to create iconic images and that’s about the light, composition, all of those elements that are so critical to making the building look amazing.” Speaking from his Sydney studio, Tuckwell explains his approach, honed by decades of photographing the country’s most well-known structures.

“You’re not just necessarily capturing the representational view of the building, but also trying to express something more than that. Some call it ‘lifestyle photography’ and I think that’s the extended brief now. You’re not just creating a representation of the building, you’re creating context as well.”

Aim before you shoot

“It’s important to determine the objective of the film, and make sure all parties are in agreement before any filming or photoshoots commence,” counsels Brittany Clout, NSW marketing manager for Savills Commercial & Residential.

“Decide if it’s a quick snapshot of a development and the finishes, a luxury offering requiring detailed animation, or are you bringing a whole region to life such as a new suburb or master planned community where you’ll need fly-throughs and voiceovers? Once you’ve figured this out, the creative direction can start to take shape and a clear storyboard can be produced, which takes the guesswork out down the track.”

Even for stills photography, the importance of planning was pressed upon us by Hyugo Hayashi, director of delivery at Wordsearch Australia. “From a production point of view, it’s always about the shotlist. And the shotlist comes from understanding what the client wants to say about the project. Then the creative agency will interpret that and the project manager will figure out how to deliver on it but, without the shotlist, it’s very easy to lose sight of the original objective.”


Knowing the final format is just as important as understanding the objective. Image: WordsearchEven though our panel believes planning is the first step, they were quick to point out there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to creating great images.

“We understand that every brief is different and we’re mindful that we’re looking for an individual outcome with each project.  We are fortunate to have an exceptionally talented group of stylists and creatives to work with, and a big part of putting a production team together is understanding each contributor’s strengths and considering the mix of personalities,” Sinclair said.

“Our approach ensures that each member of our team is the right match for both the brief and the client. On set we often have to work quite quickly, which leaves no time for any inefficiencies or conflict.”

So, you get your crew together and you’re ready, right? Wrong. According to Love Design Initiative’s creative director Benjamin Wright, the more time and effort you can invest in preparation, the better your shoot day will be.

“We spend a lot of our pre-production time looking at the treatment for a film, choosing the equipment that is required for that particular shot, organising the equipment and insurance, the transport, making sure we have booked all of the right crew members, ensuring everyone will be on the ground at the right time – basically making sure you tie your shoelaces correctly before you walk out the door. Because all of those people, all of that equipment, that’s all money spent every minute you’re on set.”

You’re so talented

When it comes to talent in property films it’s important to establish if you’re working with ‘Talent’ (professional models and actors) or ‘talent’ (other people who end up in front of the camera). Wordsearch’s Hayashi explains:“The ‘big T talent’ will often have an agency or an agent, which brings a whole raft of things that you need to comply with around usage rights and so on. It can get quite complicated. Whereas if you are using ‘small t talent’ then it can be more straight-forward to use them in images and it can be a lot cheaper. Having ‘big T talent’ can really add quality to a production, but just be aware it can be a complex process and it can really push your timings.”


Having the right team – and a great producer – are the ingredients for a successful shoot day. Image: Lynton Crabb
Some of our panel find talent of any kind too cumbersome for marketing purposes, while others opt for the ‘nature documentary’ approach. “We don’t generally feature talent in our videos except perhaps to show a representation of the lifestyle of the surrounding area,” explains Meriton’s Skippen.

“In those cases, we try to use the people that are already in the neighbourhood. It’s more authentic and we don’t have try to specify age, gender, ethnicity or styling in advance, because these people are already there, living in the area.”

Wright warns, however, that you still need to have your paperwork in order when shooting in public.

“It’s a general misconception that if you are in a public place and you are filming, then it’s just ‘game on’ and you can use it for whatever you want. There are a lot of protocols in place, especially when shooting government buildings or using people’s faces out of context without their permission. If you are producing something that has commercial value or is selling a commercial entity, you need to be aware of the laws that are in place before you create a problem for yourself.”

Never mind the width, feel the quality.

The luxury end of the residential market has seen a real focus on film and photography as a way of communicating value and quality. Sinclair believes it’s an area where experienced creatives can add the most value.

“Working in that luxury space is where our creative teams get to shine, from the photographer to the art director, through to our stylists, hair and makeup artists to our retouchers, there’s a synergy and strong sense of collaboration in how we bring a brief to life. We all love our work and we are incredibly passionate about the images we create, and that’s really where we get to take it to that next level.”


The way you create your images informs the way the market perceives your brand. Image: BPM
BPM’s Hallinan, as you’d expect, has a different take on creating luxury images. “We choose not to play in the world of luxury, but focus instead on fulfilling desire at every interaction with our business. The BPM brand is aesthetically driven, and I make it my priority to provide people with access to a world that is both contemporary and innovative, to establish new benchmarks in design and visual culture associated with a lifestyle that perhaps our audiences have not yet even dreamed of.”

“Get into the chopper.”

Many marketers take to the air to showcase their project’s location or design status, but there are a few things to consider before you buckle in and get your rotors turning. Sydney’s Tuckwell has logged more flight time than most.

Weather is obviously key with aerial photography so ideally you get up there on a day with absolutely no cloud. Midday is great if you don’t want shadows on the building’s features, but it’s pretty bland. You really want nice modelling on your asset, so I recommend you get up earlier or late – between 8 and 10am is fantastic – and then I think it depends on pilots and the particular day.”


Getting great aerial photography requires planning, persistence and a lot of sunshine. Image: Rob Tuckwell
“So it’s not just the sun in the sky that you need to consider. “As with most things, there are some cowboys out there and then there are fantastic pilots who can give you the shots you want. Where possible, I’ll fly with pilots that I know and who understand filming and photography,” Tuckwell explains.

“I also prefer flying in an aircraft that’s stable. There are small helicopters, like the Robinson 44, where you get blown around. For great shots, and video in particular, you want to be able to hover and for that you need power. And just remember that the more powerful the heli, the more expensive it is to fly.”

Are we just all droning on?

“The most relevant things that we can talk about in 2017 in terms of over-done techniques would be the use of drones and drone footage,” Melbourne-based Wright said.

“20 years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years – even 5 years ago – you needed to send a helicopter up to get some of these sweeping aerial shots. And now everyone can fly a drone, everyone wants to do it, and so we’re seeing a lot of videos, not just in property, that are shot solely by a drone. I think the over-use of something like that is treading a fine line between something that is cutting edge and something that is tacky.”

It’s not just the aesthetics of drone photography we need to worry about, according to Tuckwell.

“It’s definitely still the wild west. Commissioning a drone to shoot is problematic especially when it comes to seeking permission from the aviation authorities in Australia. You can really burn a lot of time trying to navigate your way through the approval process with drones, so some operators may decide not to. There is risk involved. I think anybody who really wants to pursue drones and their practice should be licensed, and really to start to embrace that requirement. The authorities will also need to adapt to the reality of commercial drones.”

All the gear – but you still need an idea.

As technology crams more image-making power into smaller and cheaper kit, we asked our panel what’s more important: the equipment or the people?“They go hand-in-hand, however the ideas and creativity have sometimes in the past been limited by the equipment or technology available,” Savills’ Clout suggests.

“With the rapid improvements in technology and software, videos and animation in particular have come such a long way in a relatively short amount of time, and the quality of work that is being produced at the moment is spectacular. We’d be nowhere without the ideas, but we’d be even further away without the equipment to execute them!”


Don’t be afraid of pursuing the unexpected angle or unplanned moment – create difference. Image: Lynton Crabb
Wordsearch’s Hyugo Hayashi nominated time as the increasingly overlooked element to great image-making.

“If you are going to be investing thousands of dollars into bespoke photography, you also need to be prepared to invest some time. You might be waiting for the right weather or a specific talent to be available and if you can hold off a couple of days to get those hero shots that you want then it’s usually worth the wait. Otherwise the shots might not be of a quality you expect and so your money is going down the drain.”

“The capturing part of photography hasn’t changed, the whole empirical part of photography is still exactly the way it was when we were shooting film,” explains Tuckwell, who firmly believes the role of technology has remained a constant, even with the move to digital.

“The mechanics of taking a picture and the relationship with ISO and aperture and shutter speed, lenses and everything is the same. With digital, the only thing that has changed is actually recording the image.”

Client on the set

When we asked the image-makers on our expert panel about having clients present during production, the answers were typically diplomatic. “Every client is different. In some cases they want to be there to see what they are paying for and as a service provider you have to really understand that. It’s totally relevant,” LVDI’s Wright explains.

“I think as long as we’re briefed by a client and all of the correct questions are asked in the pre-production process, and there is good communication during the execution, then it’s not necessarily true that they always need to be present on set.”

So, how much?

Inevitably, any discussion of film or photography will find focus on the financials. Allocating an appropriate budget can be a challenge.

“Usually you’d allocate a higher budget to developments that are set over multiple stages or larger in size,” advises Clout. “This is so you can update and switch the images or footage through the campaign to keep it fresh and interesting. It is far more cost effective to produce all the material at the beginning rather than having to re-shoot and ‘top up’ down the track.”


Precinct and lifestyle shots are becoming a big part of the property story. Always shoot more than you think you need. Image: MeritonEven though he’s both developer and film-maker, BPM’s Hallinan is careful not to let money rule every decision.

“Not every facet of my business can always be driven by financial returns. When creating a brand in particular, it is incredibly difficult to forecast a quantifiable return. Sometimes the creative benefit of producing world-class films and branding cannot be quantified in monetary terms. However, the value they have returned to my business has been far more rewarding than any financial gains we have made.”

“I think developers are now understanding the importance of spending money on imagery and videos to set their campaign apart. With the volume of new projects on the market at any one time, it’s worth investing upfront so you’re not scrambling six months down the track when sales are low and budgets are even lower. That said, more expensive doesn’t always mean better,” cautions Clout, who has overseen productions right across the budget spectrum.

“As long as you have a trusted, quality photographer or videographer who has been briefed well, you can still create some wonderful images and content without blowing the entire budget.”

Lock, stock and shooting down the barrel.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the proliferation of easily-accessible stock photography and film clips would be giving our creative experts sleepless nights.

“If anything, stock has actually helped us because clients now come to us saying, “We don’t want our images to look like stock, we don’t want our images to look the same as everything else,” explains Sinclair from her Melbourne studio.

“We understand that stock is part of the perspective, the reality is that stock charges are often similar to commissioning a photoshoot with exclusive usage rights. Our experience tells us that developers want to establish their own recognisable visual identity, they want to stand out and tailor their images to their individual strategy”


Ensure the art direction from your campaign extends into the images you create. Image: Lynton Crabb
While stock imagery might be out of favour, there are some stock formats that certainly get decent airtime in property marketing.

“Now that video content is out there everywhere, even on social media, what we do get asked to do sometimes is essentially to put everything into a video,” says Hayashi from Wordsearch’s Sydney office overlooking the harbour.

“Even the details that would normally be in the brochure are now being pushed into the film. So the film is now being asked to carry the entire story, rather than used as a specific touch point in the customer’s journey. We see our role as advising our clients of the strategic role that the film should play in the marketing mix.”
Get ready for the sequel: more bigger and betterer
When we asked our panel where to look for the future of film and photography in property marketing, we were told to go outside.

“Look outside the property industry for inspiration. Research what the fashion, tech, and major retail industry are doing and then reinterpret it for the property industry,” advises Clout. “Remember your viewers aren’t idiots. They understand more complex content and concepts that we often give them credit for. Try pushing the boundaries.”

“Consumers are increasingly more educated about their purchase decisions, not just in property but in all industries. They want to know not only about the brands and people behind the products, but are seeking experiences that align with their values,” advises Hallinan.

“It is simply no longer adequate to select an acclaimed interior designer or architect as a unique selling proposition for our properties. We must create a compelling and engaging narrative behind our projects for consumers to buy into, one that describes our inspirations and creative vision as a business.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a wrap.

Thanks to our global panel of Unearthed experts for this episode:


Rob Tuckwell has long been regarded as one of Australia’s leading architectural and commercial photographers. A graduate of Sydney College of the Arts, he has been practicing since 1986 and has worked with many of the nation’s top architects, designers and creative agencies. Based in Sydney, he specializes in architectural photography and multimedia, and his work is widely collected and published both in Australia and internationally. robtuckwell.com.au


Amber Sinclair is Executive Producer at Lynton Crabb Photography. Over the past 15 years she and Lynton have delivered iconic images for some of Australia’s largest residential and commercial projects. With a passion for exceptional creative outcomes, their studio has recently been awarded a place in the ‘200 Best Ad Photographers Worldwide’ by the prestigious Luerzers Archive. crabb.com.au


Megan Skippen is the head of marketing and public relations for Meriton, Australia’s largest developer of apartments. Her marketing career began in the property industry in 2001. It has traversed areas such as marketing, events, public relations, fan engagement, sponsorship and licensing roles for major sporting organisations - both local and international. www.meriton.com.au


Benjamin Wright is the Creative Director for Love Design Initiative (LVDI) a creative agency specialising in digital content provision. He founded the company in 2012 and works with clients of all sizes to execute unique and meaningful creative campaigns. His background is in interdisciplinary design and he has been privy to projects both nationally and abroad. www.lvdi.com.au


Curating inspiration by combining his acute eye for style and experience of over 19 years in the industry, Director Jonathan Hallinan has built a reputation for delivering exceptional developments that echo authentic architecture and design integrity. With a sincere focus on the impact of BPM developments on the local environs, Hallinan has lead his team in delivering progressive and sustainable living options for those seeking the ultimate lifestyle – an ethos which has been embraced nationally. www.bpmcorp.com.au


With over ten years’ experience in the property industry, Brittany Clout’s main focus is marketing and business development opportunities. After gaining extensive government experience in the residential development sector in Canberra, Brittany moved into the world of Sydney’s residential project marketing, and has launched some of Sydney’s biggest projects over the last five years. Brittany now oversees the marketing for both the commercial and residential divisions for New South Wales at Savills Australia. www.savills.com.au


Hyugo Hayashi is the Director of Delivery at Wordsearch Australia. He has delivered projects across commercial, residential and mixed use developments for both local and global clients. Starting his career in landscape architecture, he combines his experience across advertising, branding and property marketing to help clients’ projects come to life. wordsearchAUS.com.au


Coming up: The ‘How To’ guide for the future of tech in property marketing
If you’ve enjoyed hearing from our experts, stay tuned at the end of the month when we release our How To guide for film and photography. Available as a downloadable PDF, this Unearthed ‘How To’ guide will walk you through the timelines, budgets, strategies, collaborators and ideas you should be considering if you’re looking to create stunning images – both moving and still – for your next property marketing project.
About the Editor In Chief

Barrie Seppings is the Director of Strategy at Wordsearch Australia, part of the world's leading specialist property marketing consultancy network. He helps architects, developers, agents and city leaders develop stories for the built environment.  He is also a published author of new fiction title ‘ShelfLife’. @BarrieSeppings

The Urban Developer is Australia’s largest and fastest-growing online community for development professionals. Their daily updates are read across the industry and their live events and panel discussions are highly sought-after. The Unearthed Series is the first of an expanding range of resources for development professionals, published by The Urban Developer and developed in collaboration with the world’s most experienced property professionals.

Wordsearch is the world’s leading network of property marketing specialists, with consultants, strategists, designers and managers in eight offices around the world. wordsearchaus.com.au

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Ideas, comments or submissions to unearthed@theurbandeveloper.com

Unearthed takes you inside property marketing.

What technologies should I use? How do I find the right team? When should I brief my designer? How much budget should I allocate? We’ve covered the globe talking to experts from developers to branding consultants, architects to sales agents, and technologists to designers, bringing you the latest thinking and tested wisdom from the world’s best property marketers.

Each monthly episode of Unearthed shows you the trends, takes you behind the case studies and offers the inspiration to help you raise the bar on your next marketing project. Unearthed: it’s what’s really happening inside property marketing.

See the full series of Unearthed here.

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