Instruction manuals are a life-saving tool. Fix your home wiring incorrectly and you might zap yourself. Set up your deck railings with too few nails and you could take a tumble right to the hospital. Not using enough support beams for your garden shed could lead to the whole thing collapsing on you.
This is why Minneapolis-based photographer Richard Fleischman’s work for Quarto Publishing’s Cool Springs Press is important. Recently, he was contracted to shoot multiple setups for DIY home improvement guides, making sure your sheds, greenhouses, and wooden floors don’t lead to any catastrophes.
Most of the projects, due to changing codes and technology, are aimed at updating sections of the various how-to guides they make in the home-improvement field, frequently for Black + Decker. Generally, the goal is to document the steps involved in making one of several projects, and then a beauty shot of the finished project.
A friend of Richard’s originally handled the projects for Quarto. When he had to move on to another gig, the editor of the publication Mark Johanson, reached out to Richard to see if he’d be interested. And he was. From his experience working on these shoots, Richard has come to realize how different they are from his previous assignments.
These projects involve coming together with the individual construction plans and materials on-the-fly. In reality, the most planning we can do is knowing the location of the shoot (if not in studio) and the general idea of the projects. There is always a general shot-list and sketches or stock photo/illustrations of the projects. I try to have the right gear for a location shoot, as there are a lot of shots we need to get in a day, and the locations might be in more remote places.
The uncertainty involved in the shoot can be heightened by the talent, who are typically actual builders.
The main challenges are always consistent with these projects: finding a good, reliable builder who understands that this is for a book, and not about them crafting a masterpiece of craftsmanship – yes, it needs to be done correctly and well, but we have 12 more shots to do today! Coordinating schedules can be tricky, too. A good builder will always be busy, especially in the summer, which is when the bulk of these shoots happen.
The shot list can also be a panic inducer because the usual timeline for the projects doesn’t lend itself to pre-production planning with the builder. All that is given to them is a rough shot list, a draft of the instructions from the author who is not present on set, an address for the shoot location, and a guarantee that the building materials will be there for them on the shooting day. Despite the challenges, Richard turns his shoots for Quarto into a blast.
These shoots are always a lot of fun, a lot of stress and a lot of rolling-with-the-punches. I’ve been incredibly lucky that I’ve gotten on well with the builders and builder’s assistants I’ve worked with, as well as the people at the publishing house. There are always some lively conversations and inside jokes that develop as the shoot goes on, which always makes it fun.
As to the final images, the client’s positive reaction and the continued relationship is reason enough to hail them a success. Richard’s currently working on another project already and expects more to roll in over the summer. He also finds another benefit in working for the DIY publications:
The sheer amount of photos you’re going to take and the problem-solving involved keeps you in great photography shape!
Given the consequences of following a poorly-executed instructional photo, you should thank Richard and photographers like him next time you successfully tackle that roof or fix up a doorway.