A child taking a picture of a lion
By
James Roan, Holmes Murphy Property Casualty Account Executive

I’m just going to say it — design professionals are some of the most passionate, caring, and creative people I know. Just think about what they do for a moment. They’re able to take their clients’ ideas and design what was once old to be new or take nothing and make it something. It’s amazing!

From Olympic stadiums, where the entire world is watching both in-person or through another visual medium, to schools and libraries that educate the future, the work these professionals do is truly remarkable. But, there are some items we need to share to ensure the work that’s done doesn’t end up being a hindrance.

Construction Projects Come to Life in Photos

A designer’s job is to communicate their client’s story, brand, and ideas and, most importantly, make the client feel secure in their investment. So, it likely comes as no surprise clients love to see their projects come to life through photos. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” As a result, design professionals visit the worksite throughout the lifecycle of a construction project taking photos to document all of the ongoing work.

These photos not only are a feel good for the client, but they serve another purpose — to supplement construction observation reports to keep the owner and the firm’s staff updated on the progress they’ve made. The design professionals also send photos to their construction partners in the field via the contractors on site. Lastly, they’re able to use those progress images in marketing materials — from blogs and website updates to social media platforms, such as LinkedIn and Instagram.

The Problem with Photo Documentation in Construction

On a personal level, when was the last time you went into your phone and deleted your photos? Have you gone through and thought to yourself, “Do I really need this?” This same practice can become a habit and more than likely spill over into reports for onsite visits for design professionals.

Every photo a design professional takes needs to serve a purpose, and every firm is very likely to have photos in their records that don’t belong. Many firms don’t have a formal review of the photos they take, and more than likely, all photos are dropped onto a hard drive or server and filed away with the project.

Herein lies the issue with that practice — those photos aren’t thought of until an insurance claim is brought against a design professional and a request comes in for all of their records. Those photos are then discoverable almost wherever they may be and, unfortunately, can be used against design professionals in a dispute. What the design firm thought would be a benefit could now be the nail in the coffin. Think of it in this way…are there any photos that show something on a project they shouldn’t?

Every photo that’s being taken should serve a specific purpose and that is to support the observation report performed while on the construction site. If a photo isn’t relevant to the notes for what was observed, it should be deleted.

As design professionals are held to a standard of care, if something is seen, something must also be said. It’s always important to consider what is in the view of the photo and to ensure the photo addresses the message that’s being conveyed — nothing more.

What Do You Do with the Photos Once the Construction Project Is Complete?

When a project is complete, what photos do or don’t you keep and for how long? Well, this is tricky. There is no straightforward answer, as each project will require, by contract, a differing length of document retention.

It’s important to have a standard policy for how these photos are reviewed and how they are obtained and used. It should be the goal of keeping these photos for legal, financial, historical, or marketing purposes and saved in an orderly fashion so they can be accessed internally at a later date.

It can be very frustrating if a request were to come years down the road by a client for a similar project and the photo is not found due to not following the document retention policy.

In the end…my main advice is this — be mindful of what you photograph, what you save, and what you share. And be sure to have a policy in place surrounding all of this. If you’re not sure where to start, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to help!