Julie Hinojoza After familiarizing myself with the site, one of my first projects is to take photos. A good photo set is a huge part of an architectural site survey. Photos are the part that... show all, tell all. Photos are the part that can provide answers to hundreds of questions down the road as the job progresses. Photos are IMPORTANT!

A typical survey will have hundreds of photos, sometimes over a thousand. A rule of thumb is about 100 photos per 1000 square feet. When this many photos are taken and placed in an album, it is imperative that they are well organized and easy to find. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to find your way around in a photo album that jumps from here to there with no rhyme nor reason.

As I have taken photos over the years, I have tweaked and re-tweaked my protocols for taking photos. I have developed a photo taking system that will assemble well in an album and be easy for the client to visually follow. I have created a linking album where my clients can find the photo number on the map, click on it, and go to that exact photo. After looking at the photo, they can also click and go back to the map that has the number.

I have expanded the typical photo album and renamed it Project Album. The new project album will include not only photo maps and photos, but also a noted site map, a compendium (survey report), and PDF CAD drawings that link together from floor plan to section, etc.

Here is a list of what is included in our project album:

Typical Project Album Presentation

  • An iPad optimized all-inclusive PDF project album
  • A cover page with storefront photo and location
  • Orientation arrows and notes overlaid on landlord's site plan
  • An all new Compendium (survey report)
  • Photo maps with photo numbers linking to photos
  • Photo pages with links back to the photo map
  • Photos with optimum resolution to zoom in to see details
  • Arrows and comments on critical photos
  • Additional comments under photos
  • PDF CAD drawings with links


Why is your Project Album better than a photo album?

It is a photo album on steroids. It is the entire survey at one's fingertips, and it all links together. Here is the order:
1. Cover Page
2. Noted Site Plan
3. Compendium
4. Photo Map
5. Photo Album
6. CAD Drawings

Why did you develop a more involved project album?

Over the years, I have met many architects and engineers on the job-site. Almost all of them would have their 11" x 17" reduced drawings to refer to. It was quite difficult for them to look at the drawings and see the detail they needed to see. Since most of them flew by plane to the site, they could not carry larger plans.

Project Album Cover Sheet Sometimes they would be visiting the site after our survey was complete, and they had our survey documents in hand. However, the problem was the same — too small to read. I remember walking around with them looking at our survey (that I had done a few weeks earlier) and having difficulty reading it myself. I was very dissatisfied with the experience and wished there were a better way.

When tablets and iPads became more and more prevalent, I decided to start working on the answer. My goal was to put the entire project into one PDF that is iPad optimized. In this PDF file would be a noted site plan, a compendium (survey report), photo maps, photo album, and PDF's of the CAD drawings (of course, the .dwg files are submitted separately).

To take it a step further, I wanted all the items in the project album to have links to each other to make it easy to get around. This way the reviewer could spend more time studying the project and less time sorting through the separate and dis-jointed files.

Basically I wanted my clients to have a good user experience. I was not happy with the old ways, and I developed something much better!

What is a "noted site plan?"

Noted Site Plan

Many landlords, especially malls, have a site plan showing the entire mall and all the parking lots around it. We will take this plan and add notes with arrows showing outlying places in the mall that are important to the client. Some examples would be the location of: the freight elevator, truck service area, remote electric closet, telephone closet, fiber optic room, closest public restrooms, signage opportunities, etc. This noted site plan provides an overview of the entire area before focusing on the specifics of the client's proposed space.

Why is the Compendium called "all new"?

First of all, the Compendium is "all new" because... the word is new. For years, the industry has called it the "survey form." I decided to apply my survey motto, "assume nothing and question everything" to the words "survey form." I needed to decide if I wanted to keep using that phrase.

The word "form" is averse. It initiates feelings of dislike and opposition. No one likes to fill out a form and few want to read a form. The reason is because they are "cookie cutter." They try to cram everything into organized containers, no matter how much it misfits. Here is an example. Imagine... you are at the dentist filling out the "new patient" form using their new iPad system. You are typing in your address 46577 Pennsylvania Boulevard of the Pines, Apt. 245. There isn't enough space to get it in. You try to abbreviate it. It looks goofy. You don't know how to proceed. You look around for a comments section where you can at least explain. There is none. You sigh.


Also, forms are filled with extra questions that have nothing to do with the specific project. They are designed to be an all inclusive questionnaire for everything. Because of that, there are many boxes or fields that you have to skip or fill in with "not applicable."

After much deliberation, I decided to use the name Compendium. Compendium? What does it mean? Simply put, it is a brief account of a subject, especially an extensive subject. It is a summary. It is an overview. I liked that!

Secondly, the Compendium is all new because it is structured upon a completely different foundation. It is not in a form format. It is in an openly structured report format. This way, it can be a thorough presentation of the facts by the surveyor without the limits of predetermined spaces and fields. The surveyor has complete control to list and describe what is important.

To stay organized, the Compendium is built on an outline of talking points. Only the points that are relevant to the job will be enumerated. All the irrelevant points are left out. For example, if the job site is cooled with a package RTU, there will be no mention of other systems that simply are not there and would otherwise confuse the reader.

Lastly, and most importantly, the Compendium is "all new" because it can have links. For example, a client reading about roof damage can click from the Compendium to the photo (to see it), then to the photo map (to locate it), and back to the Compendium in just a matter of a few seconds.

Why do you add arrows and comments to some photos?

Buss Duct Many of my photos are above the ceiling... of beams, pipes and ducts. Some of these may be very important to the client and need to be brought to their attention. With these photos, I load them into PhotoShop and add arrows and comments directly on the photo.

My favorite improvement over the traditional photo album is the space I created for additional comments directly under the photos. It always frustrated me to know information that I wanted the client to have but our album was not set up to allow that. For instance, if I take photos of an important mall fiber optic room that is a distance away from my space, I can put a comment under the photos telling about the room's location and its significance. (i.e. This is the nearest fiber optic cable source. It is in the mall electric closet E201 that is near Sears on the second level. It is approximately 800' away.) Fiber Optic Room

Small improvements like this are a huge help to the client. It helps them to quickly understand everything that is existing so that they can move on to their own job which is to create something new!

Do you furnish videos?

Yes, we typically furnish video starting from the rear service door of the space and traveling down the corridor to the truck service area. Additional videos are no trouble. We tag them on the photo map just like the photos. Click on the video tags and go directly to the videos. Let us know what you want and consider it done.

What is the file size of a typical Project Album?

It depends on what the client desires. We can reduce the photos and videos to a low resolution to keep the file size down, but if we do that, there will not be much opportunity to zoom in on a photo for more detail. In that case, the file size for a 7500 square foot retail space may be 150 MB to 170 MB. That would be comparable to 3 or 4 music albums. Download time could vary from a couple of minutes to ten minutes depending on the speed of the Internet connection.

I recommend going with the higher resolution photos and videos for the zooming capabilities. In that case, the file size for a 7500 square foot retail space may be 350 MB to 425 MB. Download time could vary from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. In this day when Internet connection speeds are getting faster and faster, this is usually not too large to be an inconvenience. The great thing is having the entire survey in one file on your iPad and being able to zoom in on any photo for more detail!

Why do you take photos at the beginning of the survey?

In my early years of surveying, the system was to take photos at the end of the survey on the last day on the job. This is the way I was trained by my peers, and the way I did it. Then I had an experience that changed my system forever.

I arrived at a retail store to survey, and I had absolutely no drawings in hand. As it turned out, the store was filled with curved walls and a very difficult layout. It was going to be a nightmare to draw 100% from scratch. I desperately needed some existing drawings. I looked all over the stockroom hoping to find some, but I had no luck. I asked the store manager and still no luck. I was disappointed to say the least. Nevertheless, the job had to be done, so I rolled up my sleeves and went to work.

Photo Hiding On DeckOn the third day, I was wrapping it up and got out my camera and started taking the hundreds of photos that were to be part of the survey photo album. When I got to the stockroom, I decided I needed some good photos above the plywood deck over the bathroom. I got out the stepladder, climbed up with my camera and began shooting. Guess what I saw. You got it! There in partial view was the end of a roll of plans. I opened them up and saw a beautiful set of drawings.

As I pondered what had just happened, I realized that photo taking is a deeper visual inspection of the premises than my initial walk-around. Often times, it is during the photo taking that I find a hidden water meter in the corner of the bathroom behind boxes or the huge roof drain in the rear corner of the stockroom that is obscured by the employee lockers.

I discovered that taking photos at the beginning of the job helped me to spot many important things up front so I could have time to get them in the survey before the last minute when I had a plane to catch.

What kind of camera do you use?

I use a good quality digital SLR like professional photographers use. My current one is the Canon EOS Rebel T2i. It is an 18 mega-pixel camera which means that my clients can zoom in on our photos and still get good detail.

Surveyor Camera It is also very handy for taking photos of my field notes for back up before traveling back home with them or sending them back by FedEx. The quality is so good that they almost appear to be scanned in.

With a digital SLR, I can use different lenses. For instance, my zoom is handy for reaching up to the top of a tall building for some window detail. The additional manual controls are handy for making adjustments in a difficult lighting situation.

Who is the chick in the photo?

JulieThat is Julie, my oldest daughter. She is a licensed interior designer in Texas, and sometimes I can get her to help me on larger projects.