Luxury Residential Photography: Custom Home in Desert Mountain

It’s not often that you get to do what you really love for a living, and working with clients that are always a pleasure, and home owners who are as welcoming as though you were already friends. Last week I got to experience exactly that. I was co-commissioned by Brissette Architects Inc. and RS Homes, both in Scottsdale, to create images of a home they designed and built, with the intent of being used for a magazine article, a national design award submittal, and the builders portfolio.

Working for this team is an honor because the architects are multiple award recipients for their design work, including the categories such as “Best in American Living”, “Custom Home of the Year under $2.5m” and “Best Custom Home under 5,000 s.f.”, to name a few. The builder has the distinction of “Custom Home of the Year” award multiple times as well as others. If you’ve been in the Scottsdale or Paradise Valley area, and seen the thousands of the multi-million dollar homes, you’ll understand this says quite a bit to each of their talents. As an aside, and from a personal level, I can tell you their attention to design and detail in completed product were outstanding.

This shoot required (as do many luxury shoots) a scouting trip about a week before, to completely understand the nuances of the home, the architect’s creative intent, meet the owners, preview the site, access the possible staging work required, and see what views and lighting are available (which by the way, spanned almost 180 degrees; across Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Glendale, and all the way to Surprise!)

custom home photography desert mountain scottsdale arizonaThe idea was to incorporate not only interior shots, but show the relationship of interiors to exteriors with city views, and a few detail shots that could be used by some of the subcontractors and suppliers of materials during the construction phase. The home is located in an area northeast of Phoenix about 25 miles known as Desert Mountain, which was brilliantly developed by Lyle Anderson many years ago. I was very familiar with this community because I built several homes for clients here many moons ago. This particular home sits above most of the community (which is 8,000 acres in size) and the views over the valley are just spectacular. Not to mention, some of the most demanding golf courses in the state (yes, plural, there’s 6 Jack Nicklaus golf courses in Desert Mountain and some listed in America’s 100 greatest golf courses!)
custom home living room, desert mountain, scottsdale, arizona

So you can understand the quality in this community, here’s just a few the awards Desert Mountain has received:

  • Best 100 Golf Shops – Golf World, 2003-2011
  • Top 100 Golf Communities in the United States – Travel & Leisure Golf, 2008 & 2009
  • Top 50 Private Clubs in the US – Golf World Magazine, 2008
  • Best for Golf – Top 26 Premier Properties – Links Magazine, 2008
  • Top 25 Golf Community Diamond Award Winner – Luxury Golf & Travel Magazine, 2008
  • Best of the Best, World’s Best Golf Community – Robb Report, 2000

I arrived the day of the shoot at approximately 2 o’clock in the afternoon and was greeted by the homeowners who announced they would be leaving for the day and allowed me complete control of shooting their home until they arrived that evening. It’s always nice when the owners are some of the most delightful people you’ve ever met, and playfully joked while I was lugging my gear in “so, you look like you’re moving in”!luxury living room, desert mountain, scottsdale, az

One of the beautiful things about shooting this particular home was that the owners had a true sense and appreciation for simplicity with their interior design, and how the home lives on the site. Sometimes in a high-end luxury shoot a you can find yourself more of a “furniture mover” during the session [than a photographer], needing to rearrange furniture, pillows, and other accessories to provide a backdrop for clean images. It was a sigh of relief to see that this home would require very little of that.
custom home pool at sunset, desert mountain

Because the views can actually be distracting, I made sure to pre-plan the entire shot list on a pdf floor plan the architect had provided me. This way I could work my way through the home based on where the sun would be. As an example, the afternoon was scheduled for shooting a lot of the interior details while the sun was the most harsh above but reflecting the light into the rooms like a giant soft box . This allowed me to use a lot of natural daylight while shooting.luxury kitchen, desert mountain, scottsdale, arizona

As the late afternoon approached I had to keep an eye on where the sun because when the sun sets in the desert, it happens REALLY fast! The difficulty was two-fold; even after 30 years here I can never stop looking at how beautiful the sunset is, and with views like this I could have shot almost every part of the home at this time. I had to pick the most important shots, and make sure I got those done first. These included the living area and looking through the kitchen, and master bedroom with the outside glow of the spa. I only wish I could have incorporated the golf courses below, but they were beyond the available light of the setting sun, and a bit too far away to capture in detail even during the daytime.
custom home master bedroom, desert mountain, scottsdale, az

Having not seen the pool lighting on at night yet, before the owner left he showed me the remote control to turn that and the exterior lights on. I first turned them on (about 30 minutes before dusk) but I could barely see the lights in the water. I actually had to bend over the edge of the pool make sure they were even on. I was concerned that the lighting in the pool, which I’d hoped to use as an emphasis within several images, may not put off the brilliant glow that I was hoping for. As you’ll see in the images, my concern was unfounded. The images showing dusk, the city lights and the blues of the horizon and pool were not color corrected. They are the actual blue that I was witnessing while shooting. Could I be this lucky? Yes I was, this time.

The lighting was so dramatic I found myself just staring at it, of course not for too long because I had images I had to get. The entire shoot lasted approximately 5 1/2 hours.

I used three different lenses throughout the shoot, a tilt-shift 17 mm, an 11 to 16 mm F2 .8, and a 24-105 for some details. Shot primarily in manual mode, with some requiring lighting bounced off the ceilings to brighten up some of the shadow areas.

Shooting luxury residential, interiors, golf courses, and architecture in Arizona is like nothing else. With my background in design, building and golf, I have a real appreciation for what architects, builders, owners, and interior designers do to complete the luxury home process. It’s an art, just like photography, and this team really put together a masterpiece!

As always, I welcome your comments or questions!

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