Architectural Photography – What is it?
An introduction to architectural photography and what it entails.
So what is architectural photography? Well it’s pretty much all in the name, the photographing of architecture. But that’s not why you are reading this. You want a bit more than just the obvious, right? Well read on to find out the basics.
What, EXACTLY, is it?
Architectural photography is all about documenting buildings, and any other built structures, using a camera. This can be to create a timeline of the construction of a building, to showcase the final outcome of a building or to document historical monuments.
Unlike some other photography fields, the subject matter is fixed. There is pretty much nothing that you can do to change how a building or structure looks (except for photoshopping it, but we’ll get to that). As photographer it is YOUR responsibility to find innovative views and the best angles that portrays the building. Often your time is spent waiting for the perfect sun position or setting up the camera to perfect a particular shot.
A little bit more…
Architectural photography is usually broken down into 2 sections, each with its own challenges and goals.
Firstly, the exterior of buildings. This part relies heavily on the elements and specifically natural light, or rather the availability there-of. It is impractical to try and light up a building artificially so shots have to be very carefully considered to make the most out of time spent on a shoot. This however have the benefit of presenting opportunities to capture great sunset or night photos . The Exterior photos usually show a building in its context and feature natural elements such as landscaping to create visual interest. Many photographers focus on the design elements on the building such as materials and textures as these are often crucial aspects for architects.
Secondly, is the interior of buildings, or internal architectural photography. Photographing interiors have some pro’s when compared to exteriors. The biggest probably being that you are not fighting the elements. You are able to use supplemental lighting to help brighten up spaces as well as not having to worry about your gear getting wet in the case of rain. Then again, shooting in tight spaces, photographing a room that is overly cluttered or that has become dated with its furnishings can be very tricky.
With the addition of drones a third element: Aerial photography, has become very popular. It is perfect to showcase buildings in different ways as well as offer some more information on surrounds.
Why? And who is the market?
Most photos taken by architectural photographers are intended for commercial use, most likely for architects or developers. These professionals use the photos to showcase their work online and to establish a portfolio of built work which they can then in turn use to get more and new clients. Similarly, real estate agents and building leasing specialists, use architecture photography to market their listings. Also, don’t forget any person trying to sell a home.
The above-mentioned is not the only clients of architectural photographers. Additionally, print media that focus on home designs, trends and products are pretty much packed from cover to cover with architectural photography making them the “dream-journals” of wants for potential home-builders or any person decorating their home. Whilst web-based architectural platforms such as contemporist, archdaily and houzz have become the go sites for architects and designers looking for some design inspiration.
In some ways, the use of it in media has even become synonymous with showcasing great design. In South-Africa, for example, when you refer to “Top-Billing home” you are probably referring to some jaw-dropping design that is the envy of many. (Top Billing was a South African tv show which featured a segment on architecture, usually of a very high level)
Is it difficult?
As already mentioned, most of your time is spent evaluating a scene and trying to find the best angles to photograph a building. However technical know-how is important when it comes to producing high quality images. Apart from the gear, the setup and the do’s & don’ts I believe the most important aspect, and often the most difficult, of architectural photography is to understand your client as well as the purpose of the photography. For some it is crucial that the images produced are true reflections of the building (realtors for example). Whilst some photographers opt to edit out unsightly aspects within a photo in order to showcase a building or structure at its best, this is perfect for portfolios of professionals.
The Final Word.
To sum up, architectural photography is a very fun, rewarding and creative field. It allows you to explore not only your own creative boundaries, but also what is possible within the constraints of the design ad its context. Yes, there are some difficult aspects to it, but seeing a picture come out the way you envisioned is truly remarkable feeling.
About the Author
Reinier Harmse, founder of RH.Photographix, is a registered architectural professional. He is a creative with a wide range of skills including architectural photography, real-estate photography, interior photograph and architectural visualizations.