Arnold Newman once said, “Architectural photography is 1% talent and 99% moving furniture.” I certainly don’t disagree with the part about moving furniture.
I define architectural photography as the capturing of places and spaces. An architect, a designer and a builder have spent a tremendous amount of time living and breathing that space. They have conceptualized it, drawn it, redrawn it and built it. They have put the breadth of their creativity, knowledge, experience and soul into that space and I have been given an opportunity to capture it in the best possible light. If I think about the most fundamental reason why I love architectural photography so much, it would have to be because it provides me with an opportunity to be a perfectionist. And, in some kind of sick way, I enjoy moving furniture.
Architectural photography is different from real estate photography in that it has a different goal in mind and is more nuanced in its approach. Once an architect, a designer or a builder have completed their work on a home, it is typically the last opportunity that they will ever have to visit that space again. They no longer have the access that they need to showcase their work to other potential clients; thus, the need for exceptional images is essential to their portfolio and to their business. As architectural photographers, we put a lot of attention into capturing the light, the lines and the aesthetics of the design. We want to tell a story with each image and that means using light, composition, balance and color in a way that highlights the best features while eliminating distractions.
People use architecture and so it is natural to sometimes incorporate people into architectural photographs. You can have the person slightly blurry to add a dynamic element to a photograph or you can utilize the way that they are dressed to complement the aesthetic of the space. Incorporating a person into architectural photographs is also a great way to establish scale. We all intuitively know the size of a water bottle or the size of a person and so this is an easy way to give visual hints about the dimensions and functionality of a space.
As architectural photographers, we look to keep images clean and simple and to avoid unnecessary elements. This allows the architecture to be the focal point. One of the best things a client can do prior to an architectural photoshoot is to de-clutter.
My lighting assistant and I bring a case of spare lightbulbs to every shoot as well as a steamer to press out wrinkles from drapes, bed sheets, etc. Of course the more that a client has paid attention to these details before a shoot, the more efficient the process will be.
As an architectural photographer, one thing I love to see is when an architect has put a lot of attention into light – both through window placement to take advantage of the sun at different times throughout the year, and also through installed artificial lighting. Lighting design really helps to create mood and depth and this attention to light is always glaringly apparent to an architectural photographer.
A lot of time is put not only into the photoshoot but also into the editing. I have a general rule of thumb that for every hour I am on set, I am two hours in the computer. In a half day shoot, most clients working with an experienced architectural photographer should plan to end up with roughly ten retouched images, depending upon the complexity of the space. Another thing to keep in mind is the option for cost-sharing. When you hire an architectural photographer, it is almost universally the case that you are the only company that can use those images; however, there is an opportunity to pay a little extra in licensing and to then share those costs and images with other companies (ie; the cabinet installer, the hardwood flooring company, the interior designer, etc). This can be a great opportunity for architects, designers and builders to substantially reduce the cost of their photoshoots.
When an architectural photographer comes into your next project to capture photographs of your work, please don’t be alarmed when we setup our cameras and proceed to spend 99% of our time moving furniture. It’s standard practice for us perfectionists.