I mean, how hard can it be?
The subjects don't move. They pose patiently and endlessly. They
show up when they're supposed to and will pretty much give you
the same look today that they gave yesterday. Architectural photography
has got to be one of the easier, more pleasant pursuits of the pro shooter,
Actually, it's one of the most demanding. Everything has to look
just so, and that calls for expertise, experience, and some pretty capable,
Here's what we found out when we talked with five pro shooters
who either specialize in architecture or have added it to their list
of services and accomplishments.
Steve Gottlieb: Light And Lines
"Exteriors are relatively straightforward: they're all about
having the right equipment, achieving good composition, and knowing
where the sun is going to be.
"When I get an assignment, as a general rule I'll have seen
some kind of picture of the building, or at least a rendering. I'll
know which way north is, and I'll know what's the best time
to scout the building. I'll always take my equipment because very
often the time I pick for scouting turns out to be the right time for
taking the photographs; so if the conditions are good, the scout turns
into the shoot.
"You want the sun on some part of the building, preferably the
dominant facade; you don't want it equally on the dominant and
secondary facade because you lose definition.
"Outdoors or in, you can get exemplary results with 35mm as long
as you have a PC lens--it's necessary if you want your parallel
lines looking parallel, and for any kind of serious architecture you
really have to get that. You can make exceptions to the rule for dramatic
effect, but first you've got to have the rule covered; clients
want to see the lines straight. And you need a focal length that'll
allow you to get the whole building in. Sometimes with a 35mm PC lens
on the camera, you won't be able to get back far enough to get
the whole building in, so there are limitations to the 35mm focal length.
"Depending on the job I'll use a Cambo view camera with
a 21/4 back, a Mamiya 645, or either of my two Nikons. And I have a
piece of equipment called a Zork adapter, made by a guy named Zorkendorfer,
who I met at a trade show. With this adapter, I can take one kind of
lens and adapt it to another kind of camera, as long as the change is
larger to smaller. So all my Mamiya 645 lenses are adaptable to my Nikon
F3 and FE2; in effect my Mamiya lenses become PC lenses on the Nikons
because the adapter itself moves. It helps when I have to be in a certain
spot at a certain time of day at a precise distance. With this adapter,
I can have, say, an 80mm PC lens for my 35mm camera if I need it.
"But unless you can find Zor-kendorfer, I don't know where
you can get one of them."
Note: An Internet search turned up Zorkendorfer, the adapter master,
at Zorkendorfer Film-und-Fototechnik, Gollierstrasse 70, 80339 Munich,
Germany; phone: +49 89 508568; fax: +49 89 504405.
Fred Maroon: Depth
"You have to have a relationship of the various elements in the
picture that creates a feeling of depth in the room. You don't
want everything to be the same distance from the camera. Get something
that leads you into the picture--it can be something on the floor, like
a design in the carpet; or it may be certain items on the tables to
the left or right. But always look for something that will draw the
viewer into the composition to the center of interest.
"Also, try not to have the lighting be equal on everything. Something
in the foreground should be a half or quarter stop darker; then as you
go deeper into the room, things get progressively brighter. The brightest
point is where the eye ends up. The different degrees of intensity of
light gives you a three-dimensional feel that you just don't get
if everything is equally lit. Generally you don't want the light
coming from behind you. It should be coming from the left or right,
so you get some shape to the things that are in the photograph. I like
the lighting to look more intense on one side than the other. It's
the same as photographing people: you shape them with light.
"But here's the hard part: you have to do the lighting without
getting multiple or overlapping shadows. You want the shadows from one
direction only. One of the things you really have to look out for is
a chandelier: you don't want any shadow of the chain that supports
it, let alone two or three shadows. Sometimes it takes me a whole day
to light a room; it can be two days if the room is big enough.
"Outside, it's the same thing: use lighting to give the
building three-dimensions. You don't want the light coming from
directly behind you. I've shot in all kinds of lighting, morning
to night, and in all kinds of weather, and the key is to study and know
when the light is most flattering to the building. Noon is the worst,
and if the building is facing north, you're in big trouble--sunlight
isn't going to help you. If that's the case, and you have
the liberty, shoot at dusk when the inside lights come on. That way
you trick people into looking at the facade and making it look effective
and dramatic. If the building faces north, I'll try to do a dusk
shot and light the inside so it reads from the outside.
"And the season of the year matters, too. Some buildings are just
no good in the summer--there are too many trees. If you can, shoot them
in the winter and let the bare branches create a pattern on the building
for you. Winter is actually best for a lot of locations."
Steve Sint: Mix Master
"The hardest part of architectural interiors is the light-balancing
act you have to do. Today's designers work with all kinds of lighting--quartz,
tungsten, fluorescent--and they mix and match to use the different properties
of each type of light to give warmth and coolness to a room. The warm
light is for the inviting part of the room; cool light suggests a more
business-like atmosphere. The trouble is, the last person a designer
is thinking about is the photographer who'll have to photograph
that room. Film won't see the room the way the eye does; it goes
crazy. That warm and cool light becomes green and orange to film.
"What I like to do, and one of my most comfortable techniques,
is to separate the light by multiple exposures. I'll put two or
three exposures on a single frame, filtering each one individually.
I'll work with daylight transparency film, put a 40 magenta filter
on my lens, and turn off the incandescents or the tungsten lights. So
I'll turn off, say, the quartz desk lamp in the office and make
an exposure for the fluorescent lighting. Then I'll take the magenta
filter off, re-cock the Hasselblad's shutter, turn on the desk
lamp but turn off the fluorescent lights, and shoot with an 80A or 80B
filter. The idea is to separate the light.
"If there are windows in the room, it's a whole 'nother
game. If I want the windows to blow out, I'll go with daylight
film, shut off the room lights, and make an exposure just for the window
light. If I want to hold some detail outside the window, I'll
take a reading with a spot meter. Because of windows, the best time
for doing interiors of buildings is at night.
"If I need to open up a dark corner of a room, I'll go with
daylight film but no multiple exposures, and whatever filter I use to
even up the fluorescent lighting, I'll put the opposite filtration
on the flash. So if it's a 30 magenta on the lens, it'll
be a 30 green on the flash and I've brought the two lights into
"It's tough stuff to do, but the good guys get paid very
well for doing it."
Jim DiMauro: Come
"I have an engineering background, and that helps me relate on
a certain level to architects. I have not only an eye for design, but
a love for it, which really helps. I can understand to some degree what
the architect wants to say with the design, and, most important, how
he might want it portrayed in photographs.
"One of the things I like to do is bring out and accentuate some
of the design elements that might be missed if the photographs weren't
made in a certain way. I don't like to exaggerate elements, but
I look for camera angles that provide some drama, that really grab you
and draw you in.
"I work with three formats: 4x5, 6x7, and 35mm--but 35mm only
for presentation slides.
"I try to find elements in the scene that are either unique or
something I know the architect intended people to notice. It could be
the ceiling beams in a room, or the lighting design of a place. I especially
like to try and show the lighting fixtures if I know the architect had
a hand in putting them in. Often I add some fill light to the interiors
I do, but I'm careful that it doesn't look like added light.
Designers and architects want the room to look exactly as it looks,
with the light that's there.
"I think you have to look for the best aspects of a room, sure,
but sometimes you have to work within limitations. I made a photograph
of a room at an inn where I couldn't find a way to show the character
of the room from the inside--it was a very small room. In fact, the
door didn't even open all the way--a piece of furniture blocked
it. But as I walked back out, I turned around, and then I thought, hey,
this is the shot right here--looking into the room from the doorway,
inviting you in."
Max Hilaire: The
Essence Of The Design
"For architectural photography, communication and cooperation
are paramount. Communication in the sense of understanding what the
client was trying to do with this structure or this interior. Designers
and architects create projects that can take years to materialize. The
photographer has to analyze their efforts so he can interpret their
design concepts and emphasize their function, form, and characteristics.
I'm animated with the desire to do my best at interpreting the
design of my client through my medium, photography.
"Every picture we take is a form of documentation. It's
the artist's input, his creative treatment, that makes the photograph
"You have to understand lighting, and know that less is more.
You're going to supplement, you're not going to be drastic.
You're filling in for the film, so it can better capture what
is there. We're working in a two-dimensional medium, but when
it's adeptly used, it can convey a feeling of depth, time, or
"You have to be observant, and be prepared. You're analyzing
and interpreting. And you need to see the flaws and discuss how to minimize
them. As a practical matter, I carry with me a tool kit to enable me
to do a little cosmetic repair: paint tubes, a metallic brush to make
sure the carpet is smooth, a Brillo pad to remove scuff marks, things
like that. I have to be alert on the set.
"But the most important thing, before the photography is done,
is the essence of the design. That's what is foremost in my mind.
It's what I'm working to capture. The projects I photograph
become known primarily by magazine coverage, so short of taking clients
and aficionados to the sites, the photograph is the best representation
of that project."