The Architecture Shooters
What The Pros Know

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, right?

Actually, it's one of the most demanding. Everything has to look just so, and that calls for expertise, experience, and some pretty capable, sophisticated equipment.

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 And Dimension
"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 balance.

"It's tough stuff to do, but the good guys get paid very well for doing it."

Jim DiMauro: Come Right In
"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 different.
"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 even movement.

"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."