Architectural photography: turning challenges into opportunities
With lockdown conditions easing, the POWE team took the opportunity to take a break from the home office to finally breathe some fresh air, hit the road for a snappy tour and photograph some recently completed projects. Armed with a wide-angle lens, zoom lens and tripod, I shot the subject projects varied in scope, size and type, ranging from a childcare centre, retail centres and service centres.
Arriving on-site, the first step is to explore the subject being photographed. This allows you to investigate the opportunities the architecture and the site present. It also allows you to understand how light interacts with space and plan the shoot, mentally sketching out the suite of shots in your mind. An active site may also be busy and we may need to work around pedestrian and vehicle traffic and other active hazards.
Seeing with your camera’s eyes
The one thing that is often out of our control is also the most crucial in architectural photography; lighting. Without ideal lighting or weather conditions to emphasise the structure, space or atmosphere, images may appear flat, washed-out or even lifeless.
During the week the POWE team was snapping away, we were quite fortunate with mostly clear skies or dramatic clouds. Naturally, however, beautiful clear skies and abundance of natural light can present other challenges.
When photographing in very bright sunny conditions, lighting can become very harsh, with naturally illuminated areas becoming overexposed and areas in shadow becoming underexposed. When we see this in real-time, our eyes and our brains naturally adjust to and compensate for these conditions.
Trying to compromise between harsh bright light and deep shade with your camera alone is challenging to find the right balance between over and underexposure.
This is where exposure blending in post-processing software comes into play.
Snap with contrast & balance
Exposure blending allows you to refine the tonal contrast of the image, retaining the details of objects and spaces in shadow, without washing out surfaces exposed to natural light.
An example where this technique is helpful would be retaining the lighting and signage details of commercial shopfronts under awnings, without the sky being overexposed or ‘blown out’, appearing flat white, rather than blue. A greater dynamic range of light is typically achieved with post-processing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom.
A Vertical Perspective
Another challenge, particularly with architectural photography, is working with vertical perspective. Like exposure balance, our eyes typically adjust what we see in real-time so that we tend not to notice the distortion of vertical perspective. Some photographers choose to embrace the converge of parallel lines, and this can be used to excellent dynamic effect.
Often, vertical perspective is less problematic on smaller buildings or projects, or where the camera is positioned at a distance from the subject site. However, for some of the projects we shot, vertical perspective presented a significant challenge for entry canopies of the larger retail centres. This can be corrected while photographing on-site utilising tilt-shift lenses.
Nevertheless, if you can’t afford the luxury (or baggage!) of an extensive collection of highly specialised lenses, we can utilise post-processing software to handle small amounts of perspective correction. It is crucial, however, that when we utilise post-processing software, that the final images stay true to what was captured on-site and doesn’t try to suggest that the architecture is something it is not.
While architectural photography can prove to be challenging, learning how to turn those challenges into opportunities and overcome issues of false perspective or bad lighting, results in images that can be invaluable for a practice. Architectural photography can showcase the creativity and knowledge of the architects through a plethora of formats, on a variety of platforms. However these images don’t just benefit the architect, they showcase a product or outcome that a client may want to achieve, or inspire potential users to travel to the place and enjoy it for themselves.