Insights on Architectural Photography
Photographing architecture can mean many things: capturing a dramatic space for a magazine spread, shooting a flattering view of a room for a real estate advertisement, or just taking photos of interesting structures that you encounter in your travels.
In each case, your goal is to make the building or room look its best through a combination of composition and lighting. You might also use props or do some furniture arranging to make a photo work better. And for exteriors, you might time your shot for a specific time of day to best capture the building's design.
In this course, photographer Richard Klein discusses the art and science of photographing architecture, from interiors to exteriors and from small houses to skyscrapers.
Approaches for planning exterior and interior photos
- Hi, I'm Jim Heid from Lynda.com. I'm visiting with Richard Klein today and we're going to talk about architectural photography. Richard Klein is a commercial photographer and educator based in Dallas, Texas. Since 1981, he's specialized in architectural photography and has photographed residential and commercial locations around the world. Richard, welcome. - Thank you, Jim. - Richard, what has drawn you to photographing what I've heard you call "the built environment"? - Well, I've always been really fascinated with our perceptive systems as a human being in using binocular vision and spatial location to navigate through the landscape.
And architecture gives me that opportunity to take a three-dimensional space, collapse it into a 2D picture plane, and then put depth back into that image again so that I can feel what it felt like to be in the space. And I find that endlessly fascinating. - So how do you approach a space, a building, whether it's an interior or an exterior, with an eye toward photographing it? - Well, the first thing I like to do on any space is take a walk-through.
And if I'm on the exterior of the building, I like to walk 360 degrees around the space as much as I can to see it from every angle. And then I also like to consider what the sun is going to be doing and how it's going to be lighting the space, and then also the context around it, because the context is really important for exteriors. No building exists by itself. There's always a landscape or a cityscape or something around it. Many times the architect will either conflict with the surrounding area or they'll harmonize with the surrounding area.
So I'm looking for that. I'm looking to see how the architect placed the style of the building relative to its surrounding cause that'll tell me whether I'm going to use a lot of that surrounding or I'm going to isolate the building itself. And I also look to see if the building has a silhouette that is really exciting or beautiful or somehow unusual. And if there's a silhouette, that typically means that a particular angle is going to be more interesting than another angle. And hopefully, the angle that I really like is also going to work with the sun.
And of course, that has to do with time of year. You know, the sun changes its track through the sky, depending on the time of year as well as during the time of day. So I tend to look at the tracking of the sun to try to figure out where it's gonna be while I'm going my walk-through. I'm looking for that silhouette. I'm looking for the context to really tell how much of the building or how I'm going to handle photographing the building. And then after I get that done, I start looking for really dramatic, graphic shapes cause working with exteriors, I'm really thinking in terms of what are the shapes here and how do the shapes relate to each other, and is there a way I can place the camera, choose a lens that really enhances that particular shape or makes some sort of stylistic statement on my part about that shape.
So I look for those things and then choose the time of day that I'm gonna shoot the space. - And how does that process of getting to know a space apply to interiors? - Well, with interiors, I use a very different approach than exteriors. So with the interiors, what I'm really trying to do is get an emotional response to the space that I'm in and then I think about how I can put that emotional response into the image. So, I really like to hang out for a minute and get a sense of the space.
And many times, you know, sometimes we're talking about a small, intimate space with details. Other times we're talking about massively-scaled volume and light. And it really will, my response depends on what the space really is. And it's really an esoteric thing to talk about, about trying to imbue an image with that sort of non-verbal information that the viewer can get from it. But that's my goal. That's what I'm really working on.
- So what do you mean by an emotional response? Do you mean, this little cottage makes me feel cosy or it gives me an intimate feel, or this large space makes me feel small or ties me to the exterior? What do you mean by an emotional response? - Well, pretty much what you were just saying. We evolved in caves and in tight, small spaces. And people tend, at night, to want to hide and be protected. Right? So we have this innate desire to be sheltered, and a small, intimate space does just that.
It shelters us. It makes us feel like we're contained and that we're not vulnerable. A larger space removes that. Because when a space gets big enough that it begins to feel like an exterior space, then we're no longer safe in that space. I mean, we are, obviously. We're in a civilized society. But my point is that we're hard-wired back to the reptilian brain to not feel safe in that space, as safe as we would be feeling in a small, contained area.
Right? So in the large space, then we've got other things to rely upon. So, many times it's going to be a question of in the photograph, of using texture. Soft textures are gonna absorb that sound. They're gonna feel comfortable to the touch. They're gonna remind me of my blanket when I was a little kid. Right? So I'm gonna feel more comfortable when I see that as opposed to hard surfaces. But hard surfaces are gonna be really graphic.
They're gonna make stylistic comments by their shape, so they're also important. But I've gotta just be sensitive to whatever's there and then work with that, all again, with the idea of trying to get that in the image. - So as you explore a space to try to get that emotional response that you know you then want to convey in a photograph, what are you looking for as part of that walk-through? - Well, when I'm doing a walk-through, I'm really looking to see, once I have a general understanding of what the room is, then I'm starting to look for details.
And in some cases they'll be structural details that I really want to be sure to convey. Some cases it'll be surfaces. Some cases it'll be objects in the room, again, talking interiors. So, and I always take a mental inventory. And I always find, I can't walk into a room, no matter where it is, and not start making a shot list in my head and start looking for objects. I make this mental inventory of things. For me, what I'll end up doing is when I place the camera, I place the camera for the background.
I put the camera so I can see what I want to see in the room. And then it's a question of arranging the foreground. Many times, objects might come from another room or another place to be placed into the shot. So I'm always making that mental inventory. And if there's a lot of stuff, if it's a really big commercial space, then I'll actually document that stuff with a camera so that I can keep an inventory of what we have available. Cause many times we'll get to a particular place. Everything will be set. We'll be ready to go. And I'll look down and go, "Oh my God, we really need something in the foreground.
"You know, on that table, we have something on the table. "What would be appropriate for that table "given the style of the room?" So then we go to the inventory, whether mental or in the camera, just to take a look to come up with something that can go there. Many times, I'm working with stylists and other crew members who can help me with that. And they'll make suggestions and we'll try some different things. I've got, some stylists will create floral displays just right there in the room at the moment, just to solve a particular problem.
We might be trying to hide something, and we need a flower to block a cosmetic flaw in the wall or some other issues like that. Or it just might be that we just need the crowning touch. We just need that last little bit in order to make the shot really sing.
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