Behind the Photo Shoot

Creating Images of Architecture

Architects rely on photographic reproductions to build our portfolios. Clearly we can’t carry around actual projects to show off our accomplishments, so after all the hard work implementing our designs, we create still images that must capture the essence of our ideas and the reality of the built space. It’s important to understand who the primary audience will be for these images- it could be for a design magazine spread, for an awards submission, or for prospective clients who want to see what we’ve done in the past that relates to their projects.


Digital Photography Was A Game Changer

The use of digital photography has made an enormous difference in the process of doing a photo shoot. In the good old film days, it was much more time consuming to get each shot. With digital, my photographer has a laptop connected to his camera, so we can see instant results to review and make changes either in the lighting, camera angle, etc. With film, larger format cameras were used (typically 4 x 5, black cloth to block out light and images appeared upside down in the viewfinder) with removable backs for Polaroid exposures. These were the test prints. Various gels were used to balance natural and artificial light, and getting the time exposures of each was a time consuming process. The magic of Photoshop now allows the photographer to splice together different exposures in post production to get the right balance in the lighting.Typically I take “scouting” shots before the photo shoot date to get an idea of images I’d like to photograph, and send these to the photographer in advance. This also give me a chance to think about what props I might want to bring along if any, and mentally plan for what might have to be cleaned up and moved around on the day we photograph. Here’s some examples of my scouting shots next to the final photographs.


Setting Up The Shot

The real time involved in the photo shoot is setting up each view. Since we’re trying to show off the design to it’s best advantage, we clear away much of everyday “clutter” on kitchen and bathroom countertops, straighten out books on shelves, move furniture and place decorative elements in positions that looks right in the camera rather than how they work best in the space. (No one really lives as pristinely as the photos might suggest!) For interior shots, there may be several photographers lights set up to fill in shadows or balance daylight with artificial lighting. The camera sees things very
differently than our eye when perceiving light in the space.For outdoor shots, we try to find the ideal sun exposure. On this shot, it was a mostly cloudy day, so we waited around for a
break in the clouds in order to capture the play of sun and shadow on the building. Note the lounge chairs on the lawn.
They don’t really live there, but we wanted something to fill the void in the photo. A fixed camera position and angle of view requires quite a different consideration than experiencing a space in person.


It’s often a dilemma whether to wait for landscaping to be completed and mature a bit, or final decorating before doing these shoots, but usually I’m anxious to get the new projects onto my web site. “Architectural Digest” wouldn’t publish photos that don’t look lush and complete, but I’m not aiming for that anyway!
Professional photos by Peter Kubilus