Unique in its ability to capture the tangible, breathing, ever-changing manifestation of an architect’s design ideas, architectural photography often even captures much that exceeds the scope of what the architect thought possible; as buildings morph and wear through time and tide and users alike.
The nature of photography also allows for it to encapsulate the essence of its subjects in real-time, in conjunction with the contextual ecosystem. One can observe the movement of a cat across the roof, the shade of an overgrown tree on a bench while obstructing a window, the intensity of the sunlight on a windowpane, the juxtaposition of new stalls on a relatively old street corner, all in a single frame.
As architects, we tend to focus on only a handful of things that we can control and often lose sight of the elements we cannot. It is thus vital that we study and use architecture photography along with architectural journalism to understand the discipline in its entirety.
During the five years, students study a myriad of buildings through live case studies, documentation, and most of all through architecture journalism and photography. Only with the help of photography can one piece together the storyboard of the building and begin to understand the design ecosystem. It thus becomes imperative that students study photographic documentation along with graphical representation.
This medium of documentation can be used to better observe the textures used on the subject matter, the layers of the weathered building skin, overlapping timelines of the captured built fabric, and the changing chroma of the built elements.
Photography also helps to have a comparative analysis of the movement patterns of humans and animals alike; within, through, and around the built. Photographing the built environments at regular intervals, over a long period of years can also help us to pinpoint the exact nature of the time-dependent morphology occurring.
To Convey The Architect’s Vision
More often than not professional architects portray their building designs in two ways, abstraction, and architectural drawings. While fellow architects comprehend the drawings, the same can’t be said of non-professionals. It is photography, specifically architectural photography that not only communicates the architects’ vision but also remains accessible to the masses.
However, as architecture graduates, we lack the skill-set to capture the many design decisions across a wide spectrum in a single frame. While drawings and architectural writing capture design ideas, architectural photography better captures the materiality and the physical manifestation of the said ideas.
After construction and completion of the built project architects often hire photographers to make the spaces look appealing and warm to prospective buyers. Our graduate syllabus tends to not cover many architect-client-related skills, namely; pitching an idea, negotiating with contractors, and marketing and sale of the project. Post-production becomes specifically important in real estate and commercial architecture projects.
With the advent of social media that heavily relies on well-curated imagery becoming a center of modern marketing, architectural photography plays a vital role. The architects who lack the skill or appreciation thereof of architectural photography often rely on digitally generated 3D renders which apart from being a synthetic construct also present a warped perspective of reality to the viewers.
Relationship Between Architecture and Photography
Architecture and visual photography both have certain commonalities. This comes mainly from the fact that both disciplines have a strong visual component. One of these common principles is that of forced perspective. In the practice of photography, the principle is also known as lens compression. It hinges on the relationship between that subject and background based on focus and perceived distance between the two.
While this is used mainly for portrait photography today, its use harks back to old Hollywood movies too which used the same principle in videography for a character-emphasized angle in storytelling. In architecture, this principle finds use today, but more notably in the vast monuments of the past, dating as far back as the Greek empire where master builders used these principles to achieve perfect perceived symmetry. Tall vertical columns were built at an angle, not perpendicular to the ground, precisely so that their carefully calculated inclination would appear perpendicular to the human eye.
Certain Greek monuments also used columns tapering towards the bottom, so that the broadening tops balanced out for the perspective distortion of the human eye. There, therefore, exists a very real potential to develop and curate architecture and architectural photography courses in educational institutes as overlapping fields of study.
The Users’ Perspective
All media of architectural representation except for architectural photography takes away the human from the equation. An abstract representation of humans, a ploy most commonly used to convey the scale of the project, diminishes the human interface to only a size component.
The representations are often sections, plans, and birds-eye views used to only convey the design in the best possible way, all of which lack one thing; the human perspective. When you take a picture from within a building, you are adding the human back into the equation, you are offering something that is beyond the scope of other media of representation.