A majority of the architectural projects seen in books, magazines, blogs, or social media are known by their visual representation. The purpose of architectural photographs is decisive to epitomise the concept proposed for the eyes of the beholder and the ways to entice them to contemplate the art by teleporting them from one place to another.

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Low angle shot of building at Toronto.  Photo credits @Justin Main.

The context in photography can be significant, and architectural photography is no exception to the rule. From slant lines becoming straight to finding the right fall of light, the role of the Architectural Photographer is not to take pictures instead make them. The impact of the surrounding environment on the space, which reforms the framework at different times of the day, creates some limitless opportunities to seize. They require additional skills and techniques to identify settings for knowing where and when to find the shots and perspective control showcasing the entire space.

Architectural photography is unrestricted to building exteriors or urban space; the interiors are vital as well. In all the photographs, the space created remains paramount; people and props remain as props; they bring life into the picture and put the viewer into their shoes.

Looking into the past, one can discover the close relationship between architecture and photography. Many modern architects used it to promote architecture, dating back to the early 19th century. Throughout the history of photography, architectural structures have been highly valued as subjects of projection from Stonehenge to pyramids to churches, mirroring society’s appreciation towards architecture and its cultural significance.

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Kerabat mosque in Cairo (1843) by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey. Photo credits @BnF

Bygone is not gone; instead, it stays as a memory. 

Since the renaissance era, many artists have searched for a mechanical method of capturing visual scenes, where a camera’s optical rendition of a three-dimensional natural setting to a flat arrangement. During the 1830s, William Talbot and J.L.M. Daguerre did outset the concept of Architecture Photography.

The Camera obscura or Daguerreotype was among the first photographic methods invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839. It would manually trace the scene or use it as an optical image to solve problems of perspective approach and parallax or elevation approach. 

Amongst the first known architecture photographs of an urban scene is an image of Paris’ Boulevard du Temple taken by Daguerre. The photo required a long exposure which lasted several minutes that rendered the traffic invisible though the buildings are reproduced in great detail, becoming the primary focus. 

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Paris’  Boulevard du Temple (1839).Photo by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. Photo credits @photowiz.in

Joseph-Philibert Prangey was the first architectural photographer who started to take photographs with daguerreotype cameras in early 1841. His photos have contributed to the study of architecture and archaeology of several important Pragueingslike the Parthenon, Hagia Sophia and Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In 1842, he set out for an epic adventure across Europe and the Middle East with a hundred-pound custom photographic equipment. He returned with over a thousand photographic plates, including the first surviving daguerreotypes made in Greece, Egypt, Anatolia, Palestine and Syria.

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North and East Sides of the Parthenon (1842). Photo by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey. Photo credits @greekreporter.com

An American architectural photographer Julius Shulman is well known for his style of photography, where he introduced the human scale within the frame, taking the capture to a different dimension which was also aesthetically pleasing. His works for architect Frank Llyod Wright’s structures and the “Case Study House #22, Los Angeles, 1960 designed by architect Pierre Koenig, are worth seeing. In his own words: “I’m a merchandiser, I am merchandising architecture”, summing up his approach towards architectural photography. 

One may find that the way humans use space or buildings and their surroundings changes depending upon the time of the day. Including them does create a different perspective; after all, architecture exists because of humans – for people, by people.

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Julius Shulman photographing Case Study House no. 22, West Hollywood, 1960. Photo credits @ Julius Shulman photography archive. The Getty Research Institute, 2004.R.10

In the 19th century, photography was an invisible yet ongoing history of image manipulation and physical alterations which radically changed the considerations during modern practices. Beatriz Colomina and Jean‐Louis Cohen have written about Le Corbusier’s alterations of photographs that supported his theories and about his understanding of the printed media as “a new context of production, existing in parallel with the construction site”. 

Similar considerations apply to Mies Van der Rohe’s early photomontages, perfect camouflages to visible manual alterations, where his signature style prevails over the mimetic qualities of the photograph. He cut pasted photographic reproduction and drawings of a projected glass sky-scraper (1921-1922) and the Adam Department store (1928-1929) onto the existing urban texture of Friedrichstrasse, Berlin, to build realistic, yet unrealised kind of graphic projects.

While photography developed during the mid 20th century, the purpose of photography shifted from just documenting to marketing.

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Skyscraper transparent photomontage by Mies Vander Rohe. Photo credits @ Archdaily

Today to a bit of Tomorrow. 

The relation between architecture and photography is an interconnected, interdisciplinary approach considering that production and media propagation entail two different co-dependent authorships. Such contested authorship has reached a complete turn with the post-modern or contemporary practices and introduced the architects to think photographically, directing the design towards the ability of masses, materials and spaces, transforming the endless process of spatial tectonics into a spectacular wonder.

The marriage between architecture and photography is captivating for numerous reasons; as a direct imprint of the constructed world or as a mechanical drawing of the vision, it accentuates the ideology of the photograph crafted towards a particular communicative goal. 

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Detail of a curved building. Photo credits @ Pinterest

Architectural photographers use different techniques, and some of them are the same recurring from the very beginning. These days, there are various photography lenses, like prime lenses that offer sharp images with less distortion. In contrast, zoom lenses help capture close views of some features that would otherwise be hard to reach. Tilt-shift lens is gaining popularity as it helps to avoid convergence of perspective, also helps to create miniaturisation effect adding some oomph character to the photographs. Shooting with a long exposure blurs the humans around that emphasise the timelessness of buildings, with the structure sitting still while the blurred people convey the movement of the crowds.

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Tilt-shift picture of Prague buildings. Photo credits @ Jaromir Kavan.

Beyond just lines, curves, symmetry and shape, architectural photography communicates a great deal about a setting, specific technique, and even guessing the structure’s location. Earlier it was challenging to take a shot during cloudy skies, snowfall or rain-soaked surfaces; photographers preferred the sun for shades and shadows. Although, with the help of technology, these different conditions add a dramatic effect and ultimately uplifts the photographs’ mood.

During the covid-19 pandemic, most professionals transitioned to remote working, creating sudden limitations to the business of architectural photography, which intrinsically relies on the physical interaction with the space. Now, as things get back to normal, they have created a set of parameters to avoid human interactions and maintain safety. Photographer Ema Peter started doing exterior shots that do not require getting into the building or requesting the owners not be on-site while they shoot.

Similarly, photographer Neal Johnson states in an interview with Alexander Walter at archinect.com: “Less and less human contact will be the norm now in architectural photography”.

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Empty city street-cities seen in COVID Pandemic world.  Photo credits @intheblack.

With this hard pause and its after-effects, it’s a chance to think creativelyhttps://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com/architects-lounge/a1799-places-to-visit-in-central-vietnam-for-the-travelling-architect/, restructure the thoughts, and regroup the frames; maintaining the essence of photography is what it is all about. 

Is it fruitful as a career?

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Careers you can pursue beside architecture.  Photo credits @Arch20.

A professional photographer does capture the canvas painted; however, as architects know the importance of the lines & shapes, it elevates itself distinctively when an architect pursues the skill of photography. While photographing buildings and places worldwide is the most common hobby, that doesn’t mean there aren’t careers in this field. The field may be small, although it is a specialised one.

With most advertising or promotion happening online, architects, designers, institutions, hospitality, tours & travels, and real estate builders require quality pictures to help get clients to the door. They need images to showcase their work over websites or portfolios, illustrating their quality and versatility. How many have booked hotels or Airbnb seeing the pictures? These days mostly all.

Builders need pictures to sell their inventories; students need photographs to learn about the structure through slides or illustrations; fine art and architectural shots sold at art galleries and over digital media like Shutterstock, stock photos, various other online portals. As always said – if one wants to learn something, refer to an old book. 

Poor quality images reflect the identity itself, whether business or the designer. People subconsciously associate bad photos as inferior quality of business or design, demeaning the reputation and marketing, despite having purposeful emotions or artistic touch. Software like Photoshop, Lightroom or filters helps tweak until they look tending to reality as they did with the naked eye. All this does create demand for trained or well-seasoned architectural photographers. All started as freelancers, and now many of them have their firm and hire professionals. Many universities offer architectural photography courses online or at schools; several free resources are available as tutorials.

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Picture 11: Before shot to after tweak. Photo credits @Pete Sieger

Eventually, it’s about vitamin M.

Architectural photography is all about getting to know the building or the space inside it, around it, an immersive experience possible to interpret the project and convey the unique story through a visual medium. However, there is a difference between architectural photography to sell and the one focus to capture the aesthetic intention in a unique way. It may appear simple though it is a challenging job, and that’s what the photographers are paid for, the best that they can extract from the rest.

Most architectural photographers do not draw a yearly salary or work full-time; moreover, they get hired project-wise. The amount one charges also depends upon where they live and even the basis of the clientele. At times, they charge a flat rate to deliver the folder of building or interior images, or they charge as per visit and then offer a package for several rendered images. It all depends upon the time they need to invest in planning, shooting, complete post-prediction; every photographer charges differently.

With an image-obsessed society, images are automatically registered and processed in the brain with extremely short attention spans. From pictures to walkthroughs, videos to reels, a story is told every step of the way. The before & after pictures we see helps relate how a space is transformed, building a desire of emotion within.

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Master of Visual Narrative Through Light and Shadow by Ema Peter Photo credits @ Archinet.

What is it really that an architectural photographer wants to accomplish through their captures? Are they to document the architecture through visuals or to showcase the immaterial features, frames of events, or are they responsible for creating a particular atmosphere to provoke feelings? Whether the demand increases or decreases in subsequent times, that time will tell; however, the importance of experiencing the emotion will not diminish. 

As author Napoleon Hill explains in his book Think and Grow Rich: if there is desire, then interest can never fade.

References

https://buildingandinteriors.com/architectural-photography-intersecting-photography-with-architecture/

https://archinect.com/news/article/150144301/the-first-architecture-photography

https://www.mwestphoto.com/blog/how-architecture-photography-evolved-a-brief-history-and-how-it-affects-the-images-we-see-everyday

https://www.shupestudios.com/blog/2019/6/6/what-is-architectural-photography 

Author

With a practice background of over a decade & founder of NJ Archstud/o, her quest is to explore & believe in being a lifelong student as education in architecture never ends, rather always begins. She is constantly working to inculcate the extensive journey behind any design to reach people through words.

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