Sunday, November 15, 2009

Architectural Photography | Capture Philosophy: On NATURAL LIGHT

I came to professional photography through the back door, after receiving my Master of Architecture degree and spending many years early in my career practicing architecture, planning and design.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a passionate darkroom and landscape photography enthusiast on the side, and wonder now if perhaps years of chasing ever changing Colorado light -- watching the power of natural and ambient light to dramatically change our perception of a landscape depending on its angle, intensity and color -- came to inform my taste for an architectural photography which celebrated that same quality of light.

My vision for how to photograph ARCHITECTURE specifically was sparked after receiving photographs over the years of my firm’s design work, realizing that I had a deep frustration with the way artificial light was being used in photographing architecture and design.

Natural and designed light are critical to our experience of architecture and design intension. Too much artificial light and you end up with staged, “movie still” looking photographs. Granted, traditional photographers were largely bound by limits of the camera in its ability to capture contrast, but the advent of digital has opened new doors to capture in different ways.


Critical to showcasing contrasting elements and the layering of spaces, is the manner in which a lighting scheme is designed to illuminate, reflect and bounce around such materials and spaces.

The manner in which light - both natural and designed - plays within an architectural space is both the greatest potential satisfaction and most painstaking challenge of my work as an architectural photographer. Few photographic subjects test a camera’s limits as interior architectural photography does with its inherent drastic contrast from a subtle interior scene to the bright sunlight pouring in through windows.*

This presents the greatest challenge to a photographer IF and when the intention is to capture a scene the way our eye sees it.

In the days of film capture, a photographer overcame this technical challenge of balancing inside available light with the overpowering intensity of daylight by bringing in often very large amounts of supplemental lighting. If a view out the windows was important to the scene, artificial lighting was an absolute requirement to allow a camera to expose for both internal and external lighting conditions.

TRADITIONALLY, the consequence of obtaining a bright, balanced shot with supplemental lighting was the death of the intended architectural lighting design scheme, all too often distracting shadows of furniture strewn across the floor, and an overall loss of the subtlety of the interaction of contrasting elements, textures and shadow patterns.

With the advent of the digital capture and processing, it is now possible to push the limits of photography in new directions, coming closer than ever to a photograph being able to convey the subtleties of a space AS OUR EYE SEES IT, with all its depth as well as its intended contrasts.
This can now be more closely achieved through a technique of shooting and layering multiple exposures of the same scene under natural and designed architectural lighting conditions.

Different styles are emerging for maximizing and celebrating natural light, from bright sunny interiors with intentionally over-exposed windows, to overt High Dynamic Range photography, where edges are punched and often exaggerated for dramatic artistic effect (a method which can be incredibly compelling, but in most cases, not necessarily the most appropriate method, if the goal is to represent the architecture on its own merit).

In my work, the desired end effect is a natural looking, sophisticated and welcoming final photograph that invites the viewer into the space to appreciate its design elements. This requires painstaking attention to detail and plenty of self restraint when working with up to 7 or 8 different exposures.

I have tried various methods and software programs to achieve results, but I find that I obtain the look I want in the end, only by approaching these layers by hand, selectively using different elements of each exposure with great attention to detail. Patterns have emerged in my process, but I find that a slightly different thought process takes place almost every time I sit down to edit a shoot, depending on what I see in each vignette.

The process of working with natural light can save an abundance of time in the field, as the setup of supplemental lighting equipment is essentially eliminated, but it requires a tremendous amount of patience, skill, creativity and passion for the subject matter after the shoot in the digital darkroom.

Ideally, the finished photograph becomes a sensitive reflection of the architecture, and in the best cases, even a work of art in itself.


* The human eye is capable of assimilating information from contrasting bright (sun pouring in from a window) and low light (interior) conditions almost instantaneously in a way that a camera is, as of yet anyway, simply not capable.


somaie said...


- said...

wonderful space and wonderful photos!!