When done well, a photograph can tell the story of a place – and as architects, we rely on images to tell our stories, to show people what we do. The art of architectural photography lies in being able to compose the photograph in a way that captures the essence, atmosphere, and beauty of the building. This takes precision, an incredible eye for design, and loads of patience.
I recently had the opportunity to assist at an architectural shoot, and take a look behind the lens as THA’s just-completed Discovery Hall (at University of Washington Bothell) was being photographed by Lara Swimmer, a Seattle-based photographer.
The shoot started early. We had to be set up for the first shot when the sun hit the east façade at about 7am. I quickly understood the amount of work that goes into every single shot. You must set up the camera, compose the shot, and wait. You must be ready to fire the shutter when the light is just right.
And if you don’t want bright green trash cans in your photograph, you have to move the trash cans. If there are ten of them, you move ten of them, and then of course move them back, and then of course move them out of the next shot, and then move them back. While the perpetual dance of trash cans and furniture took time, I didn’t realize how long it takes to set up the camera for each shot. In my travels, I always take my camera, snapping shots as I walk through city streets, stopping only for a few moments to compose my shot and click the shutter button. Architectural photography is a wholly different thing. The photographer must cart around suitcases full of camera bodies, lenses, laptops, and an array of accessories which allow her to take the perfect photo. Lara would call out – instinctively – the correct lens for the shot, attach it to the camera, and go about adjusting and readjusting the tripod and lens: left a foot, right two, back left a couple inches, correct the perspective lines, focus, move, focus again.
While I still believe you cannot truly experience a building without physically being in the space, architectural photography has never been more important. With the proliferation of architectural imagery on the internet, the consumption of all things architecture and design is at an all-time high; we can now look at a mind-numbing number of beautiful buildings any time we feel like it. But we rarely get to experience the spaces we see on the internet and in magazines. Photographs tell the building’s story and we see the story of these spaces through someone else’s eyes – or lens, as it may be.
Architectural photography can be a grueling, tiring, sun up to sun down endeavor. When you see a stunning shot of a great building, though, you realize how much the work pays off and how important it is to the practice and promotion of architecture.
Enjoy some behind the scenes snapshots, followed by the resultant photograph from the photo shoot:
Behind the Scenes Shots – JD Gutermuth
Professional Shots – Lara Swimmer