How do you become an architectural photographer?
There is no secret to become an architecture photographer: in its most basic form, everything comes down to you, your camera and the light mixed in a curious combination. Let me explain my experience about it.
The only quality that makes you a photographer is knowing how to look. Photography is an artistic profession that is based on intentionally looking at reality to interpret and share it in an image. It is not different from any other visual arts because it is based on awakening an emotional response in the viewer. In the case of professional architectural photography, surely the photographer's look is even more intentional because it seeks to influence the response of the viewer in a very specific way.
A photographer’s look is learned and educated over time. Search both in your environment and in the work of the authors who have preceded you –in literature, painting, theater, film, music, whatever …– ways of looking at the world that entice you to investigate about them and then ask yourself why you are attracted and how you think you can question them. Learning to look has always to be a playful game because that will be what, in the end, you will propose to those who will look at your photographs. When you educate your eyes, curiosity is a very important engine: keep yourself always informed.
When you finally feel that you have your one, claim that your look is different because this is your greatest asset as a person, as an artist and a professional. The look is an expression of your personality, of your unique individuality as a subject: everything that builds your character also builds your look.
Do everything possible to create your own style so that others clearly identify it with you when they see your photographs and then acknowledge you as an author. That is the greatest benefit of investing in the education of your look: keep always learning and continuously exploring, never accommodate yourself. Once you have a style, never give in to the creative control of your photographic work, you are the only person who makes all the decisions that can affect it.
Keep in mind that an artistic profession is a long distance run and that it is full of obstacles. Like anything else in life, it is never easy to break through and you must be very aware that you will rarely have the security of a 9 to 5 job and that there are many personal costs related. Have a very long and wide perspective to know how to calibrate the risks associated with a professional activity that will be your way of making a living. Above all, try to avoid those who in some way disparage your efforts and your work, respect yourself.
Since you won’t have a job, you will have a profession. As long as you are the one who has decided it, be professional: always and under any circumstances. You and only you will be the image of your own brand, the personal brand that you have created and the one that will be submitted to the scrutiny of your customers' satisfaction. Be educated and honest, empathetic, flexible and efficient: you will implement with your look the vision of others who trust you, so listen to them and do not disappoint them. Try not to believe yourself an unaffordable artist raised in his ivory tower and please keep your feet on the ground.
If you decide to be an architectural photographer, it is very likely that you will be the person in charge of all the creative and business aspects of your activity. If you need help with all the obligations that a working business requires, delegate the legal or accounting aspects that may distract you from your creative intent. It is not strange that artists are not very competent in controlling their numbers and taxes or have a great business vision, that happens … Manage your communication and your social networks with all the coherence that you want to project to your personal brand.
Be also very consistent and stay firm in the decisions you make throughout your career, do not be erratic because your potential clients may see you more as a risk than as a professional they can trust to invest their money. Find a vital balance that makes you feel comfortable as a person and as a professional and others will perceive it in your photographs, the ones that you shoot as a personal project and the ones that you you shoot on assignment. Do not give up if you can afford it, all artistic professions are like traveling in a roller coaster wagon.
Be very aware that technique is a means that you use to implement your look: it is not an excuse and even less an end in itself. That your brain, your eyes and your camera work synchronized in the same line of vision is the most important thing to make real the image that you create in your mind. If you want to be able to use the technique in an intuitive unconscious way and get natural results, learn to understand the light. The quantity, quality and distribution of light determine both the creative aspects of photography –from the choice of point of view as well as color and contrast– and the most technical aspects –shutter speed, f-stop and ISO sensitivity– : it's all about understanding light.
Do not feel the imperative need to own the latest camera model or software version available on the market. Always use the best quality material at your fingertips for the type of photographs you need to create: if you can use cameras or lenses with tilt-shift movements, that will be especially useful for architectural photography. When you work on the ground try to take advantage of the resources you have at hand, anticipate and manage the problems that may arise and invent solutions for each situation. Be respectful with people who approach you in the street, try not to be perceived as an intruder and identify yourself as a professional photographer who is working if the police asks you to do so. Avoid creating yourself new problems.
Never allow anyone to determine the price of your work or the value of your photographs. What makes your look unique makes it valuable for those who decide to invest in it for what your difference as an author benefits them. Be aware of your place in the global market –your market is the whole world– and your position with respect to your competition. If others want to get their new works competing only for the lowest price, never enter with them in an absurd auction for an assignment no matter how attractive it may seem. There is a place for everyone but look at your career as an evolution always upwards and only compete for excellence, never for the price: whenever you can, ask for an advance payment and to be payed cash. Never work for free.
Always remember that you make photographs to express and feel good with yourself, that turning it into a profession can be a natural step but keep in mind that it is a calculated risk. If you have a family that depends on you, be brave when the opportunity is favorable but never reckless. Although all of us who do this may share some common traits, we are all different and each one makes his way learning at each step new he takes. There is not one way to do things and that makes them more interesting. Stay awake, never stop learning and enjoy what you do.
I would not want you to feel disappointed now that you have finished reading this article. What I can tell you is that all these things I would have liked to know when I started as a photographer and, as I mentioned at the very beginning, they are no secret all.
Surely there are many more things that I am forgetting now but I hope these will be useful for you as a starting point for your own journey on architectural photography. If you want, just please let me know.