Photographing architecture


The best thing about being a photographer is that it allows you to express yourself with a freedom that you are not always aware of. We all look at the same reality but each one of us interprets it in its own way.

I guess that being an architectural photographer has quite a lot to do with my character, that kind of personality able to look attentively at the city, to look quietly at all the pieces that make it up and then to wait for the proper light to reveal the precise photograph that I had already anticipated in my mind. I feel that what I always try when I am working with my camera is to share with people the fascination of discovering what I see in the city.

I think that architectural photography is a way of interpreting the reality in front of me –the buildings, the urban landscape– because all photography is always a dialogue, a continuous exchange of looks of the photographer with the city and of the viewer with the architecture represented in a photograph. My mission as a photographer is to start a conversation and to make it interesting: if all the people involved in this conversation have the opportunity to learn something new about what they are contemplating, then my goal will be accomplished. 

This, my goal as a photographer –as an architectural photographer in this case–, is to provoke a reaction in the viewer who looks at my photographs, to never leave him indifferent. I want the viewer to stop and contemplate the photograph that I have created so they can talk to each other, that both the viewer and the picture get involved in the conversation that I have started with my greeting. 

To get to that point, my intent is always to place the buildings that I photograph out of time, to look at them not as for what they are but for what they seem to be: to look at them like the shapes, lines, colors and textures that they actually are.

The simpler the plastic language with which a photograph draws the attention of the viewer, the easier it is to interpret it no matter where you read the image –in Boston, Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, Barcelona or Tokyo–. This is what it really means to me to place the subjects of architectural photography out of time and what I think is actually the spark that ignites the dialogue between the photograph and the viewer.

After all, it is like applying some kind of abstract art reading codes to architectural photography to establish a sincere communication in which everyone can participate, but I want to do so in a playful manner, like arranging the pieces of a puzzle.

The equipment or technical resources that a photographer uses to create his photographs are not so important if the results you get are valid for you: I like to think of the camera that I use as an instrument with which I am playing a music score, not like a tool that I use to execute a task. In any case, it is not the camera the one who takes the photograph, it is me who takes care of all the decisions that affect the creative process.

Anyway, more than a specific piece of my photo gear, I like to think about the kind of ceremony that architectural photography and equipment itself determine, a quiet and leisurely way to work, attentive and very careful. I worked for many years with a Sinar 4x5 inches large format camera and Schneider lenses and now I am using Canon cameras and tilt-shift lenses and I love them.

The photographer who has influenced me the most and from who I never stop learning when I see his work is Ezra Stoller. His simple and determined way of getting to the essence of a building and creating an image of an elegant and transforming visual power is fascinating to me. As a photographer I also assume that I clearly identify with the classics of Straight Photography –Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Minor White– and, more contemporary, with those of the Düsseldorf School –Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, Candida Höfer ... –. Now I'm also learning a lot about street photography and color from authors like William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz, Ernst Haas, Saul Leiter, Alex Webb or Todd Hido.

There is not a particular technique to learn when photographing the city or the urban landscape with only one exception: the undoubtedly most important factor in architectural photography is the right choice of the point of view because all the conscious decisions of the photographer aimed at building its frame –the height and position of the camera, the lens, the lighting …– they all revolve around that decisive choice.

Talking about the point of view, I listed seven key ideas on architectural photography on this post: ‘The position of the camera is the only factor responsible for the appearance in perspective of a building and the distribution of the image elements in the photographic frame. If the point of view changes, the proportions of the elements of the image are transformed as also the appearance of the building is. From the distribution of the weight of the image elements in the frame, a favorable or unfavorable interpretation of the photograph by the viewer results.’

To those who start in architectural photography I would say that they don’t need to hurry, that photography is a long-distance run in which the most important thing is to continuously educate your look, to be surprised and learn from all possible influences –from painting, from cinema, from literature, from theater, from travel, from music, from food …– and to create from all these vital experiences your own unique look to the world. Technique is just a language that everyone of us speaks with a particular accent: the true style, the real difference is in the look. 

It is not easy but it is not impossible. So … if you want to become an architectural photographer and want to start from scratch, you can read also my seven common mistakes in architectural photography here.

I hope it helps !!

David Cardelús