Seven common mistakes in architectural photography
Professional architectural photography is a complex collaborative work whose function is to represent in images the collective effort of raising architecture and buildings.
The photographs created with this intent have to implement in a simple and persuasive way the vision of the authors of the architecture project and to satisfy the interests of all the parties involved and show it to a huge potential audience and to do it also in an effective and profitable way.
With this approach in mind, I want to list here seven inconveniences that I feel they slow down the delicate creative mechanism of architectural photography:
There is a precise time to shoot architectural photographs and being efficient and productive: whenever possible, wait until the construction works are completely finished and the project is clean and has not yet been occupied by its owners. If you have to photograph it before, you will find yourself surrounded by physical obstacles that you won’t be able to hardly avoid and, if you do it later, you will surely need to manage whimsical idiosyncrasies of the new tenants, strange permits to work or even abusive copyright requests. In either of these situations, you will see that both your creative process and your results will be damaged.
Never think that your own vision is less important than that of the authors of the architecture project or that of your client, whoever they are. Your vision is what truly transforms reality and what explains it to the world: that is what makes you unique as a photographer and is your greatest asset as a professional. Your role is by no means to execute a task that others delegate because they are not able to technically solve it. Always avoid putting yourself in that subordinate situation, deal with equals who respect you and never cease to vindicate your vision and to explore its limits.
Forget now the idea that your camera is a simple mirror that only captures reality without altering it: just by determining your frame you are transforming the way you show architecture and how others will understand it. Make your vision interesting so that those who see your photographs can interact with them and keep in mind that, in many times, the first reference ever many people will have of a new architectural project will be your unique way of looking at it. Your duty in the long and elaborate process of materializing architecture is nothing but communication.
Make no mistakes when choosing the point of view to take your photographs: the position of the camera is what actually implements your vision and is the one that builds reality. It may seem an apparently trivial choice but, like all the decisions that are part of the creative process in photography, it says something about you as an author and influences very powerfully the perception that others will have of the architecture represented. Be very consistent with your vision and never delegate your creative decisions to others or leave anything to chance.
Although you may find it difficult now, do not let yourself to be dominated by a complicated situation or yield to pressures that compromise the quality of your work: There are some things that you can’t control no matter how hard you try –clouds passing in front of the sun, traffic in the streets, people walking distractedly ... –, simply try to anticipate and synchronize with them and you will see how things smoothly flow, always look for a way to take advantage of the situation. Architectural photography depends on many variables that are beyond your control and takes time and a lot of patience to be excellent: it is important that your client is aware of this and that he sees the benefit in waiting for your photographs because, after all, you can’t stop the rain.
Do not improvise when taking photographs on assignment: If you are not very sure of your abilities or you don’t know that what you are doing will really improve what you intend to say in your photograph, you will weaken the strength of its meaning. Architectural photography is both a single image that condenses in it a whole project and a series of several more that narratively unfolds it for others to contemplate. In either case, it is your own voice the one that speaks and has to do it in a firm and decided way. If maybe you find yourself following a current trend in photography or let yourself to be influenced by it, don’t do it blindly and never forget to always question it. Remember that it is your own vision what makes you different from the rest of photographers.
Do not doubt that your photographs will be published on the internet and that they will be potentially visible anywhere in the world at any time of the day. Avoid by all means to include in your photographs local interpretation keys that only you and those around you can understand because then maybe nobody beyond your neighborhood will understand what you are trying to communicate in them. Strive to make your work easily interpretable all over the world and assume that photographs today only make sense because they exist on the internet. Be very aware of the global impact that you can achieve.
And finally, an eighth fault that I can’t resist to list here because it may be the worst of them all: never work for free because you won’t get in return nothing but frustration. If you are going to do so or give away your copyright, do it because you support a charitable cause in your community or an academic research in which you can contribute with something valuable and not for another reason. Otherwise, your professional career will hardly have a future and you won’t be helping your fellow photographers either.
This is my list but surely I am forgetting something that you are thinking about now, any other common architectural photography inconvenience that I can’t remember. If so, please do not hesitate to share and let's see how we can fix it.
And, of course, never forget to wear good shoes.