People and Place Part 3
3. Advice on how to photograph buildings and interiors, plus dealing with lighting
Buildings and man-made spaces
I’ve written previously on how I approached the assignment in the wrong order. However, researching how to photograph buildings and interiors made more sense to me when I’d actually finished taking the photographs. I was able to think back into how I approached it all. ). It is this notion of buildings and man-made spaces as subjects that took a while for me to get my head around. My understanding so far is that, yes, it involves using skills/techniques of, say, architectural photography whilst, somehow, conveying a more tangible sense of a building/man-made space and how it functions in relation to people.
I read two books; four ebooks on lighting (thanks to Vicki for guiding me there) and looked on the web. I made quite a few notes so all I’m going to do here is to comment on a few aspects that strike me at the moment.
I acquired a copy of Gary Kostelow’s How to Photograph Buildings and Interiors (1998). It’s not up to date of course (there is a later book, 2007, which looks at digital and buildings) and mainly concentrates on analogue in terms of equipment etc but, that apart, I found it very useful in terms of aesthetic aspects to consider. He also provides an illuminating description of an actual exterior shoot (pp. 67) plus some anecdotes around advanced interior photography (pp 159).
Philip Greenspun (1997/2007) suggests, in terms of exteriors, that you need to give old buildings some space – the older the structure the more environmental context is required. Compositional aspects such as compressing the perspective with a telephoto lens often brings out an interesting pattern and you can get increased abstractions. Natural frames such as doorways and windows and fences can frame a subject and draw the eye of the view, as can a visible footpath. I read advice concerning sun angle and the specularity of light; how the design and texture of a given building will dictate the sun angle best suited for a powerful image.
Kostelow states that exterior photography is mostly concerned with form and texture whereas, in interior photography, form and texture take second place to context because a room occupied by humans is entirely related to function:
An interior space is almost always a locus for some manifestation of human life; therefore, interior photography is almost always a specialized form of photojournalism. We record the three-dimensional interplay between cultural artefacts assembled inside a room, and the result is a peculiarly precise and intimate cultural snapshot. This snapshot can be a crude likeness, or it can be an aesthetically elevated, technically faultless representation” (G. Kostelow, p. 154)
He also remarks that advanced interior photography can be an athletic pursuit where one is physically interacting with the subject and moving around to understand how it functions (p. 159) Similarly, Mark Galer (1999/2006) comments that the choice of vantage point can often reveal the subject as familiar yet strange.
I found three simple guidelines in an ezine from the New York Institute of Photography
- What is the subject of my photograph
- How can I give emphasis to my subject – making it large in the frame and featuring a key element prominently
- What can I do to simplify my photograph or to remove distracting items that take away from the subject such as lighting issues, crooked lines and clutter (thinking about Galer’s comment regarding vantage points and how they can overcome a distracting background (Galer, M p.86) ,
This was my biggest problem due to some of the buildings I chose –such as a large glasshouse in RHS Wisley Gardens and two old churches. How to balance extremes of contrast in places where I couldn’t do something like mask windows or use much in the way of additional lighting to brighten dark interiors; fill-flash couldn’t quite reach far enough.
Hunter & Reid (2011) reminded me that cameras aren’t like our brains that can deal with extremes of light so one has to sacrifice one or the other. It’s amazing though how the light from church windows can creep into the edges of the frame. I think this is because these are more humble churches – their interiors are smaller and their eyes from the world are much lower. As the sun was lower, due to the time of the year, going at different times of day (as suggested) didn’t seem to make much difference and even bracketing exposures then merging, produced a rather artificial image. These churches don’t stay open late either.
That apart, the lighting books were very helpful in general in and the properties of light reminding me about ways of dealing with different kinds of light
My next post will be the write-up on the Assignment itself and I’ll make sure to include information on my choice of time of day; focal length, aperture; vantage point, and how I dealt with lighting issues.
Child, J & Galer, M (1999) Essential Skills : Photographic Lighting, Elsevier Press, Oxford 4th Ed 2088
Hunter, F & Reid, R (2011) Focus on Lighting Photos Focal Press, Oxford
Galer, M (1999) Digital Photography in Available Light, Focal Press, Oxford 3rd Ed 2006
Kopelow, G (1998) How to Photograph Buildings and Interiors, Princeton Architectural Press, NY
Peterson, B (2010) Understanding Exposure Amphoto Books, NY
Prakel, D (2007) Lighting: Basics Photography, AVA Publishing SA
(all re-accessed on 9.1.2013.}