3. Advice accessed on how to photograph buildings and interiors, plus dealing with lighting

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. Exteriors

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.

ii. Interiors

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)  ,

iii. Lighting

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.}




People & Place Part Three : 2 – Interiors as Stage and Subject, Looking at some Photographers

People & Place Part 3

Interiors as Stage and Subject : Looking at some Photographers

Andre Kertesz

The book On Reading (2008), contains photographs taken between 1915 and 1970, all on the subject of reading and taken in many places.

It’s a lovely little book to look through, with a delight on every monochrome page, including some images where a room itself is the subject. Bibliotheque de l’Institut, Paris in 1929 (p. 8) a cavernous space with books layered in and  on top of cabinets, spreading upwards onto  a mezzanine gallery. The portrait format image is composed to show the layers – the books, shelving,  the lights and also the aged/braced roof timbers above. Looking at these aged timbers reminded me,  that paper is made from wood and I wondered if that’s why Kertesz framed the shot in this way.

Another portrait format image (p.45)  is taken in the Academie Francaise, Paris, 1929. A man standing, reading, on a library ladder  sets the scale of the towering bookshelves and the image  is composed in such a way that a mirror over a mantelpiece, reflects other parts of the room.

In another image (p. 56) it appears that both a room and a person are subjects as the title is Andre Jammes, Paris, Paris, November 4, 1963. However, the landscape format allows more space to the room itself than Mr Jammes. Mr Jammes and his wife were French antiquarian book dealers so, presumably,  books played a very important part in their life, which is why this image is more than just a portrait , or  even an environmental portrait as such (where the human subject still has prominence). Books spill around the room- large in the foreground on a table, in piles on the floor and neatly on shelves.

Rene Burri 

Magnum Photographer, Rene Burri worked in South America over many years. One of his contact sheets  (Magnum Contact Sheets, 2011) includes the Ministry of Health, Rio Janeiro, 1960. This modernist building was designed by  a team that included Oscar Niemeyer, and was notable for its system of movable sun-shade louvres. The interior shots look as if taken from above a very large, pillared,  entrance hall and one of them (p. 111) shows two women walking across this space. There is a quote in the book (p. 109) by Arthur Ruegg:-

The room with its criss-crossing shafts of light, becomes a stage.  Two women are walking across it with a clear sense of destination their path marked by sunlight. Standing together in the shadows, three men have turned around and are gazing after them.  It is a woven metaphor for the opposite poles of man and woman, light and shadow, soft and hard, horizontal and vertical.

Other images show the men watching as the women approach and then following on. Some of them can be seen here where the room itself becomes a stage for the interplay of light between its inhabitants.

Candida Hofer

My student colleague Keith Greenhough mentioned several photographers in one of his comments to my previous post and I looked at Candida Hofer  who is a former student of the Bechers. She specializes in large format observational photographs of  rooms which often have no human presence yet which have evidence of activity as described here .  I have downloaded  a wonderful one of a library for my paper log. Keith also mentioned the architectural studies of Robert Polidori. I couldn’t find a personal website although I have seen reference to work he did in Versailles. Again I have downloaded an image for my paper log.

Sarah Malakoff :

I discovered her photography through Le Journal de la Photographie  and her website is here .  There’s a post about her in Lenscratch where she is quoted as stating that her photographs are, “examinations of the home as both a refuge from and at times a re-creation of the outside world.”. I contacted Sarah and she gave me permission to download some of her images for this post:-



There’s a formal framing about them which resembles staged interiors and yet, still a sense that people live there.

Tanya Ahmed

Tanya is studying photograph with OCA at the advanced level.  I’ll be saying more about her work on East 100th Street, NY when I move onto Part 4 but here I wanted to refer to the work she has been doing on ‘built environments’ .

In her ‘Advanced’ Module Tanya devised a collaborative project, initially with creative writers, where she posted her own photographs of interiors and exteriors (no people), without captions,  and asked for responses to them. Tanya gave her permission for me to show a couple of them here:-


(c) T. Ahmed


(c) T. Ahmed

Comments were posted on the project site and/or on the OCA student site (the latter is password protected but the link for those who have the password  is here ) . I contributed and was fascinated by the many different responses and the moods, memories etc which were evoked by the same image and the influences of colour, texture, angle and line. Tanya has evaluated the project and referenced the photographers and artists who influenced her (including Candida Hofer) and she was happy to allow me quote from this.  In describing her images she contrasts them with those of Hofer, writing:-

I am not celebrating grand architecture or design …I am isolating quiet moments of communal life in the city and not abstracting them or making them impersonal”. ……Whereas Hofer’s libraries and theatres offer recreation and specific higher purpose, my spaces offer only personal purpose as determined by the individual not by the space. They are in effect spaces where the human mind is free….. (2012)

Richard Rowland : The Regency Project

The Regency House, 29-32 Oriental Place, Hove has been through several incarnations in its lengthy history – originally four houses, then combined into one in the 1930s, it had been an hotel; YWCA and then a hostel for the homeless before being acquired by the Brighton Housing Trust (BHT). BHT made the decision to re-furbish the building , in fact virtually dismantle the interior, in two stages whilst residents still lived there and Richard Rowland was commissioned to  document this three year process through photographs.

The images below are reproduced with Richard’s kind permission.


The Regency Project Image 2               © Richard Rowland


The Regency Project Image 12                   © Richard Rowland

I can do no better than quote from an essay in the book, by David Chandler, Photoworks, that sets the context of this project.

‘Rowland’s photographs do not attempt a comprehensive record of the building work. He steps back from the process of structural transformation in search of what the building might reveal or suggest as it is systematically taken apart and then remade. And, importantly, he has chosen to place the experiences of the residents at the centre of his work. For him the building process was as much an excavation as it was a renovation, both in the uncovering of a material past in bricks and mortar and in the releasing of long forgotten atmospheres, as though the house itself had in some way absorbed the memories and experiences of people who had stayed and lived in its rooms over generations.’ (p.37)

The essay itself can also be read here .  The book is very interesting with its combination of photographs – old and new, with the shots taken of the interior before it was gradually re-structured and brought to new life. There’s a strong presence of the people who live there even though there are very few photographs of them.


I can go on looking at, referencing, and writing about photographs who have interested and influenced my thinking about interiors but will stop here.  What I’ve learned is that there don’t need to be actual people in images of interiors to evoke particular moods or the presence of people.  it can be small details, seen as the eye searches an image, that can achieve this. The distance of subjects/focal length also has an effect – e.g. in Hofer’s photograph the image is taken from above so that the lofty height of the room can be seen and this evokes grandeur and majesty. In Tanya Ahmed’s image of the corner of the room this is much closer; a space within a room; showing the soft colours which suggest intimacy and comfort.

I’ve already acknowledged (confessed!) that I looked at other photographers mainly after I had taken images for the assignment itself so hope I have built upon my learning for the future.  I was aware though, from the start,  of, somehow, beginning to enter into the atmosphere of a particular environment, to imagine I spent considerable time there and to look around to see what was catching my eye the most, what attracted me either positively or negatively. I think it was looking at Tanya Ahmed’s project photographs and thinking/writing how I responded to them that influenced me here from the beginning and now I also have Richard Rowland’s work to think about.

Having to cope with various types of lighting indoors was challenging for me and I realised that I still haven’t fully absorbed the relevant skills/techniques that are needed for interiors. This led to more searching on the internet and looking at books which will be the subject for my next post.


Ahmed, T (2012) Assignment 5-Advanced, Unpublished Paper

Lubben. K (ed), 2011,  Magnum Contact Sheets, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London.

Rowland, R (2007) The Regency Project, anotherpublication 2007,













Part 3 : Buildings and Spaces – 1. Approaching buildings and spaces

People and Place

Part 3 : Buildings and Spaces

1. Approaching buildings and paces

I’ve been thinking that I did this all the wrong way round, mainly from that feeling of anxiety that seems to have been with me all the way through this particular module.  Knowing that this is because I’m being challenged to step outside my comfort zone doesn’t seem to have helped me! For quite a long time my energy was directed more towards the inner anxiety than getting out and about, with the result that I felt quite ‘stuck’ and lost any pleasure in taking photographs .  Thankfully I did struggle on, even if lamely, and slowly got more interested in buildings and how they function.

My process has been to go around taking photographs using my smaller camera to just get a grip on photographing the buildings both before and after taking the shots for the assignment itself. It was only when I became more interested that I knew I had to read more about lighting and also look at some photographers. I actually think that if I’d done the latter before taking the photographs it could have made me more anxious so, although it seems topsy-turvey, it has been a more effective way for me to learn.  I think the outcome might eventually been that I re-do the assignment, but I’m staying with what I’ve already produced for the time being.

The Projects and exercises are around Space and Function, including the user’s viewpoint, and Space and Light.   It was light that was particularly challenging because, at this time of year the sun is low on the horizon; days are darker and interiors are lit by artificial light. I haven’t precisely followed the Project briefs but have kept them in mind. I used automatic white balance throughout to allow for the mix of daylight and different types of artificial light.

Here are some buildings and their interior spaces:-

Town Centres

Town centre 12x3 low res


A recently revamped Woking.  The newest shopping area is on four galleried floors so, if you suffer from vertigo, it’s best not to look down from the top!  The top floor contains the Cinema and Theatre and the bottom one (below ground level)  is mainly a café/food outlet area. There are some food outlets on the other floors but not many and I don’t know what the psychology is concerning having most eating areas on one floor.



I was there recently with my youngest grand-daughter and she introduced me to shops I’d never visited before. In one of them she warned me beforehand, “It’s very dark when you go in and there’s a strong smell from their perfumes”.  She was right! It’s accessed from a lower entry level of the Friary Centre (actually built on the site of a former Dominican Friary.   I was quite intrigued by the way the space was used. It is dark so you can hardly see the clothes but there are spotlights around which highlight say, one shirt amongst many.  The whole effect to me was of going into an Aladdin’s cave, and the only problem was that I found it really hard to read the price labels.  There is a comfortable seating area by the cash tills so that friends can wait for you to pay and, should the queue be rather long, there are the perfumes and potions stacked on shelves to tempt you. A major problem for me was that the cash till area is also gloomy so it was quite hard to see to pay. This really is a shop for young people with their keen eyesight.

Thinking about function and a user’s viewpoint I took a straw poll amongst some of my grandchildren.

“It caters to teenagers’ needs. The style of the shop is dark and gloomy and they like the vampire feel. With the spotlights on the clothes it’s as if the spotlight is on you when you wear them. The clothes are slightly more expensive so it makes you look richer when you wear it” (12 yr old girl)

“It’s dimly lit so you can’t see the clothes. It’s cramped in size and the clothes get jumbled together. Because everything is in piles you could pick up the wrong size. The clothes are expensive for what you get”  (16 yr old girl, who is a fan of Topshop and H&M)

“It’s different from other shops and has a completely different layout. Because of the darkened interior any lighting on the clothes makes them stand out” (19 yr old boy).

I should add that after the shopping, we went to the food court which, in this case was on the top.

IMG_1201 lr



My usual complaint when I stay in a hotel is that it must have been designed by a man.  Mirrors never seem to be located near enough to an electric socket where I can plug in my hairdryer. If a hairdryer is provided it’s usually very slow on speed and the cord often isn’t really long enough.  I’ve also noticed that quite a few boutique hotel rooms are decorated in masculine shades of brown, with low lighting. This might be good for creating an intimate, cosy atmosphere when you’re going to bed but not in the daytime.  However, my prejudices were more or less confounded when I recently stayed in the Hotel Metropole in Brighton when I was down there for a weekend study Visit with OCA.

The Hotel is currently part of the Hilton group.  It was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1888 and built in 1890, see here . It faces the sea and has a wonderfully gracious air of Victorian splendour, combined with a modernized interior, including the bar .

On the ground floor the areas are spacious and lofty. Artificial light on shiny floors adds to the glitter of the chandeliers. The first impression is of ritzy opulence and is in keeping with Victorian grandeur and a 4* hotel.

IMG_0982 low res


The bedrooms are according to price – mine was an upgrade from a single to double. The room was mainly bed but with space for an easy chair and I was pleased that mirrors and electric sockets were in the right place together. I would have needed a very wide-angle lens to make the room look spacious in a brochure but it was sufficiently large for its purpose, which was somewhere comfortable to sleep. I took the shots in the bar from a seated position. The bar area was large and chairs were arranged in clusters.



I still frequent the library where I used to live. It’s fairly small and the shape is a unusual


It was built in the 1950s I think and is round inside.  The panels on the exterior make it look a hexagonal shape. It sits in one of the car parks close by the shops, with the larger supermarket across the road. I looked at it from a seated point of view and then I crouched right down to get a child’s view of the children’s area.


Coffee Houses

Costa Coffee is well-known.  It’s now owned by Whitbread plc.  The ones I’ve been in have all had comfortable, leather-like chairs’ a fairly dark interior, artificially lit even in daylight, which adds to a more intimate atmosphere. Papers are available for people to read. This is one is in the same  village as the library above. It opened some months ago in a part of the space which had previously been occupied by Woolworths.  It’s very popular and busy for a small shopping area but there’s no apparent pressure to finish your coffee quickly and leave.


On the other hand, an independent coffee house has recently opened in Ripley, a village nearby. There are more than 20 listed buildings and cottages in the village and Pinnocks is in one of them 

IMG_1098 lr


You get a warm welcome and coffee produced from the drip feed method here.  It’s a wonderful combination of the old with the modern and good use is made of the interior. Downstairs there is the serving counter, a small shop area to one side and a few tables – arranged between the old wooden beams. Upstairs is ‘the library’. Low, squashy, more traditional type armchairs nestle in clusters beneath the exposed rafters.



At first it seemed like a chore to have to photograph buildings and interiors as they’re not usually the type of subject I’m interested in.  I made it easier for myself by using my smaller camera, so as not to draw too much attention to myself. This worked because I’ve now become much more aware of and interested in how interiors are designed to produce particular atmospheres and suit users.  My next post will be based on books and other photographers.