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Architectural Photography Tips

Pro Shooter Ken Ross Critiques Student Cindy Spicer’s Images

Pro Shooter Ken Ross Critiques Cindy Spicer's Images Hi Cindy, I wanted to take some time to go over your images and give you as much specific feedback as I could – drives me crazy when all I get from a critique is “nice” or “I like that” – doesn’t help me get better and I try not to do the same thing to my students  I’ll also include an example adjustment of your original image, just to illustrate my comments – it’s art so remember that my comments are just my own perspective and opinions; you have your own story to tell in your own way!             I love the angle of this shot for expressing the grandeur of the sanctuary – it really helps “set the table” for this set of images and gives the viewer a sense of perspective when their viewing the other images. There are two things that I’d want to do in order to improve this a little more; correct the perspective skew and the white balance. The skew is a natural side effect of lens distortion of course but when you’re shooting architectural subjects, it’s really important to make sure the walls at straight. Fortunately, Adobe Lightroom has a feature that makes this sort of thing super easy to fix! Also, knowing that you’ll have this sort of correction to do with architectural images, be sure to always shoot “wider” than you really want for your composition; straightening out the walls will result in cropping off some detail on the edges (the top left & right in particular for this image). For the color balance, you’ll find scenes like this are very difficult for the “auto” white balance to deal with; there are a lot of different light sources in the scene and lots of colored light too. The camera does the best it can but just doesn’t have a good reference. There are a number of ways to you can solve for this; the easiest is to make note of a white or “neutral gray” area in the scene that you can use for a point of reference; as long as you are shooting in RAW, you can use the White Balance Selector Tool in Lightroom to select that white/gray area and it will adjust all the colors in the image to correct them. If you’re in a place where you don’t see a good candidate (and it can be something like a white plastic bag, a gray sidewalk, etc.), just drop a blank white sheet of paper in the scene where it’s being hit with “representative light” and use that as your reference; you can take a second shot without the paper there and, again in Lightroom, you can copy the white balance adjustment from your paper reference to your other image (select both images while in the Develop tab, click the Sync button and select just the White Balance adjustment to copy). Since the samples you sent me were JPG files I couldn’t do a true White Balance correction (you need RAW for that) but Lightroom tries really hard to re-tint a JPG to get close so it’s representative of what you could do with your original image (but you can definitely do a better job!). Likewise, Lightroom does a better job of correcting lens distortion if it knows the make and model of the camera and lens used; it can usually read that from the original image meta data but that’s often stripped from JPGs (and for some cameras you may need to download additional profiles if it doesn’t know them automatically). Love the high angle of this shot – it’s more dynamic than the first image and less of a literal expression of what the sanctuary looks like, but is more exciting due to the perspective. Here again we have some alignment/skew correction to do as well as white balance (although the camera is doing a better job this time). Other small adjustments include increasing the exposure, contrast and a bit of Clarity (helps pop textures in these sorts of setting but be careful of using it with people in the scene as it can make their skin look haggard). I remember working with you on this composition and am really pleased with how well it turned out – I think the angles work well and framing the pipes between the stain glass windows gives it a strong sense of place. I made a few adjustments here to boost contrast and add a bit of Clarity, but didn’t want to brighten the image too much more and lose the mood (or blow out the windows). I did feel like the pipes needed to be enhanced though because they’re a key element in your story; I used the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to just “pain on” more exposure for the areas of the pipes I wanted to emphasize and used the pipes themselves as a White Balance adjustment reference (they’re gray).                     Really love how this turned out – I told you you’d get it!! This is exactly what we talked about with this technique; get enough exposure at one spot to cement the details (especially her face) and then pull back on the zoom to create that dynamic effect in-camera. Great job!! My only contribution here is to boost contrast and add Clarity to help the image pop and create more apparent sharpness on the base image (see how her face looks “sharper”? That’s due to Clarity).                   This is another outstanding image. I really love how you saw this possibility while we were walking out and insisted on “working the scene” to make this happen. In particular, I liked how deliberate you were in your framing and, as a big fan of high-contrast B&W images myself, I love the mood of this image. Here again I’ve made just a few small changes to take an already great image up a notch; exposure has been increased slightly to get more detail on the foreground element, I’ve rotated the image slightly to straighten the window and added Clarity to bring out the texture in the floor. Lastly, I used the Lightroom Adjustment Brush to paint in some “drama” on the top three window panes, adding a bit of exposure and Clarity while making the dark areas just a wee bit darker. I’m going to be honest here; this isn’t a great composition. The exposure is good and the white balance is reasonably good, but in terms of presenting a subject or telling a story I feel this fails to hit the mark. I know that you were drawn to that amazing keyboard, a subject that excited you and was frankly challenging to capture (you knew what all the buttons did but it might as well have been the space shuttle cockpit for me!). Looking at this image as presented, it appears that the subject is the decorative carving at the end of the pew (rather than the keyboard) but the keyboard in the background is too distracting (and the top of the carving is just being clipped by the top of the frame). Lastly, the railing at the edge of the pew is acting like a “leading line” – pulling the viewer out of the image instead of into it. Now, there are a number of things we might do differently if we had it to do over again (hindsight is awesome) but what we can do to improve the image we have at hand? Well, let’s assume the subject is the carving. Let’s take advantage of that leading line like we talked about in class – use that to help direct the viewer to our subject. How? We’ll flip the image so that line is coming in on the left . Next, we need to create more emphasis on our subject than the background; we can do that by using the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to paint the areas we want to de-emphasize, making it darker (less exposure) and less distinct (lower the Sharpness and Clarity). Then, create a new brush and paint a little added exposure and Clarity on the details on the face of the carving. Lastly, we crop the image in a bit tighter on the main carving and use the Post-Crop Vignetting to darken the edges of the image, further deemphasizing the windows and back wall. There’s a lot to like in this image – the atmosphere of the solitary “parishioner”, the dramatic lighting from the windows. However, when we have a person in the image then the story really is about them and I feel like the image is too dark with too many bright windows and our subject just gets lost. What I’d recommend in this case is to re-crop the image to make it more about the subject and then use the Adjustment Brush to paint on just a bit of extra exposure on our subject’s face and arms, just enough to lift them out of the shadows but not so much as to make them look “flashed” or unnaturally lit. I didn’t want to do anything to the overall exposure since that would change the mood too much.                   Another great angle to explore in this venue – really love how you’ve picked up the play of light across the floor and controlled the exposure so that the massive stained glass at the back of the sanctuary wasn’t blown out. With this image we have very little to correct that we haven’t looked at earlier – some White Balance and perspective skew adjustment is all we need, as well as a smidge of Contrast to make it pop.   I hope you found these comments and examples helpful and thanks again for coming to my class and for sharing your images with us!   Ken

Yielding Lightness with darkness

From Don Peters/ DPA instructor in Chicago To view more of his images please visit Nothing says “old and elegant” more than Charleston, S.C. in the springtime.  This Southern church yard seemed to want to communicate that, but I felt something more was needed. So, I made an “HDR” image, using the menu setting on my Nikon to capture 5, rapid fire images at slightly different apertures.  This enabled me, with the use of post processing (Photomatix) software, to produce a “tonemapped” image, yielding a much broader range to the image, capturing the extremes of the lightness of the flowers and the darkness of the tombstones and surrounding shadows.  . (Nikon D300 (handheld) with 18-200mm Nikkor lens at 100mm, ISO 400, 1/500, 5 exposures bracketed +/ .7 f stop, then post processed in Photomatix).  

Capturing Fireworks

From Josh Anon/ DPA instructor in San Francisco To view more of his images please visit I am a big believer in pre-visualizing photos and then executing them.  Even if your pre-visualization isn’t perfect, it gives you purpose and lets you actively plan for a shot instead of reacting to what’s around you.  In this case, I knew that for the fourth of July, San Francisco would have a big fireworks show downtown, and the forecast was (unusually) fog-free.  That meant I had a chance to create a unique image of San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge (the most distinctive icon that immediately screams “San Francisco” to a viewer) and fireworks.  I knew of a good spot in the Marin headlands and arrived hours in advance, expecting a crowd and wanting a parking spot.  A lot of photography involves patience!  I framed this shot up before the fireworks started balancing where the bridge is and where I roughly estimated the fireworks would be, based on what I saw in the paper.  To shoot, I put my camera in bulb mode, held a piece of cardboard in front of the lens between fireworks bursts, and exposed each image for 2-3 firework bursts.  While the fireworks are a tad over-exposed, I still like the shot because of how the intense brightness and shapes from the falling embers contrasts with the darkness in the rest of the frame, just like when you see fireworks with your naked eye. Canon EOS 1Ds with Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L at 35mm on a tripod.  f/5.6, 8 sec, ISO 200.  

Bridges and Fog

From Josh Anon/ DPA instructor in San Francisco To view more of his images please visit Even though Mark Twain never actually said the coldest winter he’d ever had was a summer in San Francisco, the near-daily fog does make for some cold summers.  And some beautiful pictures!  The bay area’s geography is also unique in that there are hills in the east bay, and the hills are often a demarcation line for the fog.  Depending on the weather conditions, there are days where a low, thick bank of fog rolls into the bay but below the top of the hills.  This makes it so that you can get a great vantage point, looking across the city and seeing where the fog is.  I was in the hills on one such day, guessing the weather conditions would be correct, but I arrived before sunset and before I could see for sure what the fog was doing.  As the sun started to set, the fog moved across the bay.  A long lens on a tripod (roughly 400mm) let me isolate the features that make the scene say “San Francisco,” that is the bay bridge, Sutro tower, and the downtown skyline.  Even though the fog covers most of them, you still have a sense of geography.  Waiting for the lights to come on also added a nice element to the shot, a bit of warmth and brightness contrasting with the fog. Canon EOS 1Ds with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS on a tripod at 400mm.  f/16, 1.6 sec, ISO 100, -2/3 stops in evaluative metering.  

Viterbo: Inside the City Walls

This is the main entrance of Viterbo and we stayed a few blocks outside this city wall in a nice enough hotel. Day or night, no matter how many times I passed under its archway, it was a rush, each time we approached. About 50 feet high and a photo op in and of itself, the wall surrounds the medieval origins of Viterbo, and every cobblestone remains in place. So for where we will stay now that we know better, will be a number of bed and breakfast options, all within quick walks of each other. Every place we reserve is decorated with charm and attention to detail, as if photographers were expected to be appearing at any given moment. The inexpensive arrangements include beautiful private rooms, sitting areas, dining rooms, decks and views of Viterbo. Take a look at some that are within this bank of images. One of the beautiful restaurants and there are several different rooms, each with a different theme. The owners have welcomed us for an afternoon shoot, along with a great meal. The space offers indoor and outdoor shooting. And this is the outdoor space that is adjacent to the restaurant. It is actually a historic monastery and the restaurant opens up to this interior courtyard for many shooting options. This is the same space to provide a sense of the photo ops. And another angle. The Viterbo rain gutters are varied and plentiful, each more interesting and charming than the next.   Shadows interplay beautifully with the old stone buildings.  The interiors and exteriors of the row houses transport back to Medieval times at every hour of day, no matter what lighting is cast.   All of the cobblestone streets are beautifully preserved, just as every other detail of the city. Within the walls of the city, it is easy to imagine life there when Viterbo was a world class destination and the center of the Catholic religion. Popes were born there, they traveled there and the historical decisions were made there. This will be one setting for a model with outdoor lighting shoot. There are dozens and dozens of private gardens, some of which we will visit, others offering a view from a variety of vantage points. The light of this church is perfect for a making a dramatic photograph, focusing on a detail, a shadow, a model or just the windows. Every shop is a study in still lives and the proprietors will pose as well. We will bring lighting for these shoots. Whether you sit down for lunch in one of the many restaurants or want to pick up a quick  sandwich. Everything is fresh and delicious.        

Dramatic Angles

© Adam Stoltman Look for Dramatic Angles to add Impact. Just like people, buildings have good sides and bad sides.  By walking around a building you can find which lines are flattering, and which are not.  You can also position yourself to create the most dramatic composition possible.  In the image here of the new Alice Tully Recital Hall at New York′s Lincoln Center, the powerful and angular lines of the architecture are accentuated by the low vantage point and by the photographer choosing his position carefully.

Be Patient

  © Peter Bosy These images were taken with a basic point and shoot digital camera.  The camera′s mode was set to Av, and the exploration of the exterior and interior began one shot at a time. © Peter Bosy The best advise I can give anyone interested in architectural photography is to be patient, and be ready when the light is just right.  Plan ahead if possible. While I arrived at this museum it was overcast and cloudy. Fortunately as the sun was to set, the clouds parted and the sun washed the building with beautiful light. This building is a rarity in that it can be photographed during high noon as well as near dusk to create amazing images.

The Right Light

© Adam Stoltman By waiting for late afternoon light, what would by itself otherwise be a flat and uninteresting composition becomes fiery and intense.  The reflected sunlight also shows off the architectural style and detailing evident in the upper windows and floors of New York′s famous Flatiron building.   Wait for the right lighting conditions to give your architectural images more substance and depth.

Fun Angles and Low Light

This image of the Eiffel Tower in Paris was taken with my small Panasonic FX-30 at ISO 800. Even so, the low light required a 1/8th of a second shutter speed. I was careful to hold very steady – I actually hold my breath for a second- and with the help of the image stabilization feature in that camera, was able to make a decent shot. I would normally recommend a tripod. Since everyone has photos of the Eiffel Tower, I tried to see it a new way and have fun with the angle. © 2008 Kathy Tarantola, Boston DPA Instructor

Red Square, Moscow

While visiting Moscow, Russia, I wanted to create a photograph that said "Red Square" and noticed this dark metal sculpture at the entrance to one side of the square. To capture a photo with similar impact, here are some suggestions: 1. Wait until the sun is very low and bright on the horizon 2. Set the color temperature on camera to Auto White Balance (AWB) 3. Slight under-exposure in the camera, minus 1/2 or 1 stop 4. Increase saturation by 25% on the in-camera menu 5. Slight cropping in Photoshop, if needed

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