Wednesday, February 08, 2017

How Architectural Photography Makes Buildings Better

Personally I prefer a white page to write or draw on but undeniably the internet is a powerful visual medium. Now a stream of architectural photography comes at us literally seconds apart. How we can frame the subject to highlight the good from the merely average? I have a Linkedin connection to thank for getting the wheels turning on this post. He's recently introduced me to a pair of architectural photographers we should all take note of to improve our perceptiveness to good design and communicating good design. Much of what I have to say applies to 3D visualizations as well.

First to distinguish some of the theory behind photography's use in architecture. There's certainly a long history of its value portraying the structure honestly. Here meaning the journalistic sense; in that one wants to record or communicate the structure at a particular time and place. If the photographer can somehow move the viewer emotionally all the better.

If viewed on a continuum, the photographers I've chosen to feature distance themselves from this journalistic truth and embraces more use of artistic license. There are as many ways to use artistic license in architectural photography as there are creative photographers. This is why perceptiveness plays such a key role distinguishing good from average and is so helpful in improving one's own photography and renderings. Examples of artistic license's use include impossible exterior angles, positions from which people will never see the building from or access is restricted, or unnatural lighting conditions, which can never actually exist but can be quite dramatic and engaging nonetheless.

If playing with a viewer's perceptions, there must be a pay off for the viewer. Unburdening itself with strictly following reality, the images are free to communicate deeper truths about architecture such as what the structure means to the people who built it and to those who use it. Artistic license increases the expressive power of images to capture and communicate the subjective qualities of architecture. 
These are a building's qualities which are worth trying to write poems about or capture the in a few flowing lines on paper. It is exactly these qualities that when condensed amplify so well in visual network we participate in online and in galleries.  

This post is a bit light on images for the purpose of giving the photographers maximum credit. Swiss-based photographer Adrien Barakat brought us the stunning image below which I wanted to include its for educational purposes. It's a top down view of Calatrava's Oculus Station from a drone or something. I assume this top-down view will be become standard on Google maps eventually but this is where the artistry comes in and why Adrien is so good. The rhythm of the structure is so well expressed in this image. Composed asymmetrically with a strong form pushing bottom-left to top-right, it recalls to my eye Japanese woodblock prints' use of unbalanced yet harmonious asymmetries. There's a lot of technical things done right too. The colour pallet and exposure look perfect and there is absolutely no distortion to my eye either. Good job!

The gallery of Ulf Wallin also deserves a shout out. Many images are taken under challenging lighting conditions and I enjoyed seeing how he worked around them to produce excellent results. This is where smartphone images just crash and burn. All sorts of detail starts to be lost in the highs and lows because of the combined effects of internet compression, sensor noise and lens distortion. Wallin's images still read exceptionally well. There's technical skill on display here fighting back against challenging exposure conditions which is why he's the professional and I'm not. Others would seem to agree with me as to the value of Wallin's photography because looking at this portfolio he's been booked on jobs across the United States.  

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