Photo of the Month: September 2009

September 8, 2009 / no comments

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Back to School with Architectural Photography

How does one successfully photograph a piece of architecture? Do you need the widest lens available to capture as much as possible? Or the latest and most expensive digital equipment to produce the sharpest images? Sure, it helps to have the right equipment, but that is just the start.

Any successful architectural photograph should articulate and balance three key elements: form, color, and movement.

The forms being photographed define the composition of the image. The edge of a building, a row of windows, a pattern in the floor tiles… in 2D these elements are transformed into visual cues that draw our eyes around the image.

How the forms in an image are communicated to the viewer is enhanced by varying intensities of color, which in turn arise through variation in light quality and intensity. Brighter portions of an image bring out and enhance the shadows and silhouettes that occur elsewhere in the scene. Areas of contrasting light and darkness create interest and keep an image from looking gloomy or monotonous.

Dusk is the “magic hour” for taking pictures. As the sun sets below the horizon, the sky turns a rich shade of blue, clouds are transformed in orange and pink, and the colors of objects suddenly come alive. Under full sunlight, colors are washed out, but at dusk they become fully saturated and fascinating. Light from various directions begins to come into play as the daylight dims down and the electric lights come on. Well-placed lighting can reveal interesting details of architecture that go unnoticed in the daytime, and create hierarchy and structure in an image.

Movement can be anything that gives the impression of direction or fluidity. This could be, for instance, a curving wall that leads your eye across the image, or it can be something actually moving, like the trees in this image, which are blurred by the wind and the shutter delay of the camera. This tension between static and dymanic elements is often what makes an image breathe.

In this photograph, taken out on the second-floor terrace of the new Northeastern University dormitory, we pulled all these elements together to try and convey our work on the lighting design. The glow below the bench and the grain of the floorboards draw the eye diagonally into the scene to the multi-story lobby space beyond. The bright downlights and white ceilings form a smooth vertical element that eventually breaks the border of the image. A pattern of regular square windows beyond are accented by spill light catching the edges, giving depth to the saturated deep-orange façade. The deep blue sky in the corner provides a splash of complementary color. Windswept trees, lit from below in the planter beds sway gently, and the faceless person sitting on the bench gives the terrace a purpose.

Photo Credit: Nathanael C. Doak / Lam Partners