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Last edited 03 Apr 2019
Architectural photographers take photographs of buildings and other built structures in a professional capacity. Their photographs are often intended for commercial purposes, for the developer to publish online or in brochures, or for the portfolios of the project team. As potential buyers and clients are often drawn to properties by an image, it is very important that attractive photographs are made available, and the right photographs can be very valuable to those who commission them.
As photographer Paul Grundy said in an interview with Designing Buildings Wiki, it is not essential for an aspiring architectural photographer to study architecture. Universities and colleges offer a variety of different photography courses, during which it may become possible to take a specialist module in architecture. Professional experience can be gained through working as an assistant to a photographer. According to Paul Grundy, "...it takes 10 years of hard work, regardless of what you shoot, to become a professional photographer."
Architecture has been one of the main subjects for photography since the technology first emerged. The earliest surviving photo is of building rooftops, in Nicéphore Niépce's 'View from the Window at Le Gras' taken in 1826 or 1827.
Buildings were particularly well-suited to early photographic techniques, which required long exposure times, and so subjects that did not move. This made architectural photography one of the first photographic specialisms.
However, the first architectural photographs were primarily taken as record images, and had little creative ambition. It was photographers such as Frederick Evans at the beginning of the 20th century that began to consider more complex, stylised images, capturing the unique character of their built subjects.
Through the 20th century, architectural photography slowly became more creative, part of the stylistic reportage of the time, appearing in art, architectural and lifestyle magazines, photographic and architectural books. It became a key method for communicating the latest ideas in style, design and technology, with sometimes dramatic images, depicting desirable buildings, often shot from unusual angles.
Today, the range of uses for architectural photography has expanded, from vast images printed on vinyl and used to enclose construction sites, to an increasing need for small digital images that are readable as thumbnails, and can be shared on social media. This has driven a trend towards simple, graphic images that flexible and can remain clear and easy to understand in a wide variety of different sizes and formats. The digital era has also increased the prevalence of landscape rather than portrait formats, as these can be more suited to viewing on screen.
New technologies such as stop motion photography have become more popular, in particular for recording progress on site or manufacturing processes, and there is an increasing demand for video footage for platforms such as YouTube. Previously expensive techniques such as aerial photography have become more accessible with the emergence of new technologies such as drones.
With the rise in prevalence of visualisation modes such as CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and virtual reality, there is some concern that traditional architectural photography may be under threat. However, despite the increasing sophistication of the technology available, it is generally felt that high-quality photographic representations give more accurate and dynamic renderings of buildings than computer simulations.
There are a number of things to consider when commissioning architectural photography. Photographers have different styles and philosophies and it is important to undertake thorough research before committing an individual. It also is important to set out the nature of the commission in writing to avoid possible confusion or disputes about what is required and what usage rights are permitted.
Critically, it is important to decide whether the requirement is for images as a record, or for sales, or whether the client is interested in the creative style of the photographer themselves.
The photographer may choose to display some of the building's environment or interesting angles and perspectives. Often, controlled perspectives with an emphasis on vertical lines that are non-converging and parallel are used.
Exterior architectural photography can use natural light or ambient light, while interior photography will often require the introduction of additional lighting, such as electronic flash 'strobes' or incandescent 'hot lights'. This can require more time to set up, but is ultimately more controllable than exteriors, where the light changes, shadows move, people and traffic pass by and so on.
Historically, photographers have tended to exclude people and traffic from their images. This in part was because it was considered that the people would then become the subject, rather than the building, but also because they obscure the view of the building, they move, and there may be issues regarding permissions and the need for release forms. This is beginning to change, as increasingly, clients want to show their buildings full of life as desirable places to live.
For more information, see How to commission architectural photography.
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