An outside the box architectural photo involves more than just snapping a picture. If it was that easy, the amazing quality of the latest smartphones in the hands of a novice would be more than good enough. Gathering information from an architect and using it to create a visual narrative requires much more.
I was asked by my client, Stantec, to produce images of their design work on the Downtown Commons project near US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Their work involved designing the streets, sidewalks, and landscaping. In particular, they were responsible for the innovative integration of bike paths into the area. Bike paths in urban settings have been controversial because they often take away or narrow lanes for vehicular traffic and inadvertently cause safety hazards for both cars and people.
Stantec's design overcame these shortcomings by creating a separate space for bikes between the street and sidewalk and effectively marking it with concrete dyed black. Their charge to me was to create images effectively illustrating their design. This is one of the final images:
This final image is a composite of several images. Additionally, several techniques were used to perfect it. Initially, we walked the area to find a location that would showcase the bike path, the street design, and show location context in an open but still densely urban area. We chose this spot along Portland Avenue facing two of the Wells Fargo Bank buildings.
From a technical standpoint, we wanted to be somewhat above street level so we could show more of the bike path surface and a better view down the street. To accomplish this, we mounted the camera on a mast. This is essentially a very tall tripod which we were able to raise about 15 feet into the air. The camera was controlled by using a mobile app connected to my smartphone where we could optimize the composition, camera settings, and evaluate the scene using "live view."
Not knowing exactly what we would get but having a pretty good idea about what we wanted, we took several photos with activity ranging from no vehicular traffic to a lot of vehicular traffic. At the same time, we observed the pedestrian activity and looked for someone riding a bike.
With some amount of good luck, we were able to flag down a cooperative bike rider who was willing to return to the far end of the block and ride forward while I took numerous shots of him as he approached. We weren't sure if we wanted him to be located in the distance, in the foreground, or in some location in between.
With shooting complete, we evaluated the sum total of 16 shots to determine which ones we wanted to use in the final image. We decided on using a combination of two of the captures. We liked the image of the bike rider closest to the camera because of the way he filled the width of the bike path. At the instant this photo was taken, he just happened to lift his chin and look directly into the camera. This particular frame also happened to capture a pedestrian on the opposite side of the street in a perfect spot. We also chose one of the photos showing vehicular traffic which was located relatively near the bike rider but back far enough to add some spatial separation.
The next step in the editing process involved combining the two images together by using Photoshop's Masking tool. Following, Photoshop's Content Aware tool was used to clean up various parts of the image. This included removing the foreground shadow caused by the camera, a long tire mark on the pavement, a foreground manhole cover, and the shadow from a passing vehicle in the lower right corner of the photo. Additionally, some of the oil and grease stains on the street pavement were removed. Finally, the image was tuned up in On1 Effects to add color, tonal quality, a slight vignette, sharpness, and a tonal quality effect to slightly darken the bike path so that it stood out a bit more. Again, here's the final image:
This is another example of the difference between a pretty good photo and one that's remarkable. Creating a visual narrative through a thoughtful process of planning and execution.