Architectural Photography in the Age of Social Distancing
We are currently experiencing a time where there is a unique opportunity to shoot many architectural projects while there are few people around.
Schools, in particular, are empty and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Other larger corporate projects are thinly populated. Residential architecture projects including showcase homes can be photographed without people.
Photographs of buildings and landscapes devoid of people has long been the foundation of architectural photography.
In recent years, however, architectural photography that not only included people but featured people has become a popular trend used to illustrate projects.
Many architects prefer their projects to be photographed without people for a variety of reasons. Some feel that interjecting people into a scene distracts from the design of the building. They don’t attention to the lines and geometry of a building interrupted or obscured by people. Others feel that fashion trends and changing hairstyles people will date a building or landscape project that would otherwise be timeless.
You won’t find any people in the photographs shot for Frank Lloyd Wright or Frank Gehry.
Some architectural photographers prefer not to use people in their photos. An architectural photo shoot involves a lot of moving parts. A photographer is busy juggling numerous variables like the camera’s position, lens choices, camera settings, and other technical issues. Additionally, the photographer will have to make decisions about staging and how weather conditions and the angle of the sun will impact the photography.
Including people in the photos adds a whole other set of considerations. The photographer has to add direction to the list of other variables he/she has to control. Architectural photography, by its very nature, requires shooting at a deep Depth of Field so everything in the scene is clearly in focus. Because shutter speed is the inverse of Depth of Field, most shutter speeds are quite slow. Any movement at all, particularly from a person in the scene, will create a blur. Many photographers have even taken to enhancing the blur made by human movement.
Others, like me, shoot two sets of photos of a scene; one without people and slower shutter speeds and one with people at a faster shutter speed so people aren’t blurred. The images are masked together in post processing.
Today, social distancing in all parts of our professional and personal worlds is a new standard requiring adjustments in both logistics and process. I think this moment marks a return to clean canvas style of architectural photography without people.
From a safety and practical standpoint, this makes sense. Eliminating the human element in architectural photography reduces the number of people we come in contact with. I tend to travel light anyway. I usually work with one assistant on architectural photography shoots. I don’t use a digital tech on site; post processing is done after the photo shoot. On occasion, we will use a professional stager. In situations like this, most of the staging involving props and external accessories can be done prior to the photo shoot.
We can also get input from the project principal or marketing director without them actually being onsite. We always shoot to an iPad so the client can see each shot prior to it being taken. This gives them the opportunity to any adjustments to composition or details. Now, we have the ability to upload those images to a Dropbox folder as we shoot. My client can review the images from the safety of their own office. In some cases, we will be able to provide live view or streaming so the client can guide us as he or she wishes.
Just like everyone else, we are taking steps to keep our equipment clean by wiping it down and using safe, healthy personal practices to keep our hands clean and practice social distancing on a continuous basis.
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