Classic Influences Seen in Modern Architectural Photography

For today’s post, I was able to collaborate with friend and architectural photographer Matthew Carbone.  While catching up over happy hour one day, we began chatting about the use of people in an architectural photo shoot.  I was explaining how this had become a push from leadership at my firm, and wanted to get his take on whether or not he was seeing this same request from other clients.  It led to an interesting discussion that I had to capture and share, so here it is!

by Matthew Carbone

Architectural photography has been known for its multitude of famous photographers — Ezra Stoller, Julius Schulman, Balthazar Korab, and Hedrich Blessing to name a few. Their classic imagery remains an influence to this day. Being a younger photographer myself, I get the feeling that if a project wasn’t photographed by one of these marquee photographers, a firm was left with very little to choose from in terms of how to capture their design.

However, the trade has changed significantly since that time. Today there are numerous talented photographers in most cities, of different ages, styles and processes, all creating interesting work making it a great time for the market. One of the most significant changes in photography has been digital over taking film as the most used medium. This has revolutionized how architectural photographers work with lighting, thereby allowing greater usage of people in the photographs. Including people in architectural photos is not a new concept, as many classic images illustrate. What has changed is the entire process for shooting a scene with people.

Why Include People in Photographs?

  1. SCALE.  Ezra Stoller’s photograph of SOM designed McMath Solar Telescope on Kitts Peak. The scale of this massive structure, unfamiliar to the human eye, is revealed by the inclusion of a person.
  2. STYLE.  Julius Schulman’s work photographing the modern movement of Southern California. He was able to capture that specific lifestyle in each of his photographs, including the Case Study House 21.
  3. REVEAL. The possibilities of modern design make the usage of people in photographs a terrific way to help explain the space.
  4. LIVEN IT UP. Capturing people brings a photograph to life and allows viewers to place themselves in the context.The possibilities of modern design make the usage of people in photographs a terrific way to help explain the space.

Carbone Photos 1

Considerations When Including People in Photographs

  1. MODELS.  To avoid the designer and/or camera crew in every photograph, some firms are now hiring models for the shoot day.  This can be as simple as using a temp agency to secure five or six people for a half day. Or below is a photo of my dog posing for a vet’s office in Columbus, he was paid in treats.
  2. DATING THE PHOTOGRAPH. Including people will date your photographs. The laptops, iPads, clothes, touch screens, and other context in your photo is like a giant timestamp on your image. In 10 years it will look old, in 20 years it’ll be completely out of style, and in 50 years perhaps it will be a classic.
  3. STAGED vs. NATURAL. As a photographer you need to be able to handle both environment types, and understand that your techniques should adjust given the circumstance. In this uncontrolled environment, I made 17 different frames (all of the same exposure) and built the scene in Photoshop.
  4. BLUR vs. NO BLUR. People in movement is a stylistic trend, and whether the people should be completely tack sharp or if they want the people blurred in the space should be discussed by the client and photographer in advance. It shows some movement, and flow. I find it has a more natural feel to it as compared to completely static people. Be mindful of how blurry the people are. You don’t want people to look at a photo and think “what’s that giant smear?!”
  5. VARIATIONS. Your client will thank you for giving them options.  Same shot, with and without people.

Carbone Photos 2