Photographing Commercial and Institutional Architecture
Photographing commercial or institutional architecture places many unique demands on the photographer. For example, the arc of the sun in the sky at that particular time-of-year will always direct the photographer to choose the proper moment for a shot. So it starts with a careful and thorough scoping of the project to determine exactly the time of day the light will fall on each surface. The photographer sees the building as a sculpture who’s characteristics are revealed and enhanced by light and shadow on its surfaces. Control of those effects in the photograph are in the hands of the photographer and cannot be relegated to chance. He sees himself as the primary communicator of the project in whose hands, for all to see, is the final and permanent documentation of the architect’s imagination. He is in the driver’s seat and must make careful note and predict when and where he should be at every moment of the shoot. Weather can be his friend, or equally his enemy. The sun moves quickly (though It is the Earth – re: Copernicus). If a majority of the planned shots require sunlight to fall in a specific angle, it means he must squeeze all those shots into a tight timeframe. Often it’s not possible to accomplish this within the span of the predicted shoot time. And of course the weather may not cooperate. Often he must return to the project again and again to experience the light in just the right way. That leaves him in a compromising position. Usually working within a budget, the photographer has promised to accomplish the job within a predicted time-span. And the weather may not be so friendly to him in this cause. So he balances the requirements of the light with the confines of time and often must make frustrating compromises. But there too is his responsibility to make sensible choices. Only he in the end will know what shots may have been dropped.
But building exteriors are only half the challenge. Interior photography for architects of their commercial and institutional designs requires communication between the photographer and site managers. Here’s where the architect steps in to introduce all parties so that they can coordinate the photographer’s access to the building’s interior. The photographer’s goal is to capture the interior spaces at their optimum in terms of the built-in and ambient light. Here, when it comes to daylight through windows and skylights, time-of-day may also be critical. The photographer at these times needs complete control of the space since any human interruption may delay the work. So he must coordinate his shoot time with the building’s use to work out any conflicts. Often in the case of some projects, this requires that he work after-hours (which may be on weekends or in the middle of the night). The building’s security is always a concern at these times. And as well, his access to engineering staff to reach electric control panels just in case his lighting overloads a circuit.
I could go on and on about the experiences you might encounter on this kind of assignment. The list would be awfully long (I may have lost you already). To the point then; commercial architectural assignments aren’t to be taken lightly. It takes the experience of having done many of these, the patience to know how to pace yourself through the project, the people-skills to deal with all the individuals with whom you’ll interact, and the confidence to trust your eye and your judgement on behalf of your client for whom all of your efforts are dedicated.