When photographing architecture there are a lot of techniques we photographers have at our disposal to make the most of a tough situation but sometimes we must rely on luck when it comes to the weather. We schedule our shoots around the weather and sometimes we even have to wait for the season to change to get good conditions for photography. This happened on a recent shoot where the client needed images right away the building didn’t get a lick of light on the front of the building all day.
With a little research I was able to find out that at this part of the season the building never got light on the front. In a few months along with the longer days would come the sun, but that wasn’t going to help me now. Typically when shooting exterior architecture you schedule all of the shots to get the best results. You try and hit a perfect window of time, where the light skims the building showing the detail and texture without ugly raking contrasty shadows. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon are often among the best times but it is important to get some direct light to make things pop, so really anything goes. Getting good quality lighting can be the difference between a good and bad architectural photograph.
One tool architectural photographers use these days are apps that plot the sun’s path and apply the information to satellite maps. These programs can really help simplify the task of scheduling how to make the most of the light during the day. I use one called “Sun Seeker” that shows the path of the sun during the day, and the sunrise and sunset times for the day of the shoot. These apps are incredibly accurate and can even project where the sun will be in three weeks or three months. While shooting a recent project I discovered that there wouldn't be any direct sun on the face of the building for months. The sun at sunrise was very close to putting some light on the building’s facade but shortly after sunrise the sun would go towards the back of the building in an arc. The brief window of time never really amounts to the perfect light that you hope for in this situation. Rather than illuminating the textures the light just put confusing patterns of shadows on the wall. Since the building’s front would be in the shade cast by the eaves during the day, I knew everything would be flat and lacking in detail.
The best option was to capture the building in the early morning. I ended up shooting at dawn, early enough for the light to have a nice directionality to it. While there wouldn't be any direct sunlight, the fact that the sun was far to the side on the horizon gave the light some heft and show off the the design. I showed up onsite a little before dawn, set up my camera and made lots of exposures till the sun came up and made a beautiful sky. I just keep shooting until all of the warm sunrise colors disappear, then I go back through the exposures and pick out a winner. I love the quiet as the day starts, watching the sunrise is a pretty great way to spend the morning.
The twilight image was made in a very similar way. I typically set up my camera before dusk and start making exposures. Ideally, the goal is to catch the building, the dramatic beautiful sky and all of the interior lights in perfect balance. So first I am looking to catch an exposure that catches some detail in the building and makes the sky look as good as possibly can. When it gets dark enough I make an exposure of the windows. Finally, with a flashlight I hit areas on the building that need a little light. This image had the additional issue of being extremely wide. I couldn’t back up far enough to get it into a conventional camera so I had to take advantage of one of the features of a tilt-shift lens or perspective correction lens. The image was photographed with the lens shifted to one side, and while the camera remains absolutely still the lens shifts to the other side capture the rest of the image in another exposure. I am planning go into more depth on twilight photos and Tilt/shift lenses in future blog posts, so keep checking back to this space.
In the end, there are all sorts of ways to make the best of the situation, from polarizing filters to photoshop. And it isn’t uncommon to turn a gray dismal day into a bright sunny day with the help of a little judicious lighting. It seems that everyday I learn new techniques and workarounds just in time for the next weird challenge that comes out of nowhere.
Thanks for reading, Let me know if you have any questions. If you are an architect, builder or developer and need great quality photography to promote your business, contact me with the details of your project for a free quote. I am located just outside of Philadelphia but can be found with my camera in hand photographing in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and all over Pennsylvania. If you would like to see more of my photography visit danieljacksonphoto.com