The thing that impresses me most about good architectural photography is its ability to imbue inanimate subjects - buildings and other manmade structures - with  a life and soul of their own.

Five professional photographers who specialize in architectural photography kindly agreed to give me interviews (I continue to interview architectural photographers on our blog on a  regular basis)

  • Alan Blakely
  • Chip Allen
  • Kirk Gittings
  • Scott Hargis
  • Treve Johnson

Each interview contains:

  • Samples of their best work (in my opinion)
  • Their achievements and failures, as well as several interesting and surprising facts and stories
  • A number of professional marketing secrets and tips on architectural photography for beginners
  • A few tricky questions

Alan Blakely

Alan Blakely is the founder and current director of The Association of Independent Architectural Photographers (AIAP), and Real Estate Photographers of America (REPA).

Mr. Blakely has also been the recipient of many professional awards for his commercial images. Blakely is the author of several photography publications and is a regular contributor to photography and architectural magazines and educational websites.

I particularly like the photos in your portfolio that were taken in the late evening. I guess some of them provide some pretty solid lead-conversion, as they say in marketing speak. Could you tell me a little about your post-processing workflow? Do you ever use HDR?

Thank you. The dusk shot has long been the signature shot of the architectural photographer. It requires a keen awareness of optimum timing and composition to be successful. Being able to create great dusk shots usually establishes a photographer as a legitimate architectural shooter. These shots also are crucial in a architectural photographer’s portfolio and marketing materials.

I use HDR as a tool in nearly every job I shoot. However, I would never want the tool, HDR or otherwise, to be the reason for a shot. I use HDR sparingly and always try to achieve a completely natural look in the image. I believe that an obviously HDR photograph is a failure.

Read the full interview...

Chip Allen

Chip's passion for photography is reflected in the varied subject matter he shoots; specializing primarily in Commercial Architectural Photography & Fine Art Photography.

He gained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing.

His business background gives him the knowledge and expertise to work efficiently with his corporate clients; applying his skills to listening, problem solving, and generating creative insight to best market their specific products and services.

What special skills and equipment would you consider essential when photographing architecture? What would your advice be to anyone thinking about taking up architectural photography?

Do ANYTHING you can to make your photos say “WOW!”. Take a medium that is 2D (photography) and give the viewer depth queues that draw the viewer into the story-understand in composing, what to exclude just as much as what to include in an image. As far as essential gear goes, the neatest thing since sliced bread is a tilt/shift lens. You really don’t know what you’re missing until you spend time with these things. If you’re
serious about architecture this is quintessential.

If someone wants to start up one’s own Architectural Photography practice get out and start pounding the pavement. Not just cyber pavement but making real connections, “handshakes” in their own physical business community. Just because you make pretty images does not mean business will just flow in. If you love what you do you have to work at it everyday. The alternative is working for someone else- NO THANK YOU.

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Kirk Gittings

His commercial architectural photography regularly appears in national periodicals and books, while his art work is represented in many museum, corporate and private collections in the S.W.

In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor at UNM, and an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, teaching architectural photography.

He has received many awards including a major grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to photograph New Mexico’s historic churches. In 1992 he was nominated for the AIA’s GOLD MEDAL in PHOTOGRAPHY.

His first book CHACO BODY, with poet V.B. Price about the Anasazi ruins at Chaco Canyon, has been critically acclaimed as a major contribution to regional art.

Many amateur photographers would love to ask your advice. If you saw an aspiring photographer looking at your photographs in an exhibition, what advice would you give him or her? And, in general, when it comes to art, is it really possible to advise anyone? Or is it simply divine inspiration?

I actually think creativity is inate, commonplace and ideosincratic. As a teacher I can help encourage, focus, re?ne etc. someones vision, but I can’t make them see. That is in them or not.

If you want to be successful in this business you need to be incredibly hard working, have a thick skin, learn from the masters, be incredibly hard working, budget your ?nances, don’t be a prima donna (you are just a damn photographer!), be incredibly hard working and learn about architecture!

Learn the language of your clients. Learn what turns them on. Be knowledgeable about architectural trends and names. Get involved in historic preservation. Be a vital part of the architecture community.

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Scott Hargis

Scott is an author of the popular book “The Essential Guide to Lighting Interiors”.

He is a location photographer specializing in Interiors & Architecture. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Scott also shoots portraiture and adventure sports.

 A member of the International Association of Architectural Photographers, Scott also teaches photographers’ workshops throughout the United States, and has been widely recognized as a leader in the Interiors photography genre.

His work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, This Old House, The East Bay Express, Bay Crossings Magazine, WEND Magazine, and Bay Nature, among others.

Is it often necessary to make changes to an interior in order to archive the desired result? For example, to swap the sofa or the commode, to select and hang a few pictures or arrange a delicious meal in the kitchen?

All the time. Someone is always responsible for styling, whether it’s just having fresh flowers or fruit available, or whether it’s more intense like steaming the curtains and replacing the entire contents of a bookshelf.

And we move furniture on almost every shoot. There are a few reasons for this. First, sometimes the “normal” furniture arrangement just doesn’t “read” properly from the camera’s perspective. It might be just a matter of adjusting the angle of a chair, or it might be as extreme as moving sofas and desks. We’re trying to render a three-dimensional space into a two dimensional medium, and that often requires some “re-mapping” of the landscape, if you will. The furniture frequently ends up in positions that make no sense to the eye, but again, from the camera’s specific perspective, it looks natural and pleasing.

The other reason for moving furniture is to get the place back to what the original designer intended. If the place has been occupied, it’s a good bet that the original décor has been altered, and furniture placements have been changed.

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Treve Johnson

His specialties include architecture, landscape, nature, lifestyle, dance, travel and panoramic photography. With over 30 years of photographic experience he can create images that speak to the heart and engage the viewer.

With his interest in nature and the great outdoors, it was only natural that he gravitated to large format black and white landscape photography, attending the last workshop that Ansel Adams taught in Yosemite in 1980.

His commitment to environmental stewardship along with his association with conservation organizations has helped protect over a quarter of a million acres of California wild lands.

Treve, your photographs look amazing. Some of them are really mind-altering. I always love beautiful outdoor and landscape design projects. Your photo of the house by the landscape architect David Thorne and the builder James Rogers is one of my favorite photos from your portfolio

Would you tell us a little bit about this project? What time do you prefer to shoot your evening photos? Did you use HDR?

This project was for a landscape architect and a builder. The two parties participated in a joint photo shoot. Our plan was to shoot at dusk to show off the lighting features in the landscape as well as the landscape.

The landscape architect wanted a photo that said “house on a hill surrounded by native landscaping.” In walking through the project on a previous date we talked about the best point of view, which we thought would be the front of the house. At the time of the photo shoot, I captured the images that we had discussed and then I walked around to the back of the house. What I saw nearly blew me away.

The house glowing but the landscaping was quite dark compared to the sky and the windows. I thought if I could could pull off the image using HDR to bring the landscaping out of the darkness the image might work. The wind was blowing like crazy and I knew the vegetation whipping around would be an issue. In the final image though, everything seems to work.

Read the full interview...