September 28, 2016

Buildings don’t travel, which means that most people will experience any particular building only through photographs. Consequently, those who rely on photography to represent their work have a lot at stake. Each image must communicate as effectively as possible, enabling the viewer to fully appreciate whatever the photo depicts.  

I have learned over time that one of the best ways to get something to happen is to make it easy for people to do. It’s not that people won’t try, but in a busy world, sometimes a little more work is just a little too much. The most compelling photographs draw the viewer in and get straight to the point, without barriers or distractions. This immediacy results from many factors; here, we will look at one of the more apparent ones, which is the removal of unnecessary objects from the final image. 

By judiciously taking things out, we can create a smoother visual experienc...

July 27, 2016

Here is some work from a recent shoot. This was a great experience in many ways, but at least for now, I won't burden the photos with my commentary. Enjoy! (Architect: David Tobin/ Tobin PLLC)

July 26, 2016

Shadow is a color as light is, but less brilliant; light and shadow are only the relation of two tones.
                                                                     -Paul Cezanne

In a world of shadows and highlights, the highlights seem to get the most attention. We watch highlight reels on TV, mark our documents with highlighters, and describe positive events as the highlights of our days. When it comes to photography, most of us are probably more attuned to highlights than to shadows, if for no other reason than because they are the brightest and most readily...

July 1, 2016

When describing photography, people often speak of “capturing a moment,” or “telling a story.” Let’s call this the “Narrative” approach. It’s a useful metaphor, and we can all think of examples, such as the Civil War photography of Matthew Brady, the “decisive moments” of Cartier-Bresson, or our family snapshots.

The Narrative approach is valuable in architectural photography, as well. It can offer a framework for photographing buildings in use, typically with people in the shot, or perhaps with furnishings and accoutrements that say something about how people are using the space. This kind of photography is terrific for drawing the viewer quickly into a setting, conveying scale, or elucidating the design by showing how it functions. Here’s a wonderful example from Ezra Stoller:

Photo by Ezra Stoller/ ESTO

If every picture tells a story, then this one tells several!

There is another way to think abou...

June 16, 2016

Context matters. Good designs can stand on their own in many ways, but buildings and spaces inevitably interact with their surroundings. Understanding context can deepen our appreciation of the design; for example, by illuminating the designer’s intentions, or revealing how a space functions. Closely related to context is juxtaposition, in which elements are placed near one another to achieve some effect. This is typically done by using contrasts of various kinds, including styles, colors, shapes, materials, and textures.

All of this matters in photography just as it matters in person. If the photographer is sufficiently aware of them, context and juxtaposition can be powerful tools for communication. The result is a photograph that says what we want it to say about the subject.

To see this in practice, consider two photographs of One Wells Fargo Center in Charlotte. The first version is cropped to...

June 1, 2016

Do photographs lie?  It’s an old question, but no less important for that. Architectural photographers routinely edit photos to remove things like construction barrels, power lines, and other distractions, and I don’t think that has ever been very controversial. But when do we cross the line from dressing up an image to actual misrepresentation?


A prominent example was the dust-up last year over the El Centro building in Chicago. The building won an architectural prize based on the photographs submitted to the jury. After the fact, it was revealed that one of the photos had been edited to remove a large block of unattractive climate-control units from the roof. As Blair Kamin wrote in the Chicago Tribune, this “turned El Centro's jumbled top into a razor-sharp edge.” (You can read Kamin’s story and see some photographs here.) Subsequently, two of the three jurors said they would not have given th...

May 9, 2016



A few months ago, my family and I visited Universal Studios to see the Harry Potter parks. My wife and I have enjoyed watching the movies, but this visit was mainly for our nine-year-old daughter, a self-described “Potterhead” who has immersed herself in the books, the characters, and the story.  


The parks are very well done, and if you are willing to suspend adult disbelief for a little while, you can easily get caught up in the atmosphere: quaint streets, dark alleys, castles, dragons, magic wands, and exotic wares all conspire to make you feel you are Somewhere Else, where magic is pervasive and wonder awaits at every turn. We spent most of two days there, and I found it surprisingly hard to leave. Compared to the wizarding world, the “real” world seemed crushingly dull. When we got home I felt a sense of loss, as if something colorful and fantastic had been replaced by something gray and m...

April 18, 2016

My recent photo of a Ferris wheel will appear in ArtFields, a juried art festival in Lake City, South Carolina, from April 23-May 1.  This is the fourth year for the event, which is gradually turning this small town into an artistic hub for the Southeast. The organizers have distributed some 400 works of art among assorted venues, and the week’s activities include artist talks, art walks, demonstrations, and other events.  In addition, the public and the jurors will select a handful of prize winners to receive significant financial grants for further work. Having grown up in rural Ohio, I love it when people prove that art is not limited to the big cities and the usual venues.


Working with this image got me thinking about things that are not exactly architecture, but aren’t exactly non-architecture, either.  (The best term I’ve come up with so far is “quasi-architecture,” though that’s kind...

April 4, 2016

This article is the first in an occasional series about the elements of good architectural photography. It is intended for art buyers, marketing professionals, and anyone else who commissions or creates photographs of the built environment.

Architectural photography is full of choices, because there is rarely just a single way to photograph a space. Becoming an informed viewer of architectural photography can help you navigate the possibilities, and obtain photographs that say what you want them to.

One choice that is sometimes overlooked is color versus black-and-white. For much of the twentieth century, black-and-white had a significant presence in architectural photography. This mainly had to do with the vagaries of film: compared to early color films, black-and-white films were more archival, less expensive, and easier to develop. Moreover, color films did not always reproduce color accurately,...

March 18, 2016

“God is in the details.”

                       -Mies van der Rohe


You’ve probably heard of the 80% rule, which says that 80% of effects are produced by 20% of causes. One corollary is that you can get 80% of the results from the first 20% of work, and then spend the next 80% of your time chasing that last little bit. A further corollary is that this is often not worth the aggravation, so just settle for 80% and use the rest of your time more wisely.


I will freely admit to relying on this principle when it comes to things like raking leaves or washing the dishes.  But I won’t let it anywhere near my photography. That last 20% - even that last 5% - has a real effect, and it’s often what separates an adequate photograph from a great one.


Here’s why: People who study these things tell us that a vi...

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Architectural Photographer

Charlotte, NC


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