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!
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...
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...