Architects and Photography

Bob Borson —  April 30, 2012 — 39 Comments

I am setting myself up here in a major way by saying that photography is a skill that more architects should practice. You could infer from that comment that I might be holding myself out as an example of someone who takes good pictures – and I’m not … but I have gotten considerably better over the last 2 years as a result of writing this blog. Since I endeavor to use only my own images on this site, I started taking lots and lots of photos and as time passed, I became more and more aware that my picture-taking ability needed some polish. Just the act of taking as many pictures as I now take, in addition to getting them ready for these blog posts, my skill set has moved from “point and shoot” style to actually framing up, processing, and stylizing my pictures.

And it’s a skill that I think most designers and architect could benefit from developing.

If I were a magician, I’m quite sure that I would be blackballed for showing you how I process some of my photos. (Okay, that’s not quite right … why would a magician be blackballed for showing how they process their photos? It’s a lazy analogy but you know what I mean). Maybe it’s a bad idea because you will discover for yourself that my mediocre talents are even more mediocre than you might have thought. That’s okay … I’m not comparing myself to anyone other than me and as long as I am seeing some improvement that’s all I care about.

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Scaffolding - before

I took the picture of the scaffolding above last week when I was on the job site. Nothing to interesting about it but when I framed it up, I thought it had the possibility of being something pretty interesting.

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Camera + photo edit 01

Once I take a photo that has some potential, I bring it into a iPhone app called Camera+ (I’ve talked about this app before here). Within Camera+ I run it through a filter that brightens or darkens the photo – in this case I chose ‘Backlit’. From there I crop it down to a size that I like  - and I generally like ‘Square’. I can resize it to remove bits and pieces that I don’t want in the final picture.

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Camera + photo edit 02

Now I move into the ‘Effects’ category. There are 36 preset filters in the Effects category and while I haven’t used them all, there are several that I like. For the scaffolding picture, I went with ‘Lo-Fi’ because it has a strong contrast aspect to it that I like quite a bit. And then…

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Scaffolding - after

… the finished product. Now I’m not going to say it’s a great photo but I like it. The process of modifying this picture was around 90 seconds – it was that high because I like to look at several of the filters and then choose which one suits my picture in a manner that’s pleasing to me.

At this point, it’s important for me to distinguish my reason for showing you all this. You might think these pictures are garbage – that’s okay (but keep that to yourself, I have a fragile ego). The thing that I think is important is that this process has made me think about how I frame up my pictures, what looks good to me and why I think it looks good. Knowing when to apply a filter, which one, how much, crop it how … the entire process makes you think of the final product and what you want it to look like. This is a skill that I have talked about before, that as a designer, it’s important to know why you like a particular thing and then be able to articulate your reasons. This ability is what makes you a professional in my opinion because this level of knowledge means you can duplicate your successes without having to recreate them.

I can’t tell you how important I think that last sentence is … I’ll give you a moment to go back and read it again, really let it sink in.

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I take pictures all the time now and the camera in my iPhone is so good that it allows me the ability to take pictures anywhere and at anytime. I thought I would include some before and after images so that you can see where some of these pictures stated and where they ended up. When I got the idea to write this post (this morning when I was in the shower – where most of my post ideas are hatched) I was nervous that I wouldn’t have many before images still on my phone (which is where all of these came from). Sadly, I had removed most of them but there were a few I left on my phone – most likely on accident. These might not be the best examples but I do hope that you enjoy them.

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Rear Yard - before

Rear Yard - after

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Patio Side yard - before

Patio Side Yard - after

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Hand rail - before

Hand Rail - after

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Door Pull - before

Door Pull - after

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electrical cord - before

plug - after

So there you go, it’s a little like seeing the inside of a nightclub with all the lights turned on – not nearly as good as you might have thought. I hope that my bad photos have inspired you to start taking more photos of your own. You may not start churning out professional grade photography but I can guarantee that you will see some improvement in all aspects of the photos you take.

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Bob Borson - Dallas Architect

Happy picture-taking!

 

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  • Jimi Adigun

    Photography and architecture all the way>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  • Jimi Adigun

    @0bb84f2c081d52d9826bcba4b9e15ad7:disqus >>>>i think so, such person can be unique working with just black and white.

  • ralf

    can a colorblind person be an architect??

  • Kay

     You just proved, that Scaffolding CAN be Beautiful! ;-)

  • Rlwb

    We are remodeling 500 square feet – kitchen, dining, living including a wall for art. Our architect has 13 lights plus 9 pucks in kitchen cabinetry. Plus undercounted and above cabinets. Enjoy your blog and it’s fun to read that we are not going to have too many lights!!!

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  • Ak

    Hi Bob,

    First off, good stuff! Not just this post, but I like the way the house is coming up – I actually had a chance to see the house in person a few months ago when visiting Dallas. I was doing the architectural tour, from Kalita Humphrey’s theatre to the Nasher & somehow ended up driving past this house. It’s pretty slick & modern, especially considering the immediate context up & down the road.. The empty lot on the left would make a great place for a garden & reflecting pool.. (yes, we architects don’t care how much it costs to improve setting)

    Anyway, the reason I couldn’t stop myself from commenting here ( while quietly envying normally) is simply to ask you – exactly how many lights have you got on the ceiling of that room? I counted 15+.. Wondering what exactly that room is? I like the neat air vents on either side.. Very minimalist

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Ak,

      I have been getting a lot of comments about the number of lights in that room – and I can understand why. The short answer is that it is a large formal dining room and it is hard to tell from this picture the scale (right at 500 square feet) since I have cropped off the right hand side and I am standing a few feet into the space. All told there are eighteen light fixtures in this room. The strategy from the lighting designer is more light fixtures at fewer wattage and narrower beam spreads. There are also groups of lights so that some provide general ambient lighting for the room, some light the table (which can seat up to 14 people) and some (the 5 against the far wall) light up furniture and art.

      It is hard to truly evaluate this space simply because there isn’t anything to provide a sense of scale yet. Another example of that is the ceiling height – it’s 12 feet but doesn’t look that high in this photo. 

      There is a lot of flexibility in how this room can be lit – it isn’t like my own home where I walk into the space and flick on a single light switch and I’m done.  The number of light fixtures for this size room (including art lighting included) isn’t as unreasonable as people have been reacting. I would guess that most people who have recessed lighting in their kitchen have 2x the number of fixtures per square foot as this dining room. Most dining rooms that I see are around 12′ x 14′ square feet and have four perimeter lights and 1 center table light – that’s 5 fixtures in 168 square or 1 per 33.6 square feet. If you project that out to 500 square feet guess how many fixtures you get? 

      15 – and we are at 18 with 5 fixtures going toward specialty art lighting.

      See? Not so crazy when you think about the scale of the space.

      Thanks for commenting and giving me a forum that hopefully answers the “just how many light fixtures are there in that room” question.

      Also, thanks for the nice words, I appreciate them.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Ak,

      I have been getting a lot of comments about the number of lights in that room – and I can understand why. The short answer is that it is a large formal dining room and it is hard to tell from this picture the scale (right at 500 square feet) since I have cropped off the right hand side and I am standing a few feet into the space. All told there are eighteen light fixtures in this room. The strategy from the lighting designer is more light fixtures at fewer wattage and narrower beam spreads. There are also groups of lights so that some provide general ambient lighting for the room, some light the table (which can seat up to 14 people) and some (the 5 against the far wall) light up furniture and art.

      It is hard to truly evaluate this space simply because there isn’t anything to provide a sense of scale yet. Another example of that is the ceiling height – it’s 12 feet but doesn’t look that high in this photo. 

      There is a lot of flexibility in how this room can be lit – it isn’t like my own home where I walk into the space and flick on a single light switch and I’m done.  The number of light fixtures for this size room (including art lighting included) isn’t as unreasonable as people have been reacting. I would guess that most people who have recessed lighting in their kitchen have 2x the number of fixtures per square foot as this dining room. Most dining rooms that I see are around 12′ x 14′ square feet and have four perimeter lights and 1 center table light – that’s 5 fixtures in 168 square or 1 per 33.6 square feet. If you project that out to 500 square feet guess how many fixtures you get? 

      15 – and we are at 18 with 5 fixtures going toward specialty art lighting.

      See? Not so crazy when you think about the scale of the space.

      Thanks for commenting and giving me a forum that hopefully answers the “just how many light fixtures are there in that room” question.

      Also, thanks for the nice words, I appreciate them.

  • Mirza Baig

    That’s interesting Bob, I’ve been down that road and learned it just like you did, though I use Photoshop for editing. Thanks for sharing. The back-lit filter is cool.

  • jwkathol

    What are you using to tile multiple shots into a single image?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Diptic – although I think there are loads of other programs out there that do the same thing

  • RobG

    Hey Bob, Excellent post! I really enjoy your blog. One pedantic little note though:

    “This ability is what makes you a professional in my opinion because this level if knowledge means you can duplicate your successes without having to recreate them.
    I can’t tell you how important I think that last sentence is … I’ll give you a moment to go back and read it again, really let it sink in.”

    Maybe you should also go back and re-read that sentence.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      yes – I saw that last night as well and the irony was not lost on me – you could make it a full time job looking for typos and incorrect grammar.

      Thanks for taking the time to point it out in a way that makes me look stupid, although I don’t really need the help.

  • Bruce

    Hi Bob, I am just in the process of creating a blog for my architecture business in Southern Tasmania, Australia and was thinking the very same thing- that photography is certainly a skill that needs to be worked on (or at least mine is- have loved the shots you use to support your blog). It is very encouraging to see the results you show- mind you the subjects are great too so you’re coming from a strong starting point, Cheers Bruce Glanville

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Bruce! Make sure to send me an email once you get your site up – I’d like to check it out.

  • guest

    you were quoted in metal architecture

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Cool – got a link?

      • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

        never mind – found it :)

  • Sydney Richardson

    Nice post! I am using Camera+ more and more, loving it. Oh and Seaside shirt!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yes – that is a Seaside shirt. For some reason, I can’t seem to go there without buying that years shirt.

      :) 

  • jacob spence

    Thanks for your humbling post, Bob. 

    As an amateur photographer myself, I battled at one time with the idea of editing my photos – isn’t that cheating after all? While I think that too much is too much (HDR borders on this if done poorly) I have since decided that minimal and perhaps consistant editing is okay, especially if it helps to produce the image that you had in mind upon taking said photo. 

    I have gone through a few phases of editing. When I first began several years ago, I thought the desaturated look was really super. Fully committed, I set my camera settings to desaturate upon shooting, rather than changing it with computer software, so everything came out nicely grey and sterile. Now I look back at these in denial, wishing I wasn’t so stupid as to constrain myself, especially as this was during my travels abroad. Now I shoot only in RAW. It takes up more space, but spares me the worry of losing the potential of an image when captured. When my current likings for saturated and yellowed editing fades, I’ll still have the unedited originals safely maintained. 

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Funny that you should mention that. I shot RAW on my Nikon D90 but as it turns out now (and with every example in this particular post) these were all taken with my iPhone) which is another reason I like Camera+. I still have the original in addition to the edited picture … at least until I delete it to make room for more pictures.

      Cheers

  • http://twitter.com/VTWorks Vermont Timber Works

    Great points Bob, as usual :) always look forward to your posts.  I agree, you do have a good eye for photography, the edited pics are just a bit better, which is the point.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks. 

      What I hope people get out of this is that learning to take a good photograph is about more than just having the settings on your camera correct. There is an aspect of design that goes into – which would include personal license from the photographer.

      Thanks for commenting.

  • Cathy Svercl RA

    fun little app!  and shows you have a good eye.  interesting timing: i just purchased a new camera and have been “playing” with it.  i’ve always had the ability to compose pictures in the frame, but still have to remember to remove clients’ smorgasboard of shampoo bottles from showers before i shoot (one or 2 shampoos are okay).  the editing later helps remove them, and also helps to overcome other things you can’t always control.  like the sun being behind a cloud that day.  i like your shot of the handrail, by the way.
    i would like to suggest another post for you – how to work with a professional photographer.  having just completed my largest (modest home remodel) project to date, i thought i should get some great photos with good lighting, props, etc.  my clients don’t have any furniture yet, and plan to move in slowly (from their other home).  i had no idea how much photographers charged, and what exactly they did, etc.  most of the other architects i asked didn’t know either.  i did eventually ask a few photographers, and read some books, too (Julius Shulman, Ezra Stoll, Michal Heron), but this clearly was a consultant that an architect should know more about.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Cathy – that’s might be a good idea. We have a photographer that we work with on a fairly regular basis and I know of several others.

      I’ll see what I can pull together.

      Cheers

  • Mae

    you are too modest. it takes a good eye to see the potential in a seemingly everyday situation. you downplay it but the act of deciding what makes the cut in “a manner that’s pleasing to [you]” is in itself a skill.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Mae,

      I think that’s part of the process of getting better. Knowing what to edit, how much, adjusting brightness and contrast – there are countless decisions to be made. In the end, there is some personal aesthetic that comes out which is where the real photographers make their mark. 

      I suppose I shouldn’t discount that too much – you will get better with practice but there is some artistry involved.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I appreciate it.

  • http://twitter.com/adeleyoung Adele Young

    I’ve been having fun with my iPhone camera as well! Besides playing with filters, I really love being able to manipulate the balance & proportions of the photos too, which you demonstrated very well in this post. I’m sharing a few of my own before & afters that still happened to be on my phone…

    • http://twitter.com/adeleyoung Adele Young

      Looks like the pics loaded in reverse order…start at the last one :)

      • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

        Nice :)

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  • Paul J Michell

    Great post and great pics, as always. I think you’re being a bit too humble, if there is such a thing. I was just thinking yesterday after poking around on instagram and the usual suspects of websites, that us architects definitely seem to have a certain style and way of composing the pictures we take. As a recent graduate to phone with a suitable camera I have been enjoying that flexibility of not having to tote a separate camera with me everywhere and I have noticed I take a lot more pictures now. There are some alternatives but I am holding out for an android version of Camera+.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Paul,

      I think that when anybody spends a little time practicing and evaluating the results (compared to how you think things are going to turn out) you can’t help but see some dramatic improvement. There are times when I think some people forget that practice is important … it’s true in design and it’s true in taking a picture.

      Cheers – and thanks for the nice comment.

  • Aclamour

    I really enjoy your blog. regards Aubrey

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Aubrey,

      Thanks for taking the time to say so – I appreciate it.

      Cheers,
      Bob

  • Lselrod1

    I like photography, I am a photographer.  I think your photos, raw and finished, are great.  Thanks for sharing your information and photos with everyone.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Your welcome!