Choosing the subjects in architecture shots
I have been asked many times by my friends how do I choose the subjects for architecture shots. For explaining this, I will take an example: last month Carmen and I were in Berlin for architecture shooting.Everything started about 2 weeks before the trip by searching for "models": buildings with some special look, interesting shapes, dynamic angles. Or tall buildings in relation with other tall buildings. I don't like normal skyscrapers alone, as shooting a parallelepiped to the sky has few composition opportunities in my opinion. For this scouting of images we used 500px. Just enter the key word "Berlin" and scan through tons of pages with all kind of images, correctly or incorrectly tagged with German capital. Whenever some architecture piece was looking "hot", the next step was an attempt to localise it and find more information about it: how to get there, how the surrounding looks like, how the building looks from different sides. All these information were saved in a document, printed and also stored on iPad for quick access. The second round is watching what high quality images exist with those particular buildings. I don't want to repeat exactly same shot as other people are having. In some cases it is not really possible; there are buildings that offer limited opportunities and then the resulting photography is not so original (such example is ShellHaus in Berlin, where I saw already many versions of same composition and crop) . In such a cases I am sometimes shooting the building anyway, trying to move a bit from the "template" and also later in post-processing, I am exploring different crops, orientation or processing. But going back to research, other sources are those modern architecture websites like archdaily.com or mimoa.eu. If you just google "modern architecture in …", adding the city you are interested, you get quite a lot of information about what has been built recently and what is going to be built in that city. The trap is that sometimes you can't figure out right away if a building is already there or it is just under construction or even a plan. Additional time is required to clarify on this, as I am not really keen to shoot a construction site.
Once arrived in the location, it is very important to walk a lot. Of course between the distant subject, public transportation is required, but if the locations are close enough , walking is the best choice. The idea is that most of those interesting architecture sites are somehow concentrated in a same area so you can find , next to the building that you already scouted, another one that might be even more interesting. Buses can also be an option if possible. Take a seat next to the window and keep the eyes wide open, always ready for a change of plans in case something interesting pops up and you have to unexpectedly jump out of bus.
Once in front of your subject, it is important to explore it a little bit, It might be the case that a great shot is very obvious and then its better just to shoot it right away and then start searching for maybe the second best composition. But if the weather conditions are changing dramatically (in Berlin we had moments when the clouds were marching that fast that in 10 minutes the sky outlook was changed completely), try to get the best possible image for that building at the beginning, or you'll not have the chance for a second shot. Walk around, look left, right and up, I am attracted by very dynamic angles, interesting diagonals, relationships between parts of the building or between different buildings, interesting light patterns on the surfaces. Its not as simple as finding a structure and shooting it directly to the sky, from then most obvious angle. It is more about finding the "soul" of the building (if such thing exists) and getting the most out of it. And sometimes its "soul" in your opinion is totally different then what other people consider essential for that piece of architecture. It is just what clicks in your head, what make you say: "That's it!". Its like dreaming with your eyes open and when dream and reality perfectly overlap, thats the shot! Don't be afraid to move away from the traditional whole building shots and embrace a more abstract approach, revealing just a piece of the building, an angle or a detail. If done properly, all of these work,all lead to interestingness and beauty.
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