Architectural Assignment, Number 1

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I have been photographing architecture for a long time. After the number of projects I have photographed you would think it’s a no brainer to walk into a project, set up the camera, create the shots and head back to the office. What I enjoy about architectural assignments is exactly the opposite of what I described. Every project has it’s challenges and this project was no different.

Viking Village, Princeton High SchoolThe project I am featuring in this post is a Cincinnati area public high school. The school was a complete new complex built over three phases taking several years to complete. The slide show above is the final phase of that project called Viking Village. Viking Village is comprised of a theatre, gymnasium, swimming pool, training room, common area, concessions, offices and the exterior.

I photograph a lot of school buildings and most of the time you don’t get to photograph until after the students and teachers move in. Scheduling a shoot for each space requires coordination with a lot of people and using the allotted time wisely, there is little time to waste because of activity scheduled in the space throughout the day.

The first space is the theatre. As you can see it is a big space needing photos from several angles. My client wanted both upper and lower level views, right and left views and from the stage looking out into the seating. I had one hour and 15 minutes to capture all the angles and as with most projects, Murphy’s Law came into play. The theatre manager was new to the lighting system and had no idea how to work the complex switchboard that operated the lights. After spending a good portion of our time learning the light system we were able to light it well enough. I knew I could perform a little magic in Photoshop creating light beams and finishing off with a few special touches. While the manager and several others worked on the lights, I walked the theatre taking snap shots of different angles I thought would give us the look we wanted. With 40 minutes left on our time, I got approval from my client for the angles he wanted and were able to create the shots in time.

Viking Village, Princeton High SchoolThe second space was the swimming pool. Windows are big these days, with energy conservation and the green movement on the minds of LEAD certified designers, lots of outside light in new structures has become the norm. This is sometimes good, sometimes challenging, but always interesting in how to tackle the situation. This project wasn’t too bad, with the time frame I had to work the overcast light was a blessing. Direct sun light would have created harsh shadows and a challenging task of toning down the shadows in the processing stage. Notice the light fixtures above the pool. A single exposure made these fixtures a strong and distracting white space. I created two exposures for the light fixtures, allowing me to illustrate the details, and blended them with the swimming pool later in the process. Two exposures were made for the windows, one for the framing and one for the outside view, and merged together before blending them into the main exposure. The seating angle brought about a challenge in itself. What the photo doesn’t show (see view in slide show) is the plywood being used in the railing because of broken glass. I had to carefully position my tripod where I knew I could duplicate another area around the railing and position it in place of the plywood. The photo appears to be fairly simple, but what the broken glass, light fixtures and large windows illustrate is the importance of knowing your tools.

Viking Village, Princeton High SchoolThe gym had one major obstacle, the reflection of the lights on the floor. This is always a challenge when photographing gymnasiums. I have been known to do a series of shots with the lights off and a series with the lights on. In the processing stage, I take the best exposure from both series and ever so slightly blend them together toning down reflections and giving me a floor that looks believable. The problem I had in this situation was time. This gym is in constant in use from first bell in the morning until last bell at the end of the school day. After school there were volleyball games and no time to shoot this space. I was up against shooting this in-between classes. I did’t have time to shoot a series of photos with lights on and off, therefore I shot with lights on and decided to work with the situation on the computer. I carefully positioned myself where I knew I could take the foreground reflections out and leave the background reflections. This gave me a plausible look to the finished photo. Talking about being rushed, I was rushed but always keep in mind the client doesn’t care how or what went into the shot, they care about the finished product, after all thats what they are paying for. The “How” part of a photograph only interests other photographers. Anytime you photograph an interior space for a paying client, do whatever is needed to get the shot but make the finished product real.

The remaining shots were created with far less pressure and distractions. I had many of the same issues in the remaining shots, windows, reflections and people. The common areas throughout the building had lots of large windows which took out the worry of dealing with color shifts from light fixtures or other artificial lighting. The fitness room had no windows therefore taking a color balance reading was important. Other than color balance, all I had to worry about was getting an exposure for the light fixtures providing detail. Some photographers don’t worry about detail in their light fixtures, but I prefer to show some detail in my lights. The stairwell required some attention in Photoshop but with experience working with blending modes and expertise with the pen tool, lots of magic can happen.

I hope you enjoyed my first installment of  “Architectural Assignment”. Many more will follow in the coming weeks and months. If you have any questions or comments, please use the comments section below. Please follow me on Facebook, Twitter and sign up for specials with my monthly newsletter.

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