Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Equipment News-Sinar Arctec

The perfect architecture camera? Designed with the input from a REAL architectural photographer, Ranier Viertlbock. See: Luminous Landscape

For my brief thoughts see: Medium/Large Format Digital?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Careers-Getting established

From an email by Bernadette:
"Perhaps when you have a chance, you can give me advice on what steps to take to become an established [architectural photographer] photographer?"
*Cynical Note* To be frank, due to the economy, this is perhaps the worst time imaginable to be trying to get established as a photographer. Clients are dropping like flies and even established pros are slashing their prices.

First thought......IME you may get into a career by luck or happenstance, but you build a successful career by strategic planning and hard work. Strategic planning means knowing where you want to be in five years and making concrete steps to get there. The hard work may be obvious, but when I say hard work I mean pouring your whole being into learning your craft, acquiring the equipment you need, building a world class portfolio, developing a personal style and selling yourself. I don't mean to sound intimidating. It is largely a building and learning process not god given talent. See also: How Did I Get Into Architectural Photography

Tonnes asks on another thread:
Your work is great. Just curious: How much of your work nowadays is a result of your marketing efforts vs. clients coming to you because they'd seen your work elsewhere vs. old clients who rehire you?
Tonnes, 90% of my work is from repeat customers, many of whom I have been with for 25 years. Some were my AP students from architecture schools. We have grown together in business, exposure and reputation. Some clients you can't do this with. Some will come and go and that is understandable to. They want to try out the new guy or the cheaper alternative. But the ones that stick with you and you mutually build your careers together are worth their weight in gold. The new clients come from a variety of sources but most often either from seeing my work in magazines, referrals from existing clients and from web searches in my area that led them to my website.

****Thanks, I'll get into it more in the next couple of weeks, a thought at a time. I am really buried at the moment.****

Careers-How did I get into Architectural Photography?

"Kirk, how did you get into architectural photography?"

Thanks for asking David (from the Large Format Forum). This is a rough sketch....I had always had an affinity for prehistoric and historic buildings since exploring ruins in my early youth with my older brother Kent near our house on the far West Mesa near Albuquerque. See also: Statement. My father and brother were avid amateur 35mm photographers (their primary interest was astrophotography). We had a primitive darkroom in our house for many years. My first camera was a hand-me-down rangefinder Leica IIIC from my father. After doing a bachelors degree at the University of New Mexico (b&w medium format primarily) and showing in galleries (but making my living other ways, Volkswagen mechanic, welder, industrial mechanic, union organizer etc.), I got a 4x5 in '78 to photograph landscape but started wondering what else I could do with a 4x5 to make an income. A friend was an architect at the largest construction company in the state and he asked me to shoot some color of their buildings for a brochure. I had never shot color up to that point. That was the start, 1978. I used the assignments for the builder to get my foot in the door with the architects.

I found that I loved shooting architecture and that I had a real affinity with architects. It took about two years before I could go full time and make a minimal living. Then, because of the suggestion of a friend who had some connections, almost on a lark, I took off and went to graduate school at the University of Calgary in Canada for a photography MFA. I thought I would teach art photography for a living but when I got back to New Mexico in '82 but there were no teaching jobs that I was competitive for. So I threw myself into architectural photography with a vengeance, hooked up with some local architects who were making a splash nationally with their Post Modern architecture and started getting published in and assignments from national magazines. That was about 1986? See a very condensed list of my clients 30 years later here: Client List. Ironically my expertise in AP got me into teaching after all and I taught architectural photography (to keep the juices flowing) at the University of New Mexico and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for 19 years combined. I may not be done with teaching yet. Circumstances have prevented it the last couple of years. Only so many hours in a day.

Interesting where life takes you. All in all, I have been very fortunate.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Masters-Marvin Rand Passes

When one thinks of classic West Coast architectural photographers of the modernist era, one thinks of Morely Baer, Julius Shulman and Marvin Rand.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Equipment News-New Compact Pocket Wizard

New Pocket Wizards
Are you a Pocket Wizard fan? I use the Plus IIs for remote firing my strobes. They work well enough, but are rather big and bulky. So you just finished a complex strobe lit interior and are thinking of the next view. If you are like I am and you like to dismount your camera from the tripod and walk around framing your next shot, then you will appreciate the compactness of the new MINI TTL, which will sync up from your Canon hot shoe without a sync cord (and other improvements too)! Possibly a nice ergonomic upgrade. The only drawback I can see? It does not use AA batteries like my Plus IIs (which in a pinch you can find at any nearby convenience store), but they had to make some compromises to get the size this small.

I bought one today (8/27/09)-the MiniTTL mainly for a more compact transmitter than the big PlusII unit on the camera to fire my Norman strobes in architectural interiors. It is tiny in comparison. Works great for that, though the trigger range is smaller than the PlusIIs (800-1200 ft vs. 1600 ft). I have not tested yet the advanced features like the higher shutter speed sync. When I do I will post my impressions, though I rarely need higher shutter speeds.

Equipment News-Two New Tilt/Shift Lenses from Canon!

Great news for architectural photographers who use full frame Canon bodies. Canon just announced two new tilt/shift lenses, an improved 24mm and a mind blowing 17mm. These promise improved performance over the old 24mm (with better corner resolution, more shift capability and a rotating tilt mechanism) and add a new 17mm tilt/shift weapon to the arsenal. There has never been a tilt/shift with that wide of an angle of view ever (except on view cameras of course, but that is another discussion). This is perhaps a truly revolutionary lens. See: DPReview and Canon

Now, students of mine know that I am not a big fan of extreme wide angle lenses for architecture-just to much exaggeration of perspective, near far distortion and stretching of near elements (like tables etc.). Many of my clients have voiced the same reservations about images made with super wide lenses. So I am most enthusiastic about the new 24 as that lens is my 90% lens. See: Lens Selection

Darn, I was hoping to get through the year without investing in new equipment. If independent tests confirm the press on this new 24, I will have to have one.

Assignment Notes-Leveling the Camera

I have found that the hot shoe on all three of the Canon DSLRs that I have owned to be off kilter. You can't use a hot shoe level accurately from the hot shoe! So I keep the hot shoe bubble level level in the hot shoe to keep it handy but pull it out and level against the viewing screen to get accuracy. To keep it from scratching the viewing screen I cover the side I put against the screen with a couple of layers of masking tape. This works accurately for forward and back leveling and is much quicker than doing it in PS.

I carry the bubble level in the shoe but use it by holding it against the viewing screen (with some black masking tape on the side which contacts the view screen to avoid scratches). There are a couple of advantages here. One-the viewing screen has proven to me to be parallel to the sensor (at least on the 5D and 5DII). Two-the bubble level is small, cheap and conveniently carried in the shoe. And three and most important, when shooting at twilight, the image on the screen provides enough illumination to read the bubble.
Karl inquires......can you share any more details on your technique for using a bubble level on the 5DII viewing screen? Which make/model of bubble level you use... how you level the camera left-right... and the accuracy you're getting?
The reason I ask is that I'm shooting old, tilted ranch buildings for a cultural resource survey on a wildlife refuge. There's not a true horizontal or vertical in any of the buildings and accurate camera level is critical, both in the up-down pitch for leveling the 24 TS-E and left-right roll for the buildings' verticals....
For leveling left to right, I eyeball it with the help of a gridded focusing screen in my camera. This won't help Karl. He might want to look at some kind of leveling plate for his tripod? The Manfrotto level I use is from B&H. Hot Shoe Bubble Level

Juergen Sattler over at the Largeformat Forum suggested this.

I'm not thrilled with having to carry more spare batteries but....it looks like it has potential. It can be "calibrated" if you have a crooked hot shoe and is available in audio or visual signaling versions: ZigView available from Adorama
****more coming****

Monday, February 16, 2009

Following My Students.....Debbie Dodge

One of my favorite students from the Chicago class a few years back is Debbie Dodge, a public relations executive by trade but a architectural preservationists and photographer at heart. One of her passions is the threatened Uptown Theater in Chicago. The Uptown Theater was a class project of ours at SAIC and Debbie has continued to work on it over the years. It is a nightmarish place to work with incredibly low light, pieces of plaster falling on your head etc. This kind of dedication to using photography for the preservation of architecture is perhaps more important than all the commercial architectural photography we do. You have my utmost respect Debbie!
Uptown Theater Images

Friday, February 13, 2009

Interior Lighting-Fill Light

As a start let me say that there is simply no substitute for buying a set of lights and doing some testing. Supplemental lighting solutions are so varied and site dependent that they are hard to give general rules for. But I will try. To start with you will really need 3 heads and two 800ws power packs. These can be units where the head is separate from the pack like on my Normans or self contained units like Alien Bees.

Here is a simple example shot recently for a magazine article. The first image is a regular exposure for the highlights. Notice how deep the shadows are. Too bring them up in PS would create a tremendous amount of shadow noise. The second is with a single 400 WS strobe head with a 5" silver reflector bounced off a white wall to the right and above the camera position. The head was positioned about three feet from the wall so that the fill is very soft. A light gradient was applied to the upper left to bring the center of attention to the center of the image. The object is to open up the shadows without destroying the sense of natural light and the beauty of the sunlight splashing the furnishings. There is a bit more work to do to this image, but you get the idea.

****more coming****

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Assignment Notes-It's not about the Camera

What if the client owns the same or better camera than you do? Are they hiring the camera or the expertise? What if this subject comes up on a shoot, because they do, in fact, have a better camera than you do?

When I was only shooting 4x5 for architecture, some of my best architect clients owned "better" view cameras than I did and to top that had taken university classes from me. So they knew how to use them. I used an ancient and cheap Calumet Widefield for many many years and made no apologies for it. They weren't hiring a camera, but my 30 years of experience mastering the camera, the lighting, my vision and lastly my knowledge of design competitions and the magazine business to help them win awards and get published. It is no different now. I have one client that just bought a Nikon D3X and another with a Hassleblad Flexbody/39MP back. I use a 5DII. I have large shoots scheduled with these two clients this year. It isn't about the camera-never was and never will be. You bring allot more to a shoot than just an expensive camera.

Over the years teaching university classes and workshops, I have had many students with better equipment than me too. Does that make them better students? Sorry. Hard work and vision makes better students-not cameras. Equipment can be a limiting factor. You are not going to get largeformat quality if you use a 35mm camera, but the greatest limiting factors are lack of vision or expertise.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Portfolio-Predock's School of Architecture and Planning

There is a couple of nice little suites of my images online that I did last year of the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning for architects, Antoine Predock and Jon Anderson.

World Architecture News



The Art of Architectural Photography: Mark Citret

Visually astute and with a refined eye, Mark is one of my favorite photographers. I had the distinct pleasure of presenting with him at a conference a few years back and I found him very knowledgeable and sociable. In this insightful essay he challenges many of the conventions of traditional architectural photography. Enjoy his extraordinary portfolio while you are there.
....can a photographer, or any artist, by beautifully rendering an aesthetically questionable building, serve as an apologist for "unimaginative" or "offensive" architecture?

Mark Citret

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Masters-Hedrich Blessing

Whenever I teach my architectural photography class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with historian Tim Wittman, we take the students on a field trip to visit the offices of Hedrich Blessing. For architectural photographers it is like a pilgrimage to Mecca. For 75+ years Hedrich Blessing has defined the cutting edge of architectural photography. It is always interesting to see where they are at technologically. In August of 2005 I wrote the following report after our visit on the Large Format Forum:

Hedrich Blesing in Chicago has been at the leading edge of commercial architectural photography for 80 years. They are a great bell weather of real changes in the genre as they are conservative technically and don't follow fads. Every year I take my arch. photo class from the Art Institute on a fields trip to Hedrich Blesssing and use the trip to see how they are responding to the digital developements. This year an extraordinary young photographer, Jeff Millies, gave us the tour and showed us his work. This is where they are at:

Overwhelmingly they are shooting 4x5 trans. film, primarily Kodak EPN and Velvia and swear that as long as film is being made they will shoot it.

But everything is being scanned on Imacons and delivered as film or with scans and digital contact prints. The traditional printing darkrooms and C print processors are idle. Most of their clients don't know what to do with film anymore. They need digital files. The magazines and book publishers still want original film usually. Film is sent out to a lab. Their famous retouching is being done on original trans. when needed but primarily on scans via Photoshop.

A very few down and dirty or low budget jobs are being shot with digital capture, exclusively on the high end Canons with PC lenses. They use these for scouting shots too.

They are building a new facility out of the Loop where they will have better access which and will eliminate the traditional darkrooms in favor of computer work stations.

They are always very gracious and sharing. They have the confidence of artists who are at the top of their game and not worried about competition. We will try and get them to present at the View Camera Conference in Chicago next year.

Their digital evolution is about what I expected. Two years ago they started scanning film for particular clients who requested it and now everything is scanned.
In June 2007 I wrote this report:
Yearly update.....
I took my architectural photography class at the Art Institute of Chicago to Hedrich-Blessing again this year. If you are unaware, Hedrich-Blessing is an architectural photography firm in Chicago that goes back to the 20's. They have 8 full time photographers that travel the world and with probably twice that number in support staff. Almost anyone who put together a list of the top ten APs in this country would include 4-6 of these guys. I have been taking my class there for the last 8 years. They are real gentlemen, very sharing and thorough going professionals. They are at the very top echelon of their field and the bell weather of where the field is going as they are very conservative technically and do not follow fads. I really appreciate the time they take out of their busy schedules to talk to my students.


They are still shooting 70-80% film, Kodak EPN and Fuji 160 Pro S. Digital is Phase One backs and Canons. They are not thrilled by the digital cameras/lenses available for use right now for AP. All film is scanned. In their new building (a superb fascility built specifically for them), there are no wet darkrooms at all, just Imacon scanners and inkjet printers. They have grave concerns about the future of the films and Polaroid they depend on and as a result are following industry developments closely.

Advice to my students from the managing partner.........(if you knew these guys you would know what a radical statement this is for them)........"I wouldn't spend much time learning traditional film based architectural photography techniques."
That was 1 1/2 years ago. I wonder where they are at technologically now?

Twice I have had to photograph the same building as Nick Merrick of Hedrich Blessing. Once I had to do some additional photography on a bank that he had previously photographed and once it was the other way around. In both cases I found his creativity and technical mastery a real humbling educational experience.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Getting Published-Magazine Covers

Photographers in my area have often remarked over the years that I get more than my fair share of magazine covers. It is true that I have had allot, over 120 in the last thirty years. There is no real trick to this. You simply have to shoot verticals with magazine cover needs in mind. This is something I try to do on every shoot, even when my client is not a magazine-hoping that when the images sell as stock to a magazine that I will raise my chances of getting a cover that way. I have had crops from horizontal images make it to covers but it is rare. When shooting DSLR smaller than 21MP, cropped horizontals can really stretch the native resolution of the original image. As a result some art directors are reluctant to consider this alternative. It is simply better to shoot some strong verticals. Bear in mind that the aspect ratio of most covers is more squarish than a FF DSLR rectangle and that some cropping will occur anyway. Keep this in mind when composing for masthead placement too.

First and foremost a magazine needs a striking image that will cry out on a newstand. Secondly, a magazine needs room for a masthead at the top that is not to busy and third they need areas that are not too busy in the main area to drop in enticement content titles. Some magazines, though certainly not all, prefer that the composition lead the eye towards the right and the open pages rather than the left and the binding. Simple?

For more of my covers see:
KGP Covers

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Art of Architectural Photography: Robert Polidori

Periodically I will be posting the names of some extraordinary artist who photographs architecture. Like Polidori, many will not be regulation, easy to swallow, traditional commercial "architectural photographers".

Polidori..........aestheticised but not romanticized architecture.
Traditional architectural photography is documentary. It’s intended to be aesthetically pleasing, of course, but the primary concern is to accurately depict the appearance of a structure. Most architectural photographers come to their craft through their love of architecture. Robert Polidori is different; he’s different in his approach and different in his motivation. He’s different in about as many ways as it’s possible to be different...by Greg Fallis from http://www.utata.org/salon/20766.php

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Photoshop CS4 and Architectural Photography

I just installed CS4, a necessity to process the raw files from the 5DMII. Installation was not without some distress with constant crashes and "core" related error messages on start up. I emailed but haven't heard back from Adobe. A post on the Fred Miranda site informed me that I was supposed to update my video driver before installing. Oops my bad. That solved half my problems (100% crashes on resource intensive activities like Photomerge and Distort/Lens Corretion). CS4 really stresses video resources and updating the driver is a must. The other half of my problems were error messages related to MMX Core Routines on opening??? Weird stuff. Half of these were corrected accidentally by installing the Bigger Tiles Plugin (a performance booster from the Goodies folder)!!!!!!

I was at the point where I thought this release was trash (not because of the new tools which are wonderful but because of the problems). Finally, I heard back from Adobe. Actually the first "core" related error messages at start up were caused by some incompatible plug-ins I carried over from CS3. I'm not sure which one. I haven't sorted that out, but by killing the link to additional pulgins folder, I cured the problem. Too bad the error message just couldn't say that???? I am still not thrilled with the performance on my machine, but part of it is the larger raw files from my 5DMII vs. the 5D, which points to the need for more memory but my machine is maxed out!

In any event there are a few new developments that I find are extremely useful for architecture. In particular the clone preview. One of the more frustrating aspects of the clone tool has been cloning a diagonal straight line and getting the clone to match the edge. How much time have I wasted trying to get an edge to line up when I am tired or in a hurry, trying to avoid the problem below. You know what I mean! The clone preview solves that and saves me a ton of time.

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