B&A: Village Exchange

So there are some people out there who think a lot of my photos are fake, but for this Monday blog I thought I would share a few techniques that I use when shooting architectural photography, one of which requires complete fakery.

I recently shot a collection of images for Architecture HDT of a complex of buildings know as Village Exchange, in Havelock North, as part of their entry into the recent NZIA architecture awards.

One of the images was the one at the top of this blog, showing the corner of the complex which fronts onto the roundabout in the centre of Havelock North.

There is a lot of post processing work that goes into a shot like this, and to give an idea of the before and after images the image below shows, on the left, a single frame from the shoot, unedited ( except a bit of cropping / straightening to make it match the final version in this comparison ) and the image on the right is the finished product.

So how is it done?  Here is my check list of some of the things I do for Architectural Photography

1. Stand in a garden on a roundabout

Or in other word don’t be scared to stand where you need to to get the shot.  In the 30 minutes that I was standing in this roundabout I got plenty of strange looks, a few toots, and the local constabulary went around twice to see what I was up to.

But I got the shot from the angle that I wanted, so I didn’t mind the attention.

2. Balance the light / timing

One of the trickest aspects to shooting the exteriors of builing is getting a balance between the ambient light ( ie daylight ) and the artificial lighting of the building and surrounding streets. If you can get the balance right it really helps to show off the building at it’s best.  

This invariably means shooting buildings around sunrise or sunset to make sure that the ambient light doesn’t overpower the artificial lights, but also to get nice soft light across the whole shot. 

But it is also important to make sure that the ambient light is coming from over the shoulder of the photographer to light up the faces of the building.  I had tried this shot a couple of nights earlier at sunset as I thought the ambient would work, but one of the faces of the building was in too much shadow for me to get the shot I wanted.  So I returned on the next fine morning to get this shot ( and some of the others that I included in the final set )

This shot was taken about 20 minutes before sunrise ( see point 3 for why I can’t give an exact time ) which is often about the right time to get enough light from the sky but retain the brightness in the artificial lighting.

3.  Movement / life

One of the things that I try to get into my architectural photos is an idea of movement or signs of life around or in the building.  Architecture by its nature is quite static and so it can add a lot to a photo to get some sign of human activity to balance the non-activity of the buildings.

For this shot there were not a lot of people around at 6:30am apart from those driving their cars through this intersection, so I chose to get the lights of the passing cars into the photo.  This just required the slowing down of the shutter speed to about 1/2 sec and waiting for cars to pass by, and then timing the shots to get the lights in different parts of the roundabout and surrounding streets to build up a series of images that would make the final shot ( see point 4 below )

You can see in the comparison above how much more alive the scene looks with lots of car lights in different areas.

4. Multiple shots blended in Photoshop

I will let you into a secret; the final image ( as seen at the top of this blog ) is not a single photo, it is a blend of multiple photos ( 8 in total ) used to build up the scene that you see.  All of the shots were taken from the exact same spot, with the same lens, with slightly different camera settings to compensate for the increasing light levels as time passed.

As I mention in point 3 above I was trying to get shots of cars lights to blend into the final version of the image, and seeing as traffic was pretty light at 6:30am this meant that to get the number of light trails that I wanted in the final shot I had to keep taking photos as cars passed around me.

Once I had taken all the shots I needed ( and the light was getting too bright to get the look I wanted ) I picked the best shots of the collection of 30, and edited them in Lightroom, and then moved them into Photoshop to blend multiple images to get the car lights from each image into a combined photo.  Obviously as the buildings and light poles etc didn't move between shots it is a relatively easy process to blend together the objects in the photos that did move.

I am not going to go into the details of the blending process in Photoshop, as there are plenty of tutorials out there on this, and I might write another blog about it at a later date.

5. Turn the lights on

Once I had created the overall image that I was after, with a nice sky, well lit buildings and car head lights, there was still one part of the scene that I didn't like.  Again this comes down to getting the building to have life to them, and in the photos I shot there were very few lights on in the buildings themselves so they looked a bit lifeless.  Often it is possible to get the lights inside the building turned on before the shoot, but the problem with this complex of buildings was the varied ownerships of the various buildings which meant it would have been incredibly difficult to get lights turned on.

So I faked it, and painted the lights into the windows that I thought needed it.  It was a very slow process ( as you need to paint only the glass areas and keep the window frames unlit ) with an attention to detail. Even though the windows make up only a small part of the overall photo, if the faked light is not done well it makes the overall photo look strange, and people looking at it will 'feel' that there is something wrong even if they can't see the exact problem.

Also it has to be remembered that light shines onto parts of the building from the windows, so when fake light is added to a window the external faces of the building around the window might also need light added.  For example the ceiling in the outdoor deck area of the 'drum' had to have a little bit of light added as it would normally be lit by the window behind it.  It is very subtle but very important for the feel of the image.

Below is another comparison to show the fake light; this time it is one of the shots before editing, and the same shot with the only the 'fake lights' added to the windows and building faces.

Hopefully there is some helpful information in this blog for anyone looking to shoot some architectural shots.  The overall process is more complicated than I have made it sound in this blog, but it should give a good starting point.  In terms of time this photo took about 1/2 hour to shoot the various shots and about 2 hours to edit it.

But it was worth it in my eyes.