Architectural photography is amazing. A single image can take hours to set up, then hours to shoot. The photographer is trying to match what they eye sees and what the architect envisioned when he/she designed the lighting.
Each set of lights gets its own exposure and must be balanced for color. On film that requires a lot of testing and calculations. Experience really comes into play. Imagine testing exposure via light meter and Polaroid for each set of lights, one at a time, knowing what the color temperature is of each, and what filtration and filter factor for each. Oh, and add in reciprocity issues, because exposures can last for seconds up to an hour. Then try to bracket all that onto several sheets of film. It’s not unusual for one image to take an entire night to make.
Greg Epstein is a Los Angeles-based architectural photographer who has been shooting some of the best developments and architecture in Southern California and around the country. I met him several years ago when he hired me to assist on several shoots. I was fascinated by his work, which is very different from the sports and people I shoot. I loved the discipline of it.
Better and Easier
I thought about how Greg could really take advantage of digital to make his work not only faster and easier, but better with more control. I did a couple of experiments with him to show him how easy it could be, getting the exposure right on each image, then layering them in Photoshop after the fact.
Shooting RAW allows him to color correct each image, so he can worry about that after the fact. He mainly has to get the exposure on; he can even bracket to make sure he catches specific nuances. Turn on one set of lights, make an exposure or two, then turn it off and turn the next one on; repeat. Even if he runs short on fill lights, he can light one area for one exposure, then light another area for another.
After shooting a 4x5 camera with wide lenses down to 65mm, there was but one choice for Greg if he were to go to 35mm: full-frame digital SLRs. I had Greg invest in a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, and eventually an EOS 5D, as a backup. A Mac PowerBook would be perfect for the road to compliment his desktop Macs at home.
He has lenses to 14mm, wider than the field of view he had in 4x5. And with the smaller kit to carry, it’s much easier for him to travel now by plane. A fully stocked 4x5 hard case is huge and heavy. It needs to be checked and takes away from what he can easily get in and out of airports. With Canon’s tilt-shift lenses as wide as 24mm, he can shoot tall objects easily without having to rely on Photoshop to correct perspective.
In Photoshop, most of his images merely needed to be opened, corrected for color, layered, and the blend mode changed to “Lighten.” There are times for more complex masking and additional corrections, but he has complete control over each and every exposure made this way. And if a lightbulb is out in the ceiling 30 feet above the floor, he can virtually light it without having to track down a maintenance person and the correct crane or ladder to change it. How many mouse clicks does it take to change a lightbulb?
Recently Greg shot the exterior of a building for a client. Because the project was not yet complete, a door was still under construction. He decided to shoot a nearby door to show the completed project.
I walked him through the Vanishing Point tool to match the perspective. It cloned into place like it had been there all along. Greg looked like he’d just won a new Ferrari. He knows how to correct perspective problems, but having a tool that clones imperfections and keeps true to the way he shot the image, well, that made his day.