Magazine Article


Million-Dollar Views


Vance Fox's
Airy, Enchanting
Architectural Images

Reno and Lake Tahoe, Nevada—places that bring to mind the grandeur of the wild outdoors and the sophisticated stylishness of the great indoors. Vance Fox captures the essence of both, by framing his architectural exteriors with forests, mountains, and blue sky, and by imbuing his casino or home interiors with seductive lighting and the fading glow of twilight.

The photographer is based in Reno and does most of his work for area architects, designers, and high-end real estate companies (think $12 million to $22 million per property, for instance, around Incline, on the north shore of Lake Tahoe). Major hotel-chain clients have included Harrah's (he's photographed all its nationwide properties), Caesar's at Lake Tahoe, and the Hyatt at Lake Tahoe. He's gone as far afield as Hawaii and Atlantic City, New Jersey, too.

Fox revels in taking "happy snaps"—photographs of homes and buildings from overlooked or unusual perspectives, that are often the most stunning of the entire shoot. He named them "happy snaps" because, as he walks around a property, he shoots whatever pleases his eye. And when he presents to the client, they are delighted to receive these little extras, separate and apart from the commissioned work. A happy occurrence, indeed.

The Skagen Design and Supershops photographs are two such images. Fox shot the former, the home of the owners of the Skagen Design company, as he walked around it, with no special lighting and no special request from the client for that particular angle. Supershops, photographed for a construction company that needed both straight and interesting shots, was conceived entirely on his own—the client wasn't even onsite.

"I have no art direction typically—that depends on the client," Fox says. "I will do hero shots in 4x5, then scan them, and also shoot what I think is interesting. It's a bonus for the client, and I have more fun."

Fox shoots most architectural work with a Sinar p2, p, and f2, with Sinaron lenses in DB mounts. He also uses a Mamiya RZ67 and a 35mm Nikon, with various lenses. The photographer then scans film into his Imacon Flextight scanner and does a little retouching in Photoshop.

He uses digital—a MegaVision T2 and S2, and a Fujifilm FinePix S1 Pro—for catalog work and to shoot model homes. He won't use digital for twilight shots—preferring to set up two or three 4x5s and manipulate the scanned images later—or for interiors, citing two major problems.

"Most digitals can't handle long exposures without noise—that is the biggest problem. Shooting film and using my Flextight scanner is more lucrative for interiors," Fox says. The other problem is that most digital cameras—his Fuji FinePix S1 Pro being an exception—don't have the wide-angle lenses necessary for interior shots, he says.

Fox, on the other hand, can handle anything from straightforward interior shots, such as this month's cover—a house on the shore of Lake Tahoe—to exterior shots Hollywood-esque in their production, such as Caesar's Lake Tahoe.

The cover shot was done for a real estate firm. Shot during the day with strobe, Fox retouched it only to remove some reflections in the window.

Caesar's Lake Tahoe, however, required some unusual effort on Fox's part. Because of environmental restrictions, buildings cannot have exterior lighting in that area, but Fox had to light the building somehow to get a night shot. So, he rented 2000-W theatrical lights and set them up around the property, with generators supplying the electricity. He took the shot from a nearby hill, while communicating with his assistant about lighting adjustments. He then scanned the film and retouched the image, removing signs and emphasizing the building.

With a reputation built from successes like these, Fox gets a lot of referral business. Nevertheless, he sends direct mail and email flyers to agencies, and those in the architecture, design, and real estate arenas. He maintains his own website,, which he says makes establishing contact with potential clients easier and reduces postage costs for his portfolio.

Digital is also affecting the way the shooter's clients receive their images. More and more, they're asking for CDs with proofs, rather than film or transparencies. That suits him just fine.

"I prefer CDs; they're easier to deal with, especially with multiple clients. When shooting transparencies, sometimes the client will reproduce them and lose the film; this is a problem when I've given them my best transparency.

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