Objects race to the vanishing point, taking your eye on fluid journeys that flirt with edges, corners, and shadows, until finally resting in one to two areas, rich with elements. This serves as a true description for every one of Albuquerque-based Robert Reck’s images. And it’s this consistency of style, maintained for some 25 years, that keeps Architectural Digest, Antoine Predock, Elizabeth Rosensteel Design, and Jones’s Studio returning to Reck to meet their architectural and interior design photography needs.
According to Reck, “Providing quality imagery with stylistic consistency” has been the foundation of his business success since 1982. “My clients know what they will get. They have seen it before and expect it in future assignments, so they are secure in knowing their expectations will be met.”
From The Ground Up
To achieve his characteristic style, assignment after assignment, there is a Robert Reck regimen of sorts. As a general rule: “Photography is a subtractive art process,” he says. “It’s about knowing when to limit the amount of information in a photograph to capture the essence of a scene.” This creates a natural look that is true to the architect’s design, and makes the viewer believe he or she could walk into that space and take that image with a point-and-shoot camera. Of course they can’t, but that’s what Reck wants them to think.
With that in mind, Reck’s image-creation process ideally begins with an architect-accompanied tour. “We talk about the core process, the one that takes you through the building, and how the building’s massing was meant to influence the experience of that passage or how various elements perforate the interior space, be it a beam or a cantilever and floor,” says Reck. An understanding of some of the design considerations and philosophies of the architect helps him make photographs that accurately express the architect’s intent.
“Occasionally, an architect or designer will say, ‘I wish some [more] lighting had been put in, but the budget wouldn’t allow for it,’” says Reck, who relishes the chance to respond with, “Well, then, let’s make it a reality!” If the building’s designer is not available for a tour, drawings or other photographs of the space to be shown are used to hold similar conversations.
Following The Regimen
Once Reck has a grasp of the architect’s blueprint, it’s time for him to make his own. “I generally will walk through a project and make mental or written notes as to how I see the light playing in various spaces, or on the façade of the building,” says Reck. “Then I take note of what time of day is best for each area I’ve surveyed and make selections as to what will be the essential subjects of my images.” Finally, he couples certain spaces at certain times with his selection of angles within a room to work out a rough shooting schedule. “Mapping out where you are going to go when, and how you are going to proceed, gives you some interesting expressions,” he says.
The next ingredient in Reck’s recipe for an image, lighting, is usually determined by taking into consideration the scene’s natural illumination. “I like to use lighting equipment to supplement the natural light so there is a sense of lighting—not too strong, but enough to create a certain chiaroscuro that can’t be achieved in Photoshop,” says Reck. Upon occasion, he will make dramatic changes to lighting when he feels the circumstances warrant them. But even these enhancements tend to be inspired by the scene’s natural setting.
For example, in an image of a patio/pool taken at a resort in Mexico (right), there was no outside lighting at all. Looking around, Reck noticed that there were other places around the resort where uplighting was used to emphasize the ground’s landscaping. So, he simply picked up on that theme and put exterior ground lights shining up through the plants around the outside patio so both the scene and the architecture appeared more festive.
“Although I try to avoid making things look artificial, I don’t mind being called out by someone who tells me, ‘You lit that, and it’s gorgeous.’ But I really don’t want to hear anyone say, ‘You lit that, and it’s a little odd.’”
This tendency to transplant themes from one area of an environment to another also applies to the way Reck arranges objects in an image. To create a successful composition for the restaurant image (opposite page), taken for the Line and Space Architects firm, he also employed this method. “In one part of the restaurant they stood the red napkins up, and in another part they rolled the napkins, so we carried the former theme over to the room where we were shooting as a stylistic gesture.”
Speaking of composition, framing is a Reck forte. The key is seeing relationships and knowing where an edge should be. “Where you cut the image is very informative. I always pay a lot of attention to edges or the corners of the photograph and how that works in the space of the whole photograph.”
Take the cover image, created for Elizabeth Rosensteel Design/Studio, for example. See how the chair skirts just by the left edge and how the curve of the bar narrowly avoids the right edge, with the corner of the bar leading off into the corner of the image. Expert!
Building A FaÇade
Experience is the foundation that supports the final step in Reck’s creative process. He credits his exceptional understanding of the character of light to the many years he spent working with film.
“I still use the color sensitivity and accuracy of expression that I’ve learned from working with film and filters and apply it to post-production in digital,” says Reck. Whether it’s opening up shadows, controlling highlights, or knowing how the color will blend on a surface as the light comes into a space, that knowledge is useful in maintaining the authentic look of his end images.