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Unity & Contrast
Architectural photographer Jim Roof uses light to create dynamic rhythm within his images


Blue interior
Images by Jim Roof


Aerial view of waiting area
Images by Jim Roof


Exterior view of walkway over water
Images by Jim Roof


Exterior view of sculptures
Images by Jim Roof


Exterior view of building
Images by Jim Roof


Mall rotunda
Images by Jim Roof



According to architectural photographer Jim Roof, you can boil any artistic work down to two ingredients: unity and contrast. Recalling the words of an old professor, he explains, "If you have a picture that is all unity with no contrasting elements, it's boring. But if you have a picture that is all contrast and has nothing to unify it, then it's chaos."

If being born with the name "Roof" wasn't enough to spark his interest in architectural photography, the proximity of the art and music departments (he was a music major) at his university were. With a client list that includes Guess Retail, Seasons 52 restaurants, Stanley Beaman & Sears, Lee Bryan Interior Design, and Suzuki Motors, Roof is still rocking after 20 years.

Whether he's blending multiple exposures, using contrast to create a three-dimensional look, or capturing that "magic hour" at dusk, Roof uses light to express the personality of a room or building.

Based out of his home studio in Duluth, Georgia, Roof balances his time working —an average of three clients a week—with finding more work. "I would say for every day that I shoot, I spend a day looking for another day to shoot," he says.

Networking among developers, contractors, and architects, Roof uses his website to target new clients, while maintaining relationships with longtime clients by mailing 5x8 postcards of recent projects. "Thirty to 40 percent of my work can be traced to the effectiveness of my website," he says. The other half he attributes to word-of-mouth. He keeps his site easy to use. "I make the website as descriptive as it can be without being pretentious," he says.

Creating Shape & Mood With Light

Although Roof has dedicated his life to taking pictures, the musician in him is never far away. "I have an intuitive eye, which is largely due to being a musician," he says. "When I'm looking at a building or an interior, I'm looking for a rhythmic pattern, something to shape the picture."

Often that something is light. When he's photographing a building or interior, Roof wants to articulate the scene as true to form as possible, while at the same time introducing a hint of mystery. He explains, "I want it to look natural, but I also want it to look striking."

Indeed, his images evoke a multidimensionality. "The architectural photographer's job is to take an art form—architecture or interior design (something that is three-dimensional)—and capture it in a two-dimensional space, and still make it work. The only way to get that three-dimensional look is through lighting," Roof explains.

To construct that lifelike appearance, he brings out shapes by accentuating curves and angles with light. "I try to bring out roundness and edges," he notes. "I'll throw light on two intersecting walls to create contrast—I don't want something to look vacant and lifeless."

With a gear box he describes as "a lightbulb salesman's traveling sample case," Roof carries a variety of lighting equipment for both indoor and outdoor shots.

"I have everything from 15-watt decorative bulbs to 150-watt floods," he says. "I use a bunch of little tracklight bulbs, fairly high-intensity quartz lights, Tota-lights, Omnis—whatever I need to make the picture work."

Roof takes advantage of the enigmatic quality of dawn and dusk to shoot his exteriors.

"I do a lot of dawn and dusk shots; it's kind of a magic hour. Especially at dusk, the sun is below the horizon, but there's still enough glow to where you get a definition of the roof line, the silhouette of the building, and the interior light punching through the windows. I'll use light to enhance the exterior of those shots."

When he's not shooting at sunrise or sunset, Roof will use light to accent the frame, but he warns against overlighting a shoot.

"Usually my lighting is on the same intensity level as whatever I'm shooting," he explains. "So if I'm shooting a low-key corporate law firm, I'll probably wind up using a lot of small bulbs—things that fit in with the ambiance of the room.

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