Start to Finish – how I approach shooting an architectural subject

I recently asked on Instagram what you’d all like to learn more about and this was one of the requests, it’s also come up on workshops and elsewhere so it’s about time I try to tackle this subject. It’s a tough one to do through a blog post and why I have been avoiding it, lol.

It is something that I do address in workshops and photowalks, so much easier to explain in person. But, it’s worth a try here so I’ll do my best 🙂

I’ll share how I approached photographing Calatrava’s Constellation sculpture here in Chicago one of the first times I stopped by.

Below is what would be considered a contact sheet of the shots I made. These are all the ones I edited and every single shot was made with my 24-70mm f/4 lens.

I know, this is a lot of shots! There were so many more, lol. But these are the edits. I share this for a few reasons:

  • To show you how I move through photographing a subject. In this instance, I wanted to get both my usual detailed/abstract shots but I also wanted some commercial types of shots.
  • To emphasize what I talk about a lot – setting limitations. In this instance, there are a few of them:
    • One camera
    • One lens (as I mentioned 24-70mm f/4)
    • One subject

As I often talk about, the more restrictions you give yourself the more creative you have to get + you’re not distracted by gear. You can focus your attention on composition, which is, arguably, the most important aspect of any photograph.

You see how much I’m moving around the subject – trying different angles, zooming in, zooming out, tilting the camera to change the perspective. This is more specifically for those detailed/abstract shots. If you’re shooting commercially, this is not something you’re really going to do, especially if you include the ground. You need your lines straight for things to “feel” right.

Now, to focus on one image in particular so you can get a sense of the editing aspect of completing an image. On the left – the raw image, straight out of the camera, no edits at all. On the right – the final, fully edited shot.

You can see there really isn’t a lot of editing going on. But before we get to that, let’s talk about what was going on while I made this shot.

The technical settings:

  • ISO 125
  • 59mm
  • f/13
  • 1/80 second

In terms of exposure, as I typically do when there’s some sun highlighting a portion of the design I spot meter on those highlights. Perhaps, a little too much in this case because you’ll see below the changes I made in Lightroom.

Beyond these LR edits, I took the image into Photoshop to do some cleanup. You see all those dust spots on my sensor in the blue sky, then I did just a little cleanup on the actual sculpture. But, given how new this was when I shot it, there wasn’t a whole lot to clean up.

What you see here pretty much sums up most of my editing. It really is this straightforward. The most time-consuming aspect is all the cleanup in PS. Some subjects are quick, like this one, others can take an hour to do all the cleanup. But, if you like the image it’s worth the effort. When you have such a detailed, minimal shot, it’s the cleanup, the lack of distraction of dirt, cracks, cobwebs, etc. that really makes the shot stand out.

As I’m sure you’ve heard me mention, I’m not here to document the wear and tear of a building or sculpture. My intent is to create something new or isolate such a small element of these spaces that they’re taken out of context and leave the viewer wondering what it is they’re looking at. The whole point of abstraction. And cleaning that up, making it feel polished is just a part of that process.

So, there you have it. One example of how I approach my subjects. I hope this helps. Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or if something isn’t clear.

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4 Responses

  1. Wonderful post, Ive been scouting Chicago along with other cities and your post are always very helpful in seeing which buildings are done in Chicago along with the helpful tips.Plus I always enjoy your approach to photograph. Keep up the great work and I'm looking forward to your next post.

    David

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