Urban & Architecture Photography

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Bored with perfection: why I had to create a new style for my urban and architecture photography

I initially moved to mirrorless around a year ago in order to find a camera system that was light weight and could be used in the city with minimal fuss; a system that left me a more nimble, responsive photographer.  This is hardly a revelation and I am sure this is the exact reason a lot of photographers ditched their heavy dslr and lenses for a mirrorless set-up.  For me, the switch to mirrorless ran parallel with my desire to create a new style of photography too.

I love architecture and I love photography but I have to admit sometimes architecture photography leaves a little cold.  To be honest, I have always found perfection a little boring (not just in photography!) and to a large degree, architectural photography is often too perfect for me.

I have been wrestling with this in my own photography and have been trying to create a style that focuses on architecture but embraces more of a ‘street photography’ aesthetic.  I love the immediacy of street photography, its imperfections, the grain, the way it captures the essence of a moment.

Zaha Hadid apartments The Highline

After purchasing John Comazzi’s excellent Balthazar Korab: Architect of Photography book a few months back I finally became convinced that this was the direction I wanted to go in, or at the very least, a style I had to experiment with.

It had been obvious to me that my style has been undergoing change recently, most notably in the amount of black and white work I am creating.  This certainly wasn’t a deliberate choice and I cannot really say why I began doing this.  Nonetheless, it is a definite theme in my work that has occurred completely organically.  All I know is that I want my photography to look less perfect in order to capture the ‘spirit’ of the building, place or environment I am photographing.  At this stage, I do not even know if I am even capable of this but it is something I need to try and achieve.

Reflections at the Highline

Perhaps it was my visit to New York where I finally realised that the big city is not a place of perfection.  In such a ridiculously busy environment that looking to achieve perfect images often resulted in me missing out on numerous other photo opportunities, or I felt I was creating images that just seemed to lack something.

I would be interested to know if any other photographers have felt like this and felt compelled to change their style of photography.  Is this something we all go through in order to find our voice as a photographer?  Please feel free to comment below.

How to make this light trails photograph in 12 simple steps

I dont often do this type of photography, It's not really the sort of thing I go for but it is winter and so the early evenings make it a good time to do some night or blue hour photography.  I spotted this location a few months back and thought it was a great location for a light trails shot.  Here are my 12 tips for a successful light trails shoot...

  1. Scout a great location - light trails can look great by themselves by combine it with the right location and you are on to a winner. I visited this spot a few months back and what grabbed my attention was the curve leading from the bottom left and through the image to the office blocks. I keep a folder in Lightroom for future ideas and stored the image here as I knew I would return here when the nights were shorter and I could do some shots in the ‘blue hour’.

  2. Arrive early – I arrived about an hour before sunset. This gave me time set up the shot, find the composition I wanted.

  3. Use a tripod - obvious really. The camera needs to be as steady as possible for an extended period of time so a tripod is a must.

  4. And a shutter release – helps to minimise camera movement meaning no unwanted shake. I have tried using my cameras self-timer in the past but to be honest it is far too fiddly, and shutter release cables are available pretty cheap.

  5. Stay warm - bring along a hat, gloves and warm clothes - I was shooting in late November in Scotland so I knew it would be cold but no matter where you are when the sun goes down it gets cooler so plan for it.

  6. Take test shots - another reason for my early arrival is that it was easy for me to set focus point and check test shots. Once I knew my focus was sorted I then switch to Manual focus to lock the focus in. Many cameras struggle to focus in low light (my own included) so it is worth spending a few minutes setting this up beforehand.

  7. Set your shutter speed - this varies for each and every image but if you are shooting in blue hour around 10 seconds is a good starting point. That said nothing is set in stone so feel free to experiment

  8. Aperture - again this can vary. The shot I took is set at f16 but again depending on what you want your shot to look like will affect all of your settings

  9. ISO - as low as possible. Creating images in low light can mean unwanted noise in an image and one way minimise that is to set your ISO to the minimum.

  10. Take more images than you think you need - I took around eighty images and used maybe twelve or so. It is jut the nature of the beast and there is a bit of luck involved. You will probably spend a fair bit of time working your way through images, deciding which ones you like and are useable in your final composition.

  11. Edit in Lightroom and Photoshop (or whatever you use) - I use Lightroom and Photoshop, despite the fact that Lightroom drives me insane due to its sluggish performance and crashing. If you are not using Photoshop you will definitely need an image editor that allows you to use layers and masking. The chances are you will be combining a lot of images into one composite.

  12. Here is a fantastic step-by-step Lightroom and Photoshop editing guide.

So what do you think?  Are light trails something that you may consider shooting?  Or do you have any other tips you like to share?  Please comment below.

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