Photographer Ellen Fisch Offers Tips and Insights About Photography

Ellen Fisch has been a professional Photographer for 50+ years.  In the following Insights, Ellen shares her valuable knowledge of Photography to help Photographers of all skill levels to improve and master their craft.  For more Insights visit Ellen’s Blog

Architectural Photography. with Ellen Fisch 

Architectural photography records the history of civilization: its past, present and future can be reflected by the architecture of societies.  

When photographing architecture there are several important things to consider:

Tools:

Cameras are fundamental tools of architectural photography.  They are surpassed only by the photographers and their vision of the image they want to create. 
 
Lenses are important.  Wide angle lenses allow more light to enter each frame.  They have a shorter focal length and this allows a much wider area to be photographed.  When shooting  interiors or taking photos of large structures, a wide angle lens is extremely helpful. 
 
Zoom lenses allow you to capture detail that may not be easily accessible from your vantage point.  Fixed zooms, for example 200mm may not be as versatile as adjustable zooms, but may give you a sharper image. 
 
A mono or tri-pod is good to have on hand.  Since many architectural interiors may not be well lit, the additional tools to keep the camera steady will allow you to open up the aperture to admit more light.
 
Computers are essential for digital photography.  Whether it is a laptop or desktop, a platform for downloading digital images is necessary for the digital photographer.  If shooting film, a quality lab or good darkroom set-up is extremely important.  Viewing and developing images after taking the photographs is as important as taking that great shot!   
 
Subjects:

Exteriors:

Whether you are commissioned to photograph a subject or you find one that appeals to you, first consider your subject carefully before even taking your first shot.  Walk around the building or structure to view it from different angles.  Just as people have “good sides,” when being photographed buildings, structures and the like have best angles.  Carry with you a small cardboard frame or create one with your hands and view the shot from different positions.  Think of yourself as the teller of an architectural story: How would you best describe the subject through your photography?  Take multiple shots from ALL angles.  You may not get another chance to photograph the building in the same light/ condition/ season or with the same mindset/ equipment.

frame shot

Interiors:

Interior architectural shots are often challenging
for a few reasons.  First of all, lighting is usually an
obstacle to overcome.  Natural light, unless you are
shooting in a glass house or one with an abundance of
large windows, is insufficient to light an entire room
well.  Table lamps, ceiling fixtures and even strobes
may be at odds with natural light as well. Photographers
shooting product or people in the studio usually have one lighting angle regardless of the number of lighting sources they use.

When ambient light mixes with artificial lighting from fixtures/ equipment, light loses its angle of illumination.  Therefore, when you shoot interiors, try to work only with ambient/ natural light even if it means increasing your ISO.  Consequently, when upping the ISO, you may get more noise than desirable in the photographs, but there are numerous ways to overcome noise in postproduction.  Additionally, when shooting interiors, lack of space may make it difficult to get the “whole shot.”  Often interiors present awkward stairwells; small rooms; oddly spaced details.  Working with the small cardboard frame as a way to see the image as it will appear when downloaded  may help you to see the shot better from different angles.  Also, photos may be stitched together in postproduction. 

Setting up the Shot with Natural Lighting & Distance:

Make sure that your subject is lit as well as possible.  Even in a night shot, you will need your client/ audience to be able to see the areas of the building clearly and to the building’s best advantage.  If working at night, open the aperture as much as possible using a tripod for a longer exposure.  Decide the best distance your camera will be able to shoot with a minimum of noise and blur.  A noisy photo may be fixable in postproduction, but a blurry shot is rarely salvageable.  On unique assignments, noise and blur may be needed, but you are best off with a clear, crisp photograph from the camera.

Newport Mansion

This photograph of the Apollo Theater

in Harlem was shot in broad daylight. 

It was given a night appearance to

emphasize its iconic standing as a

venue for entertainment.

This photograph of Newport has a deliberate blur on the mansion to give the illusion of great distance. Distance may cause details to be lost. It was darkened for drama.

The Apollo - Harlem, NYC

Framing the Shot:

As previously mentioned, angles are critical.  Line up your shot to give the viewer a feel for location.  ALWAYS try for more information.  It is difficult and tedious to try to recapture the information that was captured on the initial shoot.  Frame the shot the way you think they can be most appreciated.  Then step back and take some wider shots to gain a new perspective and gather more information

Wall Street Architectural Photography Insights.png

My photograph of Wall Street was shot 300+ times.I repeatedly went to the area to get a photograph that would serve as a centerpiece for several gallery exhibits I presented of the Wall Street area.  The original image is sepia for a timeless look.  The perspective was manipulated in Photoshop.

Shooting from Different Angles

You will be surprised at the number of angles you can
capture when you begin to take photos of your subject. 
Try looking down on the building from a nearby rooftop
(careful, please!).  Or get down on the ground and shoot up.

I was on the floor of Grand Central Station shooting up to get this architectural photograph.

Grand Central Station Architectural Photography Insights

Downloading to Your Computer:

Remove your memory card from the camera and insert into a memory card reader.  I like to use a card reader rather than downloading directly from the camera.  In my opinion, this avoids unnecessary fidgeting with the camera.  Create a folder for your images.  I always note the place and date on my folders: Newport_May2009.  You will find names for your files that suit you, but remember to label folders as looking for unlabeled images/ folders years from the shoot can be quite a job.  Back up important images on disks or external hard drives.  I do both.  Occasionally, I download a group of images twice as insurance.

Jpeg vs. RAW:

Raw will always give you more information than jpeg.  However, sometimes you are limited to jpeg for a variety of reasons (low on card space, limitations of camera/ phone, etc.).  If your shot is lined up and clear, you may get surprisingly good results with jpegs.  I use my trusty Canon G6 for jpegs only, while I use my Canon D5 Mark II for only RAW.  It is personal preference.  Remember, too, that RAW images will take up far more memory in your computer.

jpeg shot with Canon G6

A jpeg shot with my Canon G6 in 2007.

Cropping:

Cropping should take place in Photoshop or other computer application.  Or, if shooting film, crop the images after they are developed.  Attempting to get the perfectly cropped image by framing with your lens takes time away from shooting and you can lose valuable information.  As mentioned, shoot from a variety of angles and try to get as much information as possible on the shoot.  Crop in the computer later.

large ornamental stone arch.

The architectural detail that my publisher wanted me to capture is part of a large ornamental stone arch. I got in close to the detail, but left some of the arc around it so I could get a sense of size and form. The image was cropped in Photoshop.

A Word on Lighting Equipment:

In architectural photography, always try to use ambient/ natural light for exteriors.  It is costly and difficult to light a structure with floods.  Using a flash will distort and blow out highlights, especially glass and metal.  Indoors, I open the camera as much as possible, using a wide angle and upping the ISO.  Remember that higher ISO will most certainly give you noise.  If all else fails, use light fixtures/ lighting set ups in the building or that you bring before resorting to flash.  Flourescents are probably the worst to use in architectural photography because they “flatten” and “deaden” the subject.  Try to direct warm tungstens at your subject if natural light is not available. If possible try for a “one source” lighting look.  It is far more complimentary than multiple light sources.  If all else totally fails use a diffuser with the flash and shoot with the flash bouncing off the ceiling, not directed at the subject. Flashes will blow out subject matter and leave undesirable white underexposed portions in your photograph.  When shooting metal, glass or other shiny surfaces, flashes directly pointed at the subject will be especially harmful to the final image as the flash of light will create unwanted highlights and white holes in the photo.

checkered stairs

My checkered stairwell photograph with no extra lighting other than wall sconces.

Wacom Tablets

I love working with a tablet.  I find that once you try it, the tablet is more intuitive than a mouse.  This of course is up to the individual.  My friend, Tim Goldman creates super intricate Robots in Illustrator using a mouse.


 
Photoshop/Lightroom

Personally, I find that Photoshop provides more options.  However, many excellent photographers work with Lightroom or other applications.  Lightroom gives the option of batching more easily than Photoshop.  If you are about to purchase either application or other processing software for your computer, try to acquire the latest version.  It will be easier to find information on the Internet about current software and to also get upgrades as they are released.

Printing:

Printing your own photographs allows you the freedom to create images that are yours alone. Although the initial expense of printing equipment may seem expensive (and it is!), in the long run, owning a printer will give you the control over the images that cannot be had through a lab.

Paper Selection for Printing:

Again, a personal choice.  I print my own photographs up to 17” wide.  Larger than that, I out-source my photographs.  Frequently when out-sourcing, there are few options as far as paper, unless you are dealing with a higher end printer.  If you are printing your own photographs, see if you can purchase a variety package of papers from a manufacturer.  Hahnemühle offers several styles of papers in one package.  This gives you a chance to find your look.
 
 


Photographer Ellen Fisch is an architectural fine art photographer based in New York.  Using black and white and sepia tones, Ellen creates timeless photographs that evoke aesthetic beauty along with a distinct sense of place. Well versed in painting and drawing, she uses traditional fine art concepts to create images that go beyond conventional interpretations of her subjects. Ellen’s photographs of a specific city, building, architectural detail or landmark encourage the viewer to take a journey to that place through her photographic art to get its flavor, creating an indelible “placeprint” in the viewer’s mind.  Photography of magnificently crafted details of architecture and natural setting are translated into unique images in black and white or sepia tones to reflect a bygone age of unparalleled elegance and style; an urban city evolving in the modern world and the marvels that nature offers.
You can explore Ellen Fisch’s architectural photography here