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  • Writer's pictureEllen Fisch

The Art of Architectural Photography: The Keys

I have always approached an art work I am about to create as a puzzle: one which I unlock to get the desired effects. Michelangelo noted: the goals are arrived at by releasing the work from the medium. In Michelangelo's case it was freeing his vision from where it was "locked" in its stone housing. This concept resonated with my own aesthetic: it felt like an excellent approach. I unlock, if you will, a photograph from its surroundings. By this I mean that I separate my subject from its context. That is not to say that I remove the style or meaning of the subject from my focus, but rather I isolate a building, architectural detail or other subject from its surroundings. Thus, I make choices that eventually liberate one idea from many. For example, I photographed a brass wall grate for its beauty and design. I did not need the wall, hallway or any other part of the surroundings to capture the grate; therefore I cropped the image until its sole focus was that which I wanted. (The image was later silk screened for a museum shop scarf reflecting the character of the museum.) Every photographer and artist must decide what elements to put into the image and what to leave out. Especially important to any work is the determination of a central theme.

The primary theme in a photograph is supported by its composition. It is true that there are many elements that create a focal point in an image, but most of all it is the composition of the photograph. The center of attention might be way up in the top corner or even outside of the photograph itself, but it is the composition that informs the viewer of the photographer's intent. Composition directs the eye to the subject, which forms a bond between the photograph and the viewer. That bond is translated in myriads of ways because each individual brings a different opinion and background to the image. The best possible outcome for the photographer is to create a universal bond that connects various peoples to the photograph. This is one of the keys for me: exposing an image that appeals to my viewers.

Another key for me is to call upon the photographs, paintings and other artworks, which may include dance, music, sculpture, for inspiration. Masters of the past and present offer many points of view and may influence my choices for composition, form, line and focus. Films add a great deal to my bank of ideas as does live theater. I can appreciate the work of other creatives, and perhaps incorporate some of their concepts into my own art. When I was a student I copied the masters. We would stand before a Rembrandt and slavishly replicate a painting or drawing. Today, after years of evolving my own art voice, I can selectively learn from those whose art I admire, while keeping my own style.

The keys are for artists to discover as they evolve and grow. I have learned much about photography by exploring the medium and stretching my capabilities as a photographer and artist. I continue to learn and to recognize keys that will assist me in unlocking my images. The keys are all around; it is up to the photographer to find them. As the great photographer Ernst Haas said, “I am not interested in shooting new things – I am interested to see things new.” I agree.

Architectural Photography: Museum Brass Grate

Architectural Photography: focus is central, the blue door

Architectural Photography: focus is near the top

Black and White Photography: focus is the boy's enchantment.

In the above Black and White Photograph, the boy's feelings are the focus of the image. These would be exhibited in his facial expression, which is out of camera range. The composition supports this focus by the boy's body language and the huge balloon, color added to the Black and White Photography for emphasis.

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