Earlier this year, I performed the architectural photography of the Corcoran Parking Deck in Durham, NC. A few months later I was hired by Integrated Design to photograph the Valentine Commons parking deck at the edge of North Carolina State University in Raleigh (I’m noticing a pattern here…)
So this deck had its own particular challenges. Namely:
There’s ginormous student housing (Valentine Commons) to the immediate east
There are a ton of street lights (great for security, yucky for my purposes) and signage in the immediate vicinity
Half of the offices on the lower level are unoccupied, and the other half were uncooperative (always awesome!)
Dealing with property management, when they’re not the client, is one of the secret joys of doing building photography. It’s a coincidence that the two major issues I’ve faced recently involved photographing both of these parking decks.
It took 15 days to wait for the exact conditions I was seeking to take the day shot. It’s north-facing, and because it’s closer to summer solstice, the sun hits the north face in the morning. Great? Not really – the high-rise student housing to the east casts a huge deep shadow onto the facade while the rest remains in the sun. So I waited for a morning in which there were low-lying clouds soon after sunrise but a clear day higher above the horizon. It allowed the simultaneous daylit sky I was seeking and uniform lighting across the north face; definitely the most idea situation, but there’s only one real facade to this structure and you do the best with the circumstances you have.
The other three images were completed a couple weeks earlier. The first focused on the clock tower and the second around the corner. Though lights are dark in the lower-level offices, I took advantage of natural reflections and captured at a time of day where the differences wouldn’t be so noticeable.
The fourth view was from atop the parking deck. Before I was hired I was scoping the site and observed students tailgating and viewing the baseball game from atop the deck. I recommended this as a view to the architect and they liked the idea. This was the view during NCSU’s last home game at Doak vs. Florida State, offers a little context to incidental ways the building’s used.
That’s it for now. So uh, yeah…anytime an architecture firm wants me to shoot a parking deck, or like say…(hint hint nudge nudge) a different type of commercial structure…call me.
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of recently working with RND Architects on a couple of projects in Durham, North Carolina including a parking deck located in downtown near the tobacco district. When initially describing the project to me, one of the things that stood out was a term I’m hearing more often as my client base expands, which is, “This project may be a bit of a challenge.” In the famous words of Barney Stinson, challenge ACCEPTED. Museum, house design, office, parking deck, gas station, whatever – no matter the building type or environmental situation, if you hire me I’ll give it my undivided attention and best effort. It’s all photography, all love.
As it turns out the real obstacle turned out to be the rainy weather – it was overcast and cloudy 5 out of the first 6 days after receiving the assignment. Fortunately the clouds dissipated for just enough favorable days.
I visited Durham often in a brief timespan, therefore became familiar with the timing of the passenger train. The Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) was kind enough to allow the lead designer and I onto their rooftop to shoot the garage in context of downtown as the train passed by. That was the moment I learned it’s a straight fall down, as DPAC has no roof parapet. The reflective roof membrane is sloped away and runs flush with the fascia, go figure!
I really enjoy working with architects on their projects because architectural photography in and of itself is a design process. Designers have specific items they want to ensure are conveyed and a photographer has the ability to see, select, and reveal the best informative views. Sometimes those two viewpoints align and other occasions you’ll witness situations where architectural photographers and their clients clash, as the architect desires to see their beautiful design and the photographer wants to see their beautiful photograph. In some aspects, it’s similar to the relationship that architects (the design) have with their clients (the building), but the essential difference is you have TWO creative crafts merging together. My responsibility as a photographer is to turn that element into a symbiotic advantage.
I think architectural photographers who have actually cut their teeth practicing architecture tend to be advantageous because we can immediately facilitate trusting collaborative relationships with our clients where it may take our peers a bit more time to bridge that gap. Because we’re visually bilingual and speak an architect’s vernacular, openly and honestly putting everything on the table is more viable. We’re on the same team – they give me their ideas, I put forth mine – and we continue to communicate back and forth in order to produce the best results possible to benefit their business.
In the end, that’s why you hire a photographer in the first place, right?
Though photography is more accessible than ever through digital technology and social media, the category of environmental photography seems to remain somewhat misunderstood and under-appreciated as an art form. For example: a couple years ago, a woman I went on a date with, upon finding out I was a photographer asked, “So…you just like, take pictures of what’s already there?” Yes- NO- wait, it’s not as simple as – WWwwhhhaatttTT??!! Okay, hold up – this date’s OVER, lady.
Photography does not need to be mere documentation that concludes a series of transpired events and it’s certainly much more than depressing the shutter and reflecting exactly what’s in plain sight. It’s an artistic craft that requires patience, anticipation, and design. We really do “paint with light”. Have you ever analyzed impressionist (and many post-impressionist) oil paintings, particularly those of urban depictions? Even though this style of painting strays from mirroring exact scenes with hard, defined edges, it frees the artist to further manipulate light and movement, connect with the real and grounded understanding of the viewer, and simultaneously amplify that appreciation. Through masterful brushstrokes, scenes are carved out and inferred by the emanation and reflection of light versus shadow. A photographer’s understanding of how light impresses the eyes and psyche is quite similar. However outside of the modern miracle of Photoshop, environmental photographers cannot selectively ignore distractions or interrupting elements like painters can with a canvas.
I’m greedy. I wanted the whole thing from top to ground.
APRIL 20, 2011: On the evening I arrived at the theater, I observed a subway entry (which I didn’t know about) that immediately changed how I previsioned the photo. Fortunately, there was no event taking place that evening and as a double bonus – ARETHA FRANKLIN was listed first on the marquis! How can you possibly beat that icon? What if that was Michael Bolton instead? I chose to capture the marquis from a near vantage point, which is where the 17mm tilt-shift came in super handy. The subway entry became the foreground object through which I’d capture the motion of people going to and from below. Instead of treating the Chicago Theater as an isolated subject with little environment beyond it, I chose to use surrounding elements to give it real, historic presence.
I kept settings at 1600 ISO stopped to F16. After some trial and error, I quickly figured out crowds passing directly under the marquis were distracting to the composition. Some tourists asked me to take pictures of them with their cameras (HINT: I am stupid – I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO USE YOUR CAMERA, PUUULLLLLLLLEASE TELL ME HOW TO USE IT.). After 15 minutes of shooting and waiting I felt that I struck gold. With nobody directly under the marquis, a young woman passed me and I quickly depressed the trigger as she passed through the subway entry. I reviewed the image on the rear LCD screen, was satisfied, and called it a night.
One Chicago Moment (2011)
A couple weeks later, I took a first look at this image at full-resolution and discovered an inadvertent bonus. A bus pulled into the right of the photo frame, which added a streaking splash of color and movement, and proved to be the right finishing touch. Had I further increased the ISO, I would’ve likely missed the whole thing with a faster shutter speed. So remember, no matter how much you plan, there’s nothing like having a little luck om your side!
The only major digital editing involved the marquis itself. I wound up burning the text announcing upcoming shows and the light bulbs directly underneath because they came out a bit blown out. Otherwise, I was pretty happy with the final result and achieved exactly what I wanted to impress viewers with. Though this photography is a reflection of what I saw in front of me, what was critical was capturing the atmosphere, lights, and movement – the essence of Chicago, in one precise intersection of place and time. While painters often MAKE the right moments, environmental photographers ensure that they’re IN FRONT OF the right moment; both require the same levels of creative merit and observation with which to execute.
Wrapped up a recent shoot of the Raleigh Depot for the North Carolina Railroad Company, while their Christmas decorations were still up in the parking lot. Photography required getting up in the air a bit so I shot from the platform of a 26-foot lift. Pretty cool, but doing so at 20 degrees Fahrenheit was a little bit too cool. Thanks to Nick for the reference and Reuben for the assistance!
Woo! First photography of the year! Spare time will be sorely lacking in 2013 and opportunities for personal shooting rare so if able, I’ll do my best to make the most of it. Last weekend I visited the North Carolina States James B. Hunt Jr. library to take a first gander after its grand opening and take photos for fun. Of course, it was Saturday, the place just opened, and NCSU’s basketball team upset the then #1 team in the country, Duke.
It was hellacrowded.
There were a lot of people with cameras inside and outside the building. At that point the decision was made to do a quick survey and return at a later time this spring and summer when the library wasn’t so crowded with visitors. Shot for a couple hours on Saturday then returned the next day for a few minutes.
Okay, here goes, ready?
This is the library. Safe to say there’s nothing like it anywhere else on campus. The building is a technological beast and has all the signs and symptoms of being a highly sustainable piece of modern architecture.
I skipped the opportunity to take interior photos that I’ll attempt to capture later in the year. These are the ones I grabbed – the two-story public study/lounge is easily my favorite spot; it looks like an airport terminal in which a grade school child got to select the furniture.
I can see the conversation now.
“So which piece of furniture do you want to order?”
DESIGNER: “I LIKE ‘EM ALL!”
“You can’t order every furniture design that ever existed.”
DESIGNER: “I WANT IT ALL, BUY IT FOR ME NOW, I’LL BE GOOD FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR! PRETTY PWWEEEEEEEEASE?”
What NCSU really needs to do is treat the library furniture like the zoo. You know how ticket kiosks offer pamphlet guides and posted signs across the zoo describes all the animals you’re seeing? Similarly, the library should have a hand-out and signs posted inside the building describing the piece of furniture, when it was designed, and by who.
Sarcasm aside, don’t get me wrong – the space is fun. People really love spending time here.
As I hinted at earlier, this place is a playground for photographers. Eventually I’d like the time (and space) to have an entire day to really analyze the architecture.
Wrapped up with a few obligatory evening shots.
The next morning it was moody and cloudy so I took the opportunity to mimick the rear elevation shot I captured the evening before.
Finally, I took a picture I’ve been meaning to capture FOREVER – okay more like a decade, but still. One of the buildings on NCSU Centennial campus, near the library, has a sawtooth-pattern brick paved courtyard. I had this image in mind for quite some while and never took the opportunity to do so, but with it being overcast, it worked out splendidly.
That does it for my first trip to the Hunt library. Catch you next time!
So after going to Arkansas, Dallas, Arkansas again, and Memphis, it was time to get back to work (like how I pimped those blogs? You betcha). Wrapped up a house in the Copperleaf community in Cary for home builder J.P. Swain and shoot of the Courtyard apartments in Chapel Hill for Olive Design + Build. Didn’t have control over time of day like I would’ve preferred with Courtyard, so made the most of it with the windows.
Finally, the last blog from my road trip through Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas. If my vegetarian and vegan followers will forgive the metaphor, but this is blog is 100% red meat – nothing but architecture, baby – no filler. Actually, you’ll also need to forgive me for the literal interpretation because that’s exactly what I ate a TON of while in Texas. Did I eat unholy fried foods at the Texas State Fair before Big Texas burned down? YES I DID. Did I have Texas barbecue, Freebirds, and Whataburger? You bet. Did I chase that all down with Shiner? Seems only proper.
The speed limit in Texas ROCKS. I don’t even know why they bother posting numbers anymore, they just need to have road signs that claim “SPEED LIMIT: LOL“.
Texas will always have a fond place in my heart. For a place in which I lived only six years, the majority of my close, long friendships are with people who currently reside or used to live in the state. I got to see a slew of them in Dallas, whether they lived in town or happened to be visiting at the same time, some for business and others to witness Texas obliterated by Oklahoma. So I actually didn’t shoot very much, I mostly saw the wonderful people I’ve been blessed with in my life.
Before I get too much further – if you’re reading this right now, you’ve likely been following my two-week long road trip. What? NOOOOOO? Well, the below links will catch you right up!
At the earliest opportunity, I went downtown to the Dallas’ art and museum district – it’s the first time I’ve been there since many of those buildings were under construction. What was the first thing I decided to see?
The Museum Tower condos. Not because it was some cathedral of architecture but the hilariously tragic circumstances of its construction. Adjacent to this middle-finger that resides in the heart of the museum district is the Nasher Sculpture Museum designed by one of my favorites, Renzo Piano. The museum is built into the sloped city block, with a glass roof above illuminating the displays below. Thanks to the glass skin of the Museum Tower, not only is the artwork inside endangered but surrounding landscape and trees.
As the sun began to lower, I experienced firsthand the brightness and heat reflecting of this building. It’s a veritable furnace. If you’re in the Dallas area, there’s no need for a tanning booth – just spend an hour in front of those condos on a nice day.
After cackling in commiseration how commercial developers can pretty much ruin anything if they set their minds to it, I checked out buildings that didn’t exist the last time I came here.
First stop was the Wyly Theatre, designed by another one of my favorites, Rem Koolhaus.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside as there were no showings and closed to the public. It’s a shame because I wanted to see the building transform into a robot. Further, the exterior wasn’t lit so I didn’t get to see the architecture and urban landscape to its full impact. Thankfully, Mother Nature saved the day.
Another place I didn’t photograph was across the street at the Winspear opera house, as a matter of bad timing. There were outdoor events, but nothing going inside the theater, so the lights never turned on. The day hours were either too cloudy, or there was too much activity going outside to get relatively clean shots.
One of my very good friends, an architect in Dallas recommended checking out the new Calatrava bridge and Perot Museum of Nature & Science by Morphosis. She was right about the Calatrava Bridge – you kind of wondered if he did the design himself or if he just had an intern do it; it would feel more exciting if I hadn’t seen all of his other work which is much more stunning. I may bother attempting to photograph it when I have more spare time.
The Perot building, under construction, is the first Morphosis design I’ve ever seen closeup. Next trip to Dallas, I’ll be interested in scoping the outside a bit more along with the exterior.
I also returned to a design of another one of my favorite architects (yes, you’re noticing a trend here), Tadao Ando – the Modern Art Museum of Ft. Worth. I first visited this building in 2006 in the early throes of pursuing photography as a hobby while still grappling with my Canon 10D, so wanted to see how I’d capture the building today.
Modern Art Museum of Ft. Worth (2012)
While on this trip, I got to meet Jason Witherspoon, a Dallas fine-art and architectural photographer. We’re both self-taught, entered photography from different professions, and experienced early success in fine-art; he did it in less than a year and I’m interested in observing how he progresses and grows over the years. We talked shop – business, equipment, prints, digital processing, and of course – the capture. It’s a super-interesting and fun educational experience talking with someone who captures similar subject matter but with a drastically different style and approach to your own. It’s even more fun to shoot with ‘em. He told me about the Irving Convention center which I did not know about. HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS BUILDING? It’s a photographer’s playground, so he took me out there.
The above image was captured with my Canon 5D Mark II and 17mm tilt-shift lens. The below image was captured with Jason’s Nikon D800 and 24mm tilt-shift. Now – I do think Canon maintains an advantage over Nikon with their tilt-shifts, but they’re losing ground with their camera bodies. Right now, not only are Nikon’s latest bodies cheaper – they’re straight-up better. Hey, CANON – if you can make a $3200 camera that good, I will buy it, you’ve given me zero reason to upgrade to 5D Mark III, I’d rather just jump to one of your 1D series.
Inside the Frame (2012)
Okay, no more bitching at Canon – this piece of architecture was a great opportunity to do what I love most – manipulate the heck out of presenting a building with wide angles and tight crops.
Heaven’s Gate (2012)
Split Level (2012)
Yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup, that was as much fun as it looked like. Maybe next time around I’ll spend more time in the area to some greater detailed exploration for these and other sites.
So I recently took a two-week road trip that I will completely present out of order. The first stop is Memphis, TN in which I stopped briefly on the way in and stayed for a weekend on the way back to Carolina. My friend, Jerry Coleman graciously hosted me and it was great to catch up with him and meet his family. Jerry was my TA during my first design studio in architecture school and though we’ve kept in touch, I hadn’t seen him in at least 15 years. He’s been making it with his design firm for the past several years and might I add, doing quite well!
This is Memphis. There’s much about the city I still have to explore, areas I’d like to revisit and some sites I didn’t get to photograph that I hope to in the future when I visit there again. The night life alone Beale street is a little touristy, I’d eventually like to catch it on an “off” night.
Of course, I shot some of the local landmarks such as the Peabody Hotel and Orpheum Theatre. Though photographing the Orpheum wasn’t quite catching lighting-in-a-bottle such as when I took the Chicago Theater, I was geeked with the final result.
The Orpheum (2012)
The industrial vernacular permeates both traditional manufacturing and shipping structures as well as contemporary office buildings. You can see some of that in the alphabet-block design of MIFA and the Bridges Center near downtown (gee, I wonder what the inspiration for BRIDGES was?)
United Equipment (2012)
One of the places I absolutely had to see was the National Civil Rights Museum, in which I had mixed feelings. Having been so directly impacted by the movement to revisit the circumstances in which Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and what it means, to see exactly where it happened, how it’s been preserved/reconstructed, was an emotional experience. On the other hand, I’m going to have to say – it’s a little touristy and the interior of the main museum could use an upgrade. It’s just weird seeing people take family pictures in front of the wreathe, you know? Anyways, this was one shot I took with my cell phone as I was leaving.
The introductory movie in the theater is well worth seeing all 32:44 – it’s interesting how many things have changed, and how much hasn’t. Incredible how many buzzwords and concepts linger strongly in the majority American mindset to this very day.
That’s about it. Just like most of the road trip, I saw more than I actually photographed, which I think is the point of having a real break! It’s just great getting out to see new places, people, and things. Of course, it’s also nice to revisit old favorites, like White Castle.
If you read any portion of Part 2, you can imagine what happened the morning I was going to head out to Richmond, Virginia. That’s right – phone calls wiped out my entire morning.
I was turned on by a fellow photographer/urban explorer to several sites in Richmond, but because of my limited time was only able to visit one site, the Interbake Cookie Factory. Similar to buildings like the gone Glidden Paint Factory in Atlanta, I thought this complex was slated to be demolished, but may turn into condos or apartments. Who knows – either way, a dilapidated building that will no longer remain in its current state is pretty much an invitation to go inside, right?
Of course it is, Sterling – of course it is.
After granting myself free permission to become temporarily struck by selective illiteracy and scouting the immediate surroundings and pedestrian patterns, I pinpointed a couple entry points to the building. I had two hours before dusk and wasn’t going to risk staying later, especially since I was traveling solo and was the only person in the whole place. I managed to quickly scope all six stories of the factory and select where I wanted to focus on, then returned to my car to grab my photography equipment.
By the way, if I may offer a little advice about visiting places like this in cities you’re unfamiliar with – a) go during a weekday – even better a school day – and even better than that, early in the scholastic year and b) observe the site and the surrounding area completely; I typically take anywhere between 15-30 minutes before grabbing my camera equipment, c) don’t park your car in front of the place and d) go with another person (Okay, okay – so I often skip D).
Abandoned Hope (2012)
September 12, 2012 6:41pm (2012)
Home Brew Loves Cookies (2012)
After this great find it’s safe to say that I’ll be returning to Richmond again sometime to follow up on further advice about other nifty abandoned buildings in the city. I left at sunset then hopped on over to Church Hill to capture dusk over the city.
Then I went home, completely exhausted. The entire trip was certainly nowhere near relaxing and I spent half the time I wanted to photograph for fun, but did my best to make the most of a limited situation. Was definitely worth it!
So after spending the day in luxurious Camden, I hopped over to the Philly side. As I crossed over I received my first phone call from a potential client I had been speaking with for the last two weeks. They were ready to go. Without getting into details, that meant the second I got into Philly, I had to find the nearest hotspot to set up my computer and perform business over the next couple of hours. By the time I was done, most of the day was spent and I went to Genos for a cheesesteak before returning across the river to capture sunset.
I had the pleasure of experiencing sunset and early evening on the Jersey side of the Delaware River to shoot the Philly skyline. The first two are hand-held with zoom lenses. It was a sunny and breezy all day, and skies are usually agreeable on those evenings.
Building lights came on and I strapped one of my zoom lenses to a tripod for a more focused scene.
Then used my tilt-shift to capture twilight, including more of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Gateway to Philadelphia (2012)
Good day and evening of shooting despite the interruptions. I intended to travel to Philly the next morning to capture some photography then head to Baltimore that evening.
That didn’t work out as planned. As most know, I do photography most of the time, but do a little bit of architecture on the side. Instead of taking leisure time in Philly, I spent all morning fielding and responding to phone calls from a) current photography & architectural clients b) potential photography clients c) building contractors. I also put together an estimate and proposal for another assignment that I was in the running for.
The first half of my day was pretty much shot, so I drove to Baltimore.
And received more phone calls.
And more phone calls.
And then I had to find a hotspot in Baltimore.
By day’s end, my phone battery was dead and the “vacation” day I intended to spend in Philly and Baltimore all but evaporated in a hectic flurry of phone calls and e-mails. During the middle of all of this, I managed to stop by and surprise my wonderful friend Lisa at her workplace, and the highlight of seeing her made the trip totally worth it. I grabbed a hotel for the night, ate, missed sunset, but decided to take night shots in Baltimore by Domino Sugars. The distant glow of lights in the photo below are from the Yankees-Orioles game at Camden Yards, which I was kicking myself for not getting tickets. But the Yanks got spanked 10-3 so maybe that was a good thing.
I had never photographed the old factory from this harbor before, I certainly enjoyed shooting it from elevation and the cast reflections.