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Architectural photography

Architectural photography - Buildings are something we will probably never run out of. Everyday a new crane goes up in a city to start work on a new set of apartments or office blocks. One set of people whose living comes from buildings are architectural photographers and ePHOTOzine spoke to Paul Freeman, an architectural and interiors photographer to learn a little bit more about this line of work.

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Photograph by Paul FreemanPaul Freeman turned professional in 2001 and he now works throughout the UK and Europe on projects for architects, advertising agencies, designers and editorial members.

"I do architecture and interiors and for a long time I was just an amateur, but I looked at my work one day and thought these aren't half bad and turned pro."

Paul watched programmes and read books about architecture, so going into a photographic career around it was just second nature.

"I think it's good to have a focus rather than jumping from one photographic subject to another."

Like with any type of photography knowing your subject well makes better photographs and with buildings this means reading about structures, watching tv programmes and using the internet to find out information.

"Research is useful and sites on the internet that have the facilities to view maps let you see sites and buildings from above."

You can also look at photographs to see how other people approached a particular building and also look at how the pictures are used and by who.

If your'e working for an architect or advertiser then usually they already have an idea about the building they want you to photograph but if you're working on your own and you're in a large city, deciding which particular building to focus on can be difficult.

"I choose buildings that I think are inspiring and interesting and I just go out there and work at them. If you don't you will never progress and improve your photography."

For some, the "getting out there and doing it" part is proving to be a bit of a challenge with police community support officers and other people telling them they can't take pictures on the street.

"It's turning into a big seated problem in London. In other countries like France and Germany no-one will stop you taking pictures but there are some quite series laws on how you can use the pictures and it can be hard trying to get property releases."

Some buildings in the UK also require property releases so check before you use your work for commercial purposes.

Photographers need light and for good exterior shots of buildings the light is everything.

"The light you want depends on the building and shot you are after. Black and white shots can be taken in grey light to make the building flat, but if you want shadows you need to use direct light, it all depends on what you want the finished product to look like."

Side lighting creates long shadows that sit along the front of the building which can add mood to an image. Back lit buildings are hard to capture but work well for silhouettes and don't forget, if you think a building looks dull and lifeless in the day go back at night and you may find the lighting has transformed it.

"Light doesn't have to be perfect but angle is important. If you're working on a formal document for an architect there are a set of angles needed to create the document. The asymmetry of a building and it's elevations are important, it's not too hard though as there's only so many corners and sides you can photograph."

The little bits of detail that can be found on a building can be important too. Detail can add interest to a picture or a portfolio in general and it's always quite easy to find.

"Detail is easy to find, it stands out, you don't have to worry about it. What you would consider the simple part, the main structure is usually the hardest to photograph as you need to find an angle someone else hasn't got."

Colour and texture are important, texture more so now as there are so many and architects like to see them as well as the buildings in general.

Paul uses a Cambo Wide DS Camera with Mamiya 645 mount with Schneider Digitar lenses

and  Leaf Aptus 75 digital back to do most of his work but if you can't afford such a camera don't worry, as he also uses a Canon 1DsII with a 24 TS-E lens.

"I get the detail with this camera as it's easier to move around," explained Paul.

The Schneider lenses are perfect for this sort of work as there's no distortion at the edge of buildings with them.

"They give you complete focal clarity which isn't needed for detail shots but it's something architects need."

The tilt and shift lens used on the Canon is perfect for architectural work as the tilt movement gives you a wide depth of field while keeping the entire subject in focus. The shift movement corrects the trapezoidal effect which can often be seen in pictures of tall buildings.

The lens can also be used to throw the band of sharp focus in a different direction. This creates a picture where there is a line of sharp focus and the edges are graduated out of focus. The reverse Scheimpflug technique is also used by Paul: "We call it making things fuzzier than they should be," which can give an object a toy like appearance.

"Just remember an expensive camera doesn't make up for technique. You need to practise to be good at what you do."

You can see more of his work by visiting Paul Freeman's website.

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