Perhaps the hardest thing to explain to people about photographing architecture is the notion of one being entirely at the mercy of the prevailing elements. There’s none of this taking your time, adjusting the lighting between caramel latte’s in the studio, opening the morning’s mail and then maybe finishing up after a sit down lunch.
On location, everything is in flux. From before the sun is up until well after it is down, the shadows are moving, the conditions are changing around you, requiring an engaged and spontaneous response to capture images that will serve to tell the story at hand. In my experience, assuming you’ve understood the brief, one generally knows what the end result needs to be, just not the exact path you will take to get there.
Most times, the commercial preference is to photograph a project in pristine conditions which in most regions of the world, except perhaps for parts of Europe, would be considered blue skies, crisp sunshine and maybe a few “Simpson’s” clouds to keep it sweet. In Germany, if the much-lauded Dusseldorf school’s output is anything to go by, an ideal day would be flat, shadowless overcast. I mean, shadows are just so subversively opinionated, don’t you think?….. But I digress.
On a clear day, especially in places like California, you know exactly what will happen and while this is certainly good for commercial productivity, it can be limiting creatively as there is always a known, predictable, expected outcome, often well before the images are captured.
My feeling is that unless you are prepared to put yourself out into conditions that are less than optimal, you will never get rewarded with something special, something unique, something unexpected. This somewhat opportunistic approach still requires a deep understanding of the subject, still requires a technical precision and respect for craft, but all in order to respond on a more instinctual level to the unfolding scene before you.
While I’ve long ago given up on the idea that I might manipulate the forces of nature, I’m certainly open to getting out there and mixing it up a bit when the opportunity presents itself. Of course, the majority of what I shoot on assignment is done to show the building in its best light.
Sometimes though, I would argue that it takes the worst light to do that.