My Architectural Photographic Process
*All photos are copyright Ankrom Moisan Architects, photos by Casey Braunger
I've had a few people ask about my "new" process of shooting architectural projects. For a long time I used a technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range); and no, I don't mean the INSANELY over-saturated, hyper-cartoony style that is so unfortunately popular currently (that's actually called "tone-mapping" by the way). HDR is where you basically take three or more exposures; one 3+ stops under exposed, one "correctly" exposed, and one 3+ stops over exposed, then combine them in a specialized program (I use Photomatix). HDR allows you to get detail in all of the dynamic range of the scene (the shadows to the highlights), which is just not possible in one exposure. It's capable of producing some pretty impressive images, but there was always something not quite right about them to me; even when done well, which is not easy. They lacked the sharpness and clarity that I love, everything took on a strange halo. Also, if anything in any of the frames moved (leaves, cars, people, etc.) you'd get a telltale artifact called "ghosting" which is very difficult to remove or avoid...especially with leaves. That's not to mention the extreme, sometimes, impossible task of getting a good, natural white balance.
So I researched some photographers that were achieving the look I love and looked into their process, some had blogs about how they got the shot, others taught courses with video and so I spent a lot of time on Youtube and the internet. I took what I wanted from each of the photographers and came up with a method that worked for me. I don't always have 12 hours to set up and shoot one scene like some of the "high-end" photographers, it's more like 8-12 hours to shoot an entire building, inside and out; or even more commonly 2-4 hours to shoot a whole space. The process I came up with allows me to get the look I like in a minimal amount of time, while making the space look as good as possible. I'm really happy with what I'm coming up with. I've only used this technique on three projects so far, so I have a lot of tweaking and fine-tuning to do, but so far so good.
So without further ado, here's a basic rundown of the process on a fairly simple space:
First, I Expose for the windows:
Then I take a "base" room exposure. I like to slightly underexpose it, it feels like it helps the added lights "pop" once everything is put together. This will be the canvas on which I paint:
I then walk around and pop off some flashes highlighting elements of the room. It could be anything from 5-50+ flashes depending on the space:
There were more exposures than this, but you get the idea. After a slight processing in Lightroom, I take them all into photoshop as layers, mask everything out but the lit part of each frame, adjust the curves/levels a little, straighten any verticals that might be out of whack (I use a 17mm "Tilt/Shift" lens for most of my architecture/interiors shoots so the straightening is usually minimal), add in anything that might need to be added/adjusted (such as the TV image in this shot) and remove any distracting elements (power outlets, fire sprinklers, cords, anything I missed when setting up the shot), then throw it back into Lightroom for final tuning, and you get this.