FS Original: Mike Kelley Shows the Secrets to Shooting Architectural Images

It's been a while since we've released an Fstoppers original video, so today we want to take you behind the scenes with Mike Kelley. If you've been following Fstoppers then you know he's been a writer with us for a while and is also one of the most talented architectural photographers in the country. Mike's workflow and style is truly incredible and the amount of hours he spends on creating just one image is - as cheesy as it sounds - a work of art.

Back in July, Lee Patrick and I had the pleasure of spending an entire month with Mike to produce his upcoming DVD tutorial which will be released by the end of this year (so be sure to put it on your Christmas list!). After WPPI 2013, we headed to Scottsdale, Arizona to film Mike "doin' his thing." It's crazy to think he used to be a professional snowboarder turned professional photographer. We spent two days filming and talking about his process. While he shot and put together multiple images for this client, Mike calls the most important image of a shoot the "twilight image." If you're an architectural photographer or looking to get started, this is the one image that you must know how to master.

mike-kelley-before-and-after-twilight-image

As Mike will tell you, a lot of architectural photography is moving furniture and waiting until you have that perfect 5 minute window. Once he's got everything ready to go, he'll take a speedlight on a monopod and go around and flash several different details of the exterior. Once he's finished, all of those images get put into one image and we're going to show you how he does it. If this original and the DVD isn't enough, or you just want to meet Mike and see how charming he is in person, then head over to our Fstoppers workshop website and sign up to learn from him hands-on in the Bahamas in May 2014. Mike has also put together a complete gear guide of every single thing he uses to create his amazing images.

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Mike, beautiful work. My bad that I have not found architectural photography customers willing to pay for that level of attention. Can you preview any secrets on getting paid to spend this kind of time on a single architectural image? This house must have been at least a $5k shoot.

Mike Kelley's picture

It wasn't quite $5k but it was in the neighborhood. There are no secrets really, to be honest it isn't a matter of finding the clients before doing the technique. I did the technique and then the clients came - referrals, web searches, word of mouth, people looking for a certain 'look' - believe me, it was a lot of thankless hours and time in front of the computer doing this for cheap until it finally caught on a few years ago. When you offer something that nobody else is really offering, people start to get interested.

Hey Mike - cant wait for the DVD. I gave a similar technique a shot last Summer for a private client - I was really happy with the results - as were they

Cheers! Was my first attempt at something like this and I must've thought the process through for at least 3 months prior to the shoot. This is a comp of about 30 images. Me, 1DX, 24mm TS-E, one handheld Lumopro. My only struggle was firing the flash and camera remotely. I had 2 PW's but only one flash and obviously firing the PW in my hand attached to the flash fired the flash before the camera, so in the end I had my client release the shutter on my command (ahem!). Going forward I'm not sure the best way to do this. Two options with the kit I have are:

1. Mount a flash to the cam hotshoe as a low power master to optically trigger the slave in my hand when I release the shutter remotely via the PW

2. I shoot tethered to my MBP and trip the shutter via my iPad & AirDisplay with the added benefit of getting a preview in my hand when shooting

What do you suggest?

Mike Kelley's picture

I would honestly recommend buying another PocketWizard or CamRanger to get a tethering setup that lets you see what you're doing and trigger the flash without having to cobble a bunch of mis-matched parts together. Otherwise, it's just going to be hours of frustration. Time is so critical in making these images and fiddling with gear is just going to make it harder, in my opinion!

so 1 PW in my hand, another attached to the flash, and another attached to the camera then my laptop wirelessly connected to my iPad?

Actually this is "painting with light" applied in a more practical way. However the result is nothing short of stunning. Thanks for sharing.

WOW! Thanks for the video! I've always wanted to try out architectural photography and your photo + video has been really inspiring.

A few points I need to ask, do I really need a T/S lens? or would a normal wideangle/UWA suffice? Also for architecture, you'll only need the shift feature right? there's no need for the tilt feature?

Mike Kelley's picture

You don't NEED a ts to get started but it certainly helps. They are very convenient and will create compositional possibilities that you simply cannot create with standard zooms. Plus, all zooms on the market have some amount of barrel distortion or field distortion which is really annoying in post sometimes. The tilt shifts have none (24) or very, very little (17).

I mostly use the shift and rarely use the tilt. I would say it's 95% of the time shift.

I'm so excited for the dvd! Enjoyed the techniques you use, please keep in touch

So So stoked on this!!!

We're photographers not graphic designers. Who wants to spend hours in front of a computer in photoshop, when you could be out shooting???.....

As suggested in the video - to do something like this in camera would take dozens of speedlights and hours of setting up.
With the changing light of dusk - maybe not possible.

Patrick Hall's picture

I'd say this is the future of photography....doing a mediocre job isn't going to cut it anymore. So basically you either do it yourself as a one man team like Mike or you outsource the edits.

There are quite a few architectural photographers who do not do extensive photoshopping of their images....and who are anything BUT mediocre. Start your Google search with "Hedrich Blessing".
Mike gets great results, which in some cases cannot be gotten any other way. But this is not the only way to make great images.

Mike is a great photographer, and has an easy, relaxed style -- this DVD should be an excellent resource!

Nice brief but informative vid. The reason I originally came to Fstoppers.

Dylan Patrick's picture

Mike, Lee, and the rest of the kick ass Fstoppers crew...Pure Awesomeness :) Looking forward to the DVD.

Will the DVD also go over camera set-up/settings and flash settings?

So you brought that home and you walk to the pool and OPPS it do's not stand up to the photograph NICE JOB!!!

Your video looks like the exact instructional content I've been looking for. One question--I have a designer who has asked me to do some photography for her. In the past, she has been disappointed with other photographers because of the incorrect color of the photographs--it didn't quite match the fabric/wall colors, etc. Do you discuss getting accurate color match in your tutorial?