A great portion of my business is spent on architectural photography. My technique involves using a mixture of ambient light, flash, and tungsten hot lights blended and masked together in post to create well lit images that are time consuming to shoot and often frustrating to edit. I'm always looking for other techniques and resources to incorporate that will allow me to work more efficiently and/or improve my images. This week I found such a technique right under my nose.
One of my "friends" on social media (never actually met or spoken with him before) is a brilliant architecture photographer who creates some of the most crisp, clean, attractive images I've seen in a while, with a look that isn't just mimicking others. After he commented on one of my recent IG photos, I decided to take a look at some of his recent posts, and eventually bounced over to his blog. I was ecstatic to find he'd created several behind-the-scenes videos and screen casts of his workflow!
My journey into shooting interiors started about 3 years ago shooting real estate in a market over saturated with a bunch of run-n-gun, ultra wide angle, HDR, giveaway artists. I found out very quickly that I needed to make my stuff stand out or I’d never make it. I learned the fundamentals from Scott Hargis' book and video series. His philosophy is pretty simple - expose for the bright stuff and light the dark stuff. That was all fine and dandy and I got good really quick but my photos didn’t have the sizzle that I wanted - I wanted my stuff to look like the photos I was seeing in shelter mags at the bookstore. The main problem is real estate is quick and dirty - especially when you’re shooting 3-4 houses a day. During that time, I had also been following Mike Kelley’s blog which was long before his Fstoppers video series came out. What I came up with is basically a hybrid of both Scott and Mike’s technique.
Mackenzie starts by bracketing a few clean ambient frames. He uses theses frames for the ceiling and the overall exposure. From there, he determines where the brightest thing in the room is that he wants to retain detail in (usually a light fixture or a window) and then begins lighting. Mackenzie uses speed lights with a combination of bounce and shoot-through umbrellas. Once he has the exposure close to where he wants it, Mackenzie starts to blanket the room with a soft global fill by bouncing off the ceiling or walls. The light comes back super soft and non-directional so he also tries to add some supplemental directional light so the shadows and highlights make sense with the natural light in the space. An average shot, Mackenzie says, will have anywhere from 3-5 frames that the composite is built from.
Crafting this technique enabled me to build a strong enough portfolio to where I’m finally climbing out of the trenches of real estate photography and into high paying commercial and design work.
What I found unique about Mackenzie's approach is that he uses the bounced light to illuminate furniture and other details in the space rather than the more popular method of lighting them directly. Then his process is similar to mine (and others) where he paints those portions into the rest of the scene. The result is a much softer look that is very subtle and ambient looking. I'm anxious to try this on my next architectural shoot and see if I can somehow incorporate the technique into my own workflow.
[Images used with permission]