Eleven Beautiful Architectural Photographs And How They Were Made

Eleven Beautiful Architectural Photographs And How They Were Made

As I continue my articles on interior, architectural, and real estate photography, I thought it would be interesting to see different approaches to shooting these types of subjects. So, for this month's article, I've invited a number of professional interior, architectural, and real estate photographers to share their images and techniques with everyone who reads Fstoppers.

As anyone who shoots interiors and architecture can tell you, there are well over one hundred ways to shoot any space. To use lights, or not to use lights? What composition would best suit the space? What is necessary to include, and what is not necessary to include? Will a single exposure work, or will we have to blend multiple exposures? How much time do we have? Do paint and fabric colors need to be matched? What about camera and lens choices? The list goes on and on. Since it is of the utmost importance that every element of the scene is working to complement the photo, great care must be taken in each step of creating one of these shots.

We also have to take into consideration the final end user of the photos, and adjust our pictures accordingly. While both a real estate agent and a high-profile architect need great photos, those photos will hardly ever be created in the same way. A real estate agent will be hard pressed to pay the full commercial rates that an architect might, and because of this, the photographers will approach each shoot differently due to budget constraints or the demands of the client.

I reached out to a number of professionals who were kind enough to share some information about how they created each of their images below. I've chosen to feature a variety of styles from a variety of shooters, from real estate to high-end commercial, so that you can get a feel for the difference in approaches and techniques. I hope that after reading this post, you'll be able to learn a couple of new tricks, or further your understanding of the complexities of architectural and interior photography.

David Eichler

David Eichler is a San Francisco Bay-area based architectural, interiors, and luxury real estate photographer. And yep, it's no coincidence: that Eichler. David's grandfather was the great Joseph Eichler, the real estate developer and designer who you might have known as the man who made the Eichler-style home popular. It's no question that architecture is in David's blood, and his images show that. With impeccable attention to detail and composition, David's images are great case studies for showing the beauty designed into a space.

"The living room shot below is a composite of an ambient exposure fusion blend for the interior (using Photomatix Pro), a separate single exposure for the exterior, and parts of an additional exposure for the interior that I supplemented with strobe lighting from two monolights."


For the below photo, a very simple light setup was all that was needed.  Of this image, David says "the sun room photo below is a single exposure with fill lighting from two monolights bounced off the ceiling." Nothing crazy lighting-wise here. Sometimes letting the space speak for itself is all that is necessary, and an important tool that any architectural photographer must have in his bag is the knowledge of not only when to light a space, but how much light to use.



Cynthia Walker

Cynthia Walker is an Alabama-based real estate photographer who works using mostly natural light and a number of blending techniques: both hand-blends in Photoshop and Enfuse-based HDR images.  I suspect, like many real estate photographers, that Cynthia is using this workflow in an effort to move quickly and deliver a high-quality image not attainable by a single exposure.

"This job in particular was for, you guessed it, a Real Estate agent. I chose this composition to show off this amazing patio and backyard, which the homeowner had spent countless hours on to get it to look like a home that would be featured in a magazine such as Southern Living. The biggest challenge for this image was getting the right balance with the highlights of the yard and shadows of the covered patio. I took two exposures on site: one for the backyard and one for the patio. Once at home, I blended them together in Photoshop using a quick mask and adjusted the opacity to taste. "

By using only ambient exposures, Cynthia was able to retain a natural, attainable feel. I wouldn't have any problem imagining myself walking right into this scene. And that's something that a real estate agent as well as a potential home buyer will love to see.

Raif Fluker

Raif Fluker is a Florida-based architectural, interiors, hotel and resort photographer who was kind enough to show us a few of his shots that required a somewhat more complicated light setup than you'd imagine. By finessing multiple lights, adding small kisses and big truckloads of light throughout the scene, Raif is able to make some huge and extravagant spaces look entirely natural and inviting.

"The set up for this shot was one monolight just barely to the right of the camera, supplemented with a Canon 430ex at full power to the left of the camera. In the opposite room were three lights. A monolight and an SB-80 on full power illuminated the room while fighting the bright florida sun, and a gridded SB-80 was used to bring out some detail in the red chairs. I also hand-held an SB-80 with a grid and a CTO to highlight the table in front of the camera. The view was pulled in on one exposure, not masked in."

Getting that view in one exposure is no small feat: With high-noon Florida sun blasting in, it would be easy to overlight the space and make it look a bit fake.  By finessing all of those lights, Raif is able to keep the space feeling natural and also keep it well-illuminated so that the viewer can see all of the architectural and design details throughout.

The next space that Raif shot was nothing short of cavernous. While these large spaces look amazing to the naked eye, they are actually incredibly difficult to photograph. This situation was made even tricker by the fact that earth tones dominated the scene and sucked up all of the light. In order to overcome these challenges and keep the room looking natural, Raif had to use a smorgasbord of speedlights. This is one of those photos where you'd be easily fooled without an explanation.

"The set up here was one monolight just behind the camera for fill. I placed another monolight just out of the frame on the right hand side of the living room, illuminating the couches and fireplace. Two SB-80's were used to illuminate the upstairs area. Lastly, I had one Canon 430ex in the hall between the bar and the living room, and a pair of SB-80's to lighten up the bar area."

Scott Hargis

Scott Hargis, a San Francisco based architecture and interiors photographer, has been featured on fstoppers before.  And it's no wonder: his impeccable attention to detail and vast knowledge base combine to help him create some stunning interior images. Scott is known across the web and within interior photography circles as a master of lighting, and his images attest to this.

On creating the below image, Scott says:

"This was the first shot I "saw" upon walking into this new construction project by Dogtown Development in Oakland, CA. Pretty much everything you need to know about this place can be gotten from this photo! I loved the colors, and the styling was spot-on. Obviously, I'm bringing light in via a strobe outside the window, which had to be "boomed" into position from an adjoining deck. Additional fill light is coming in from camera left.  The idea was to accentuate the existing sunlight, while still controlling the highlights  on the windowframe. "

Once again, all that's used are a few strategically-placed kisses of light to bring the space to life. By controlling the light, Scott is able to create the feel of a warm summery afternoon. Look me in the eye and tell me you wouldn't love pouring yourself a glass of wine and cooking a nice meal or reading by the window...you just can't!

The next image from Scott is a bit more on the commercial side of things, in contrast to many of the images of home interiors featured in this post. Shot for an architect, Scott had a specific set of instructions to follow when he was contracted to create this image.

"This image was made for Dumican & Mosey Architects of San Francisco, and is intended to show the cantilevered wooden overhang and the translucent blue divider wall in relation to the conference room. Nearly every square inch of this scene is getting additional lighting! Controlling reflections and glare on the shiny wood surfaces (as well as the glass) was a real challenge and required us to "kill" a lot of the existing practicals, replacing them with our own light. The addition of the two figures in the conference room was a last-minute decision, which I think adds a lot to the photo. There are at least 4 strobes, and as many hotlights involved in this shot, but the real work was in controlling the existing lighting, much of which was either turned off, or else scrimmed and otherwise modified."

Wayne Capili 

Wayne Capili is a Monterey, California-based commercial, portrait, and luxury real estate photographer who has made a name for himself with a unique lighting style that relies mostly on hard light. Wayne developed his lighting technique in response to his clients, who came to him seeking a way for their images to jump off the page in print media. While Wayne shoots digitally, he keeps in mind that the end result is going to be viewed in print just as much as it would be on a screen, and his lighting is modified as a result. I think wayne has come up with a beautiful style, and it's refreshing to see interior photographs lit with a little bit of an edge. Wayne was gracious enough to go into detail about the process of creating this image for us:

"The parts list:
6 Photogenic 1250 Monolights with various reflectors
6 sb800
1 8in Fresnel - Speedotron 1250

The first thing was to light the far room, I did a basic exposure wash with a Photogenic to bring up the EV, which I bounced on the left wall with a 22 inch reflector for wide soft fill. And here is where it gets complicated...

1 Sb800, set at 105mm on fireplace
1 SB800, high camera left aimed center of room for detail for table
1 SB800, 105mm , camera right and high for the chairs on left
1 SB800, right hand side and low, to light chair 
1 SB800 Right near the lower wall for far table detail.
1 SB800 pointed up for ceiling

1 Photogenic 1250 in hall with Profoto Proglobe high for floor and side wall

1 Photogenic 1250 above camera pointed toward ceiling

2 Photogenic 1250 outside to change color temp of the blue/cyan 
and light tree

8in Fresnel outside to simulate sunlight

I set flash exposure to be f8, which made it easy to get the blue sky because once the f stop is set I could control the outside ambient exposure with the shutter speed."

Wayne isn't messing around. The below image is stunning, and makes me want to thrown in the towel on my hip city life and move right in to this gorgeous coastal property. His lighting is dynamic and I'd certainly say that he achieved his goal of making the image jump right off of the screen.


M. James Northen

M. James Northen is an architectural and interiors photographer based in the Southeast United States. Shooting mostly for magazines and publications in the area, he has a wealth of experience creating interesting photographs to accompany articles and I thought this would make a great addition on the editorial side of things. The below image was shot for Vero Beach Magazine, and M. James explains how he pulled it off, creating a stunning image of a simple space after starting with almost nothing:

"This was taken for Vero Beach Magazine for an article about outdoor living spaces. This was quite a large space but a lot of it was barren of any furnishings or any other embellishments and looked, well, blah. The morning sun was coming in from the left and making for nice light and this was the point of interest. The homeowner was at home and asked it there was anything I needed. I asked her to set the table and get a plant from somewhere. She did that in no time at all and I sensed I could go further ... I asked for some long stem wine glasses... She arrived back shortly with four perfect glasses filled with Orange Juice. I had expected empty .... filled, even better. Really nice to have someone who wants to help and gets it.

Simple setup - One Alien Bee 1600 Behind me to the right at full blast fired into the ceiling. I then moved it down into the right side of the scene but out of frame dialed back a bit and made another exposure. Blended the two frames together in Photoshop and arrived at the final image - then cropped it square to get this image."

Sometimes keeping it simple and moving quickly is the best solution - especially when working under magazine direction and tight deadlines.


Thomas Grubba

Thomas Grubba is a real estate and architectural photographer based in Oakland, CA, who set out to make a stunning exterior image for a real estate client that wanted the listing to stand out in the endless sea that is the California real estate market.

"The client for this shoot wanted a dramatic evening shot, something that would set it apart from the other properties in the area. It’s set on over 2 acres in an exclusive area of Lafayette, CA. In considering the composition it was important to show the flow to the open space/hills behind the house while including the pool and hot tub area in front of the house. This image was made over the course of 2 hours with different exposures for the sky, hills, pool area and the house. When I had a dark enough base exposure I lit selected areas using an SB 800 and pocket wizards. My trusty assistant kept an eye on the camera making sure I covered the important areas of the image, the staircase to the left, front walls of the house, the retaining wall and landscaping and yes even the pool. I then manually blended all the layers together in Photoshop; all told I used about 85 exposures for the final image."

And the end result? One absolutely killer real estate image. It's a shot like this that is going to stand out on an MLS or a Homes & Land magazine and drive views to the home, inevitably ending in a sale and a happy client.

Brian McLochlainn

Our last image takes us across the pond to County Kildare, Ireland, where photographer Brian MacLochlainn works to create beautiful images for estate agents all across Ireland. While the image below looks rather simple to create, it was actually a deceptively complicated shot to pull off.

"This place was just a bit mad, someone went all out to have fun designing this place. While it looked pretty neat it was somewhat of a nightmare to shoot.

In total, there were 8 exposures at work:

4 shifted left and 4 shifted right with a Canon 5dII and a 24TS/EII lens: three of those exposures were used to create a Photomatix fusion, and the remaining exposure was create with additional light: one bounced into the ceiling, one through a softbox camera right, a bare speedlight bounced camera left. I then blended the two layers in photoshop to add definition and directional light in an otherwise extremely white, high-key situation. The fire was added in post and a few quick touches were put on before delivering to the client."
Whether or not this last room is your style, you can't deny that Brian came up with a clever solution to shooting such a complex space. The whites are well controlled, there is detail throughout, and the directional light lends a believability to the space.

And for next time...

I hope you were able to learn a thing or two about shooting architectural spaces with these examples. While shooting architecture and interiors can be a tricky and complicated endeavor, I'd like to think that this post got some creative juices flowing whether or you're a real estate photographer looking to add some spice to your shots, or a portrait photographer who is looking to add some killer light to an environmental portrait of a CEO.

If you have any requests for articles in this vein, let me know in the comments section below. I'm planning a few more posts in this style, though I'm going to up the complexity a bit in the next installment. Stay tuned!


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Previous comments
Don Lehman's picture

Great information as always, Mike!

I'm curious if you're planning another real estate tutorial? I purchased " Where Art Meets Architecture" and absolutely loved it!

Andrei Mihalache's picture

This is pretty fantastic. I'm starting out in the architecture / commercial field, but I'm not even sure what gear is the most important. Is a T/S lens absolutely necessary, or can I start with a regular wide angle and go from there?

Nice deck painting. Love it.