Shooting Architecture on Location With Mike Butler in Bogota, Colombia

We've featured architectural photographer Mike Butler before, when he shot the Intercontinental Hotel in Miami, FL. This time, Mike heads to Bogota, Colombia, to shoot  the Virgilio Barco Library using a slew of hot lights and assistants. If you've ever wondered why it takes 8 hours to create a single architectural image, this BTS will show you exactly why. This video shows a number of awesome things: from the way he orchestrates his shoots and lights structures, to the problem solving he had to employ to overcome a few unforeseen weather issues while on location. Check out the clever use of headsets to direct his assistants and deal with lighting problems on the fly, as well.

Mike Kelley's picture

Michael Kelley ( is a Los Angeles-based architectural and fine art photographer with a background in digital art and sculpture. Using his backgrounds in the arts, he creates images that are surreal and otherworldly, yet lifelike and believable. A frequent traveler, Michael's personal work focuses on the built environment of unique

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I found this very informative. As a former architecture student, this appeals to me.  I he ever decides to put on a Architecture Photography workshop, I'm there!

I am just curious, how much does a project like this cost? Did the library set  the price and Mike Butler accepted/negotiated it? Or did the library go to Mike and ask and he set the price? I'm going to assume it was a RFQ that was sent out (maybe). It just seems so intricate, lots of expensive equipment, employees, and LOTS of talent. I'm just curious to know how much these artists are compensated for this?

Mike Butler introduces the event as a 'personal' project.  I always read that as .....'I' paid for everything and had volunteers.

I paid for the entire job which included multiple trips to Colombia and gifts to local political figures. All the assistants were paid regular rate. You next question might be why? In one way it is for the love of it but lets be real, love does not pay the rent, so it also becomes an unbeatable marketing piece securing me assignments that might otherwise go to someone else. The third, and for me the most important reason is because it is so F&% difficult to do that no one in their right mind would attempt it. A kind of lets see what is possible, pushing the boarders of feasibility.

@google-fbe1d3a12534b9a03639b8cd28f76466:disqus  you stole my words! i have the exact same question too..

  That´s a lot of time and money for a promo video. Good promo video though!

Conveys all the right things to clients: the photographer takes the
initiative, he's a leader, shows attention to detail and is very
organised. Not to mention the pretty photographs!

Good job.

Looks like the photos were made as long exposures. I wonder how many minutes were used in each picture

This is not architecture photography....
The architecture photographer must be respectfull of the light-work made by the architect. 
In natural light, as well for the artificial light.
As stated in the Zevi works (as well as in many other critics) change the lighting on a building is criminal. Who would be so mad (except some majors ) to  lighting from the bottom a cathedral that has been projected for a light that strike on the walls from the sky... Imagine  what this would mean on a Romanesque architecture for instance, that live symbiotically with the light. 
This is more a real estate photography.  

Art in general, and architecture in particular, are projected and studied in specific light conditions. This is for large part an american guilt, USA hasn't much art history, and accept and introduce the idea of museums and  galleries, and so on.. Places where a '600 or '700 paint could be "stolen" from the space for whom it has been thinked. Please note that this is a different approach from the wunderkammer one.

You can't take out the Michelangelo Moses from it's niche, the Moses has been think as a unicum with it, and this happend for any other work that has been created for a place. And architecture is EVERY TIME created for a place and a precise light, if it is a GOOD architecture. 

Kudos for the technique.
But the technique without a deep cultural approach is sterile.

Julius Shulman must have been smoking something good when he made that awful image of the Stahl House with added light.

There are many ways to shoot a subject, none more incorrect or correct, though some more aesthetically pleasing. With or without lights, at certain angles, at certain times. If I'm shooting a piece of architecture in the city that has light from another building spilling on it unintentionally, is that criminal as well?

For reference...the most famous architectural photograph of all time used additional light. Again, no right or wrong, just different approaches to a subject.

Well, it's simple to see whether what the photographer did was right or wrong.  Were there landscape lights there to begin with and the 50 lights were used to enhance them to show up in the picture or did the photographer create his own light?  If he created his own light then he was in fact WRONG because he was not representing the building as it currently looks or how the architect designed it. 

He can add all the lights he wants if he wants to pass off the building as fine art, but once you distort reality, it is dishonest.   It's like those real estate photographers who just happen to photoshop out the landfill behind the house that's up for sale, add lights in the trees and bushes that don't exist, photoshop out that water damage to one of the windows etc.   Sure it looks better than real life, but when someone goes to look at the house in person and sees it looks nothing like the picture, are they going to laugh and say "hahaha!  That's a great photographer!" or threaten a lawsuit for misrepresentation?

In a way architecture photography is like journalism.  You can't add things that don't belong there.  You can pick the time of day, correct the temperature of the lighting, etc. but 50 lights?  come on.

So is posting a lit and posed portrait on your profile dishonest as well? Everything should be shot exactly how it is, right?

Well yes, if you expect a person to look one way but you meet and find out they were using myspace angles, photoshop, and all kinds of other tricks to look like a model when in real life they're 100 pounds overweight, you have the right to just turn around and leave after seeing them.  Maybe even tell them they're dishonest. 

Good Point Mike! I hate it when People make diminishing comments about others peoples work. Every body has their own style. I have had the same exact type of critique for a similar video of my work (found on my website). Coincidentally it was also done in Colombia.
The purpose of hiring a photographer is to make things look good, that also includes lighting. If someone, or in this case a space, looks better in real life rather than in person, the photographer has done a poor job. Mike Kelleys example of explains it well.

What you are talking about is semantics there is no right or wrong. It is wonderful to capture architecture in its natural light, the way the architect had envisioned and I am all for that.

If the goal is to show something as it is in real life, and you alter that reality to how you THINK it should look by adding lights, photoshopping, using HDR, etc. then it's very dishonest.  Journalists have a strict code of conduct regarding altering images.  Most architectural photographers do as well.

If the goal is to just great a beautiful image that has nothing to do with reality then you can't call it architectural photography.