Torrential Sunshine

I enjoyed a recent visit to the Portland Collection in Welbeck, Nottinghamshire (Hugh Broughton Architects) to photograph on behalf of lighting designers Speirs+Major, it is a wonderful project which received a RIBA National Award earlier this year.  I arrived in torrential rain with little hope for any exterior views at all, however, the storm blew over quickly and we had a brief moment of low bright sunshine when the light flooded into the Entrance Pavilion.

The full set of images showing the lighting design will be published soon, but in the meantime, sunlight and shadow.

Where is everybody?

Increasingly the emphasis of project photography, be it for lighting or architecture, is on people. Documenting people in the space, their activity, the visitor experience. People are the reason architecture and lighting are designed, they are both creators and end users. This means including (where possible) people in photographs and these are some of the considerations I take into account when doing this.

(a large amount of credit at this point must go to Speirs+Major for not so much suggesting as insisting that my photographs include people.)

Stansted Airport, Sat 1, Pascall+Watson

Where are they?

As soon as a person enters the frame they become a, if not the strong element within the picture.  Immediately the eye is drawn to the figure – so position them carefully within the frame and make sure that the eye is drawn to something revealing.  The Serpentine Pavilion project has many good points, but one I particularly enjoy is the level of interaction it encourages between visitor and architecture, it is very direct and playful and leaves me thinking we should interact with architecture more often.

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Serpentine Pavilion 2015, selgascano
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Serpentine Pavilion 2009, sanaa

Where should they be?

If the image is of an empty space then the sole focus is on architecture – in this instance the specific focus is a lit wall at the rear of the space.

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1 Oliver’s Yard, Selux Lighting

Once a person enters the frame there is immediately another focal point. In this example the figure brings a sense of movement to the scene as well as demonstrating the scale of the space. Perhaps more importantly they also provide a silhouette against the rear wall thereby enhancing the lit effect that is being illustrated.

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1 Oliver’s Yard, Selux Lighting

Also drawing the eye will be the brightest elements in the frame, in this instance the red lobby in the background is very strong so perhaps the person should be dressed in red to balance that out? Where exactly within the frame should they appear in order to create that balance? Maybe they should be here, or here, or here…….

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1 Oliver’s Yard, Selux Lighting

What are they doing?

As well as drawing the eye people can help to illustrate the use of space and explain what it is there for.  Whether it is an exhibition stand set up in order to demonstrate lighting equipment or a workstation in a shoe shop, by showing people carrying out specific activities it is possible to add to the amount of information provided by an image.

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Lumenpulse at LuxLive
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Joseph Cheaney, Checkland Kindleysides

How many are there?

What kind of space is it? What is its function? How many people would usually be there?  Once full of people the atmosphere of the space is completely altered.  It becomes full of life and energy, movement, interaction and of course sound – a subject I will look into more in another post.

Oxford Brookes Lecture Theatre, Speirs+Major
Oxford Brookes Lecture Theatre, Speirs+Major

Where are they going?

In the image below the suggestion of movement up the staircase serves to enhance the flowing lines and curves of the staircase design whilst at the same time providing a nice contrast with static nature of structure.  I usually like to show people moving or blurred, – not only does it show that they are alive(!), but also it slightly reduces the focus on them, you are not wondering about who they are and whether you recognise them or not, it is more generic and keeps the focus on the architecture whilst enlivening the picture.

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Miles Staircase, Somerset House, Eva Jiricna/DHA

What are the wearing?

Is this just a coincidence? I find this happens a lot, people will be dressed to match their surroundings (no, really) especially at art exhibitions, it might be just my imagination, but I like to think it is some sort of subconscious decision, we are drawn to the things we like……..

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Serpentine-Pavilion 2015, selgascano

Don’t look at the camera!

You have seen them, but have they seen you? Most people will ignore the camera, some will get out of the way and avoid being photographed, abut then there are always those that want to get involved…………….OK move along now please.

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Passers by posing for their photo to be taken

No drama

All too often photographs of architecture intend to make you say ‘wow! look at that’.  They grab your attention, attempting to pull you away from the flow of imagery to which we are now exposed and into a website or magazine article.  ‘Wow’, we say – then move on to the next one,  ‘wow! look at that’ – next, ‘wow! look at that’ – next, and so on. But what if there is no ‘wow’ factor? what are we left with.

Well, ‘look at that’ to be literal about it. The difference being that rather than demanding your attention a picture can simply offer itself up to be looked at, perhaps more slowly, perhaps for longer.

Sometimes a project has no drama. This doesn’t mean that the project is no good or lacking in some way, rather it is quieter, with a quality of stillness.  Perhaps it has more to do with architecture as background condition, a space to be lived in rather than shown off, to be experienced and not just seen.

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Old Paint Factory, Wandsworth

I have recently been fortunate enough to photograph two projects for Robin Lee Architecture71 Queensway and the Old Paint Factory – and it struck me that this was just such work.  In each case a former industrial building has been refurbished as living space, in each case the starting point was a fairly ordinary structure and the end result is unspectacular. Again, I do not mean this in a negative way, how many of us live in a ‘spectacular’ house, or indeed want to. Spectacular view or location maybe, but house? Give me quiet simplicity any day.

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Old Paint Factory, Wandsworth

Whilst some of the materials used may be luxurious, they blend in with the whole. Where original features are left exposed, even raw in places, they speak of what remains of the original rather than leaping out as a feature of urban chic.  This is simply the way it is, this is the way the place is made. Colours are muted and subtle, elements provide function rather than feature and the overall effect is one of calm which provides a welcome contrast to the city outside the doors.

As Mary Duggan writes in an article about 71 Queensway in AJ ‘This project is about creating a specific atmosphere rather than a specific appearance’.

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71 Queensway

I think I am drawn to these projects because it fits with the way in which I like to photograph architecture (and places in general). Where possible I aim to just show what is there and try not to create drama within the pictures. Quiet pictures for quiet architecture.

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Old Paint Factory, Wandsworth

Many factors contribute to the experience of architecture, all senses are active. A photograph, on the other hand, will only ever be a visual representation, an appearance. But a photograph can suggest as well as show. Composition and activity within the image can provide clues as to what it might sound like within a space. Light conditions can be used to create a specific atmosphere. Focus on materials and the way that they respond to light will offer information as to the texture and feel of the surfaces, what temperature they might be if you touched them, whether they are hard of soft. This in turn will provide further information about what the space sounds like and so on.

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71 Queensway

In the end the pictures are not so different. But there can be a subtle shift in focus away from the surface of the photograph towards the quality of the space depicted. A shift away from a purely visual response toward a more imaginative one.  Wow factor can grab your attention, but can it show you what a place is like? Can you see beyond the photograph?

One Store, Three Stories

Photography has to translate the finished scheme into visual material that accurately portrays the project.  It is by these images that the majority of viewers will see the scheme, most will not enter the actual ‘space’ at all, so it is the photographs that have to convey this experience.  The lighting brief for Hedonism Wines was to create a strong and lasting impression of the store when seen from the outside, so it may come as a surprise to learn that Speirs + Major achieved this by switching their carefully integrated lighting solution off once the store was closed.  By creating a dark space they were free to use light to its full potential and bring the store to life in a way that captures the attention of passers by, both on foot and in cars alike.  The brief for the photography was to transfer this effect to the screen through images.  The lighting is ‘living’, so the images had to come to life too.

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Located in an area of London where fashion, luxury and heritage come together it was vital to create a strong first impression from outside, and to carry that through to the striking interiors.

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The architectural lighting element of the project is fully integrated with the interior, allowing the focus to remain on the merchandise which is clearly and atmospherically lit.  The images had to show this whilst accurately portraying the 3000K colour temperature which was used to bring out the warm hues of the brick and timber used within.

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Additional details were required to show the feature chandelier in the centre of the space, this provides a focal point in the centre of the store and the staircase which links the two floors.  Made from upturned wine glasses it is arranged as a flowing contour map representative of a vineyard landscape.

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Realised by Lighting Designer Jonathan Coles, the chandelier was a small project in its own right and was photographed as such.  This included a series of views and details within the darkened space which isolated the glasses from their surroundings and enhanced the lit effect.

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The basement has a cellar like atmosphere with copper pendants suspended from a dark ceiling.  Whilst illustrating the lit effect it is important that the images convey the atmosphere of the store as well as being accurate in terms of quality and quantity of light.

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This includes bringing certain elements to life such as these display cases.  Linked to sensors to detect approaching customers, light levels are increased to provide a clearer view of the bottles once there.  Sequential images were overlaid and animated to illustrate this concept.

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Whether it is a carefully considered series of stills, abstract details, animated series, or a short video I can provide project photography that works on many levels and across many formats to ensure that your project has the widest reach it possibly can.

Is it time to bring your projects to life?