1.Kit to Use

Sean Conboy made his name through his highly developed technical ability and affinity with the subjects he was photographing. Even in this digital age he’s still working in a time-honoured style, albeit one that’s been brought right up to date.

I work with a Linhof Techno camera and Rodenstock lenses. It comes with all the movements that photographers over 100 years ago would have been familiar with,” says Sean. “This enables me to correct converging verticals in-camera and adjust depthof-field so that focus can be throughout the scene or restricted to one area. I’ve combined this camera with a digital Hasselblad H6D 100C with a 100-megapixel CMOS back, so that I’ve got the best of both worlds and a digital file to work with.”

Sean acknowledges that the skill set for the modern architectural photographer is now more flexible, which makes it possible to work with smaller and more portable cameras, effectively lowering the barrier to entry. “It’s also possible to stand further back from a building and to crop in to get a better perspective in the image,” says Sean, “but I’ve always enjoyed working with the Linhof and appreciate the fact that it’s still capable of such incredible results.”

2. Interior Photography

Moving inside you need to make use of a different set of skills. While it’s possible at times to work with nothing but available light there will also be occasions when you need to add your own lights to boost levels, and here you’ll need to be sensitive to the vision of the architect.

“Many modern buildings have been carefully lit to enhance the aesthetics,” says Sean, “and you have to be aware of this and make sure that you’re lighting in a similar vein and not overpowering what’s there. I work with Broncolor Move flash packs that are all battery operated, so there are no

restrictions on where they can be placed, and I’ll be looking to reinforce the lighting that’s already there. I might also have a couple of small battery powered LED panels that can be tucked away into spaces out of sight of the camera so that they can throw a little extra light into a dark corner.

“The idea is to be true to the lighting the architect envisaged and to complement this. If the light coming in through a window is too low then I might even have one of my Broncolor heads placed outside to boost the effect, and this lifts levels while looking natural.”

3. Shooting Interiors

To be a successful architectural photographer you need to have an affinity with buildings and, with modern buildings in particular, sympathy for what the architect was setting out to achieve. It’s the reason why many of those who stand out in this genre have an architectural background.

“You have to have enormous patience,” says Sean, “and be prepared to postpone the job and come back at another time if you know that circumstances wonʼt allow you to get the optimum result. It can be easier to do interiors than exteriors, since then you’re not so dependent on the weather.

“If you’re shooting outside then you need a day when there is decent light. Over the years I’ve acquired a sense of where the light will come from and at what time of the day the building will look its best, and I arrive early so I can find the best place to shoot from. Lighting from different angles will model the building in different ways, and the aim will be to work with light that emphasises shape through shadow rather than flat face-on lighting that produces a two-dimensional effect.

“I might use a polarising filter to darken down the sky to make it more dramatic, while if the sky is bland I could work with a graduated filter to add some interest, but I’ll do this sparingly so that the effect is not overused.”

4. Twilight Photography

Many modern buildings will also be spectacularly lit up at night and there are some strong architectural images that can reveal this. “If you shoot at night, the sky is black and the result can be quite ordinary,” says Sean. “I always work during twilight where I can; this can last for up to 45 minutes in midsummer through to maybe only 20 in winter.

“Time is short, so you need to be set up in advance. The later it gets the more intense the colour of the sky will become, so you can achieve different effects depending on the intensity of the look you want.”

5. Time Lapse

Another innovation that has added to the architectural photographer’s armoury is time-lapse. A cross between a film clip and still photography, the essence of this technique is a speededup view of an event, created by setting the camera to fire at regular and set intervals. This can take the form of a really extended sequence, shot across many days or even weeks as a project is constructed, through to a short and sharp sequence that can be used in lots of commercial ways.

“For me the most regular use of this technique is to show a building through the process of dawn or dusk,” says Sean. “I just use the intervalometer on the camera and set the camera up to fire away. It’s a process that can be highly effective, but again you need to use it sparingly to make sure that it retains its element of surprise.”

6. The Modern World

Among the things that have worked their way into the world of architectural photography in recent years are drones, which can give the photographer an elevated or even aerial position, and VR and 360˚ cameras. The latter have proved popular with upmarket estate agents, who can now offer customers a virtual tour of a property without them having to leave the office, and they certainly deliver more than a straightforward still image might be able to. There’s an element of gimmick involved, but it’s straightforward and fairly cost effective to offer the service, and certainly something to consider.

“If I use a drone then I’ll leave this to a specialist,” says Sean, “and I’d hire them in to work alongside me to achieve the shot I need. If I want an elevated position, however, I’m much more likely to look first at alternative methods, such as working from the top of a cherry picker or scouting an adjacent building that I can shoot from.”

7.  Create your own Style

Given an open brief and the same building to photograph, it’s likely that a selection of  architectural photographers would each come up with a different way of tackling the subject. It’s up to you to develop a style that’s your own and which marks you out as someone who will interpret a job in a way that will appeal to a particular kind of client.

Certainly Sean has very much got his own ‘look’, one that many top clients have bought into, but he advises against being different just for the sake of it and potentially putting your own take on things over and above the need to show a building in its best light.

“You just need to keep shooting, to continually be on the lookout for fresh angles and think all the time about how you might use the light and the time of day,” he says. “Don’t go for a look that’s too way out and wacky, since this will restrict the market that will use your work. Empathise with your subject, understand what the architect was trying to say and take your time to really think about your approach, and over time you’ll come up with your own unique way of doing things.”

To see more of Sean’s phonomenal work check out his website – seanconboy.com

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