It’s a complete honour today to have a guest post from American architectural photographer Brad Feinknopf. Brad has been shooting for more than 25 years and in this post he talks about the three Ms of making good architectural imagery: Meaning, Moment, and Method.
You can see some of Brad’s recent work in the January issue of Architectural Record Magazine where he captures Zaha Hadid’s Eli and Edythe Broad Museum at Michigan State University.
M3 – The 3 Ms of Making Good Architectural Imagery
There are many good architectural photographers out there but the difference between the good photographer and the great photographers is something that I will call The Three M’s. The three M’s are Meaning, Moment and Method.
It is important to take beautiful imagery but beautiful imagery alone is not good enough. Yes, everyday I go out to create beautiful imagery but that is only the beginning. Everyone has created beautiful images in the career but what do they really mean? After spending the last 25 years doing architectural photography, this become so second nature that one does not even know what you are doing, you just do it. This became very evident on three shoots this past year when clients explained to me what I was doing when I didn’t know what I was doing myself. After walking the project and starting to select shots, I started asking a host of questions regarding the design concepts involved and why certain decision were made in the design process. At that point my client turned to me, “This is why we work with you, Brad. Unlike other photographers, you are interested in the meaning behind the design and how might your photographs best convey that meaning. We know your photos will be beautiful and others can create pretty pictures for us but, you are the only one who can merge the two and create something of beauty that also helps us tell the design story”. I was touched. Looking for meaning to my images was something I had been doing all along but did not cognitively realize it until it was put right there in front of me. This is what I am talking about when I refer to Meaning. It is fine to create a pretty picture but, if you are going to, why not have it have great meaning and know the story your beautiful image is to tell.
Now that I have explained Meaning, what do I mean by Moment. Not unlike the seminal photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and his “Decisive Moment”, Architectural Photography also has its decisive moments. I remember hearing a story about the great Japanese Architectural Photographer Yasuhiro Ishimoto who did much of the photography for the wonderful Japanese Architect, Arata Isosaki. I was told that Yasuhiro would set up his camera and wait hours for the perfect shot and if things did not pan out to his satisfaction, he would return another day until it was perfect. This too was spelled out to me by a client who said to me, “When we were discussing this shoot, we simply were thinking of the time we “thought” it would take to document the building but, as I work with you, I realize that you are looking for moments and moments don’t always fit into a perfect time constraint. You want that beautiful moment when the planets align and that person moves perfectly into that single shaft of light. Now I get it” This is what I mean by Moment and it sometimes requires the educating of a client so that you may do your best work for them.
Finally, Method. Why do you take the approach you do? There are many ways to do many things and sometimes lighting is required and sometimes it is not. I have lit environments to suit a client’s tastes but prefer the look on a none overtly lit environment. This brings me to my final story and it is not about me. I was on a shoot and discussing with a client about approach and what I had seen other photographers do from time to time and he relayed the words of the great great Architectural Photographer, Peter Aaron. He said he was working with Peter, who was working rather simply and another photographer passed with several assistants and carts of lights and Peter turned and said, “The more equipment, the less of a photographer”. I am not saying that to make a good image you can’t use equipment or that the less equipment you use the better a photographer you are but, it all comes down to the eye of the photographer. If you know your subject matter well, know composition and know what you are attempting to do, the Method you choose will be obvious to you.
So, there you have it. The 3 M’s. Meaning, Moment and Method. Now, go out there and use these three to make better images.