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Photographing buildings

Some assignments can sound that boring. I’ve been told to go out and photograph a building for a story. Too many times.

Most architectural photographers will either use tilt-shift lenses on a 35mm camera or some sort of larger format of camera that can adjust the lens and film planes accordingly. This is because on a standard lens, the lines on a building appear to converge. This is known in the photographic world as keystoning or tombstoning. Proper usage of a tilt-shift can keep the lines straight.

That being said, I’m not an architectural photographer. I need a nice image that gives clear visual representation of the pictured building. I try to turn a building photograph into a building portrait.

To make an interesting photo of a building, I often rely on fundamental photography skills. Look for unique angles. Find patterns. Wait for nice light.

For me, this often leads me to look up. I have had editors say that the ground should be included in building images to provide a reference point for the viewer. I can see that justification in some circumstances. However, I shot some of my most compelling building photos (if you can truly call any building picture compelling) while looking up.

I had to shoot an under-construction apartment building for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I took one photograph that included the ground and gave a view of most of the building.

The Ford apartments building remains boarded up at the intersection of Pine Street and 14th Street. Max Gersh | Post-Dispatch ©2008

The Ford apartments building remains boarded up at the intersection of Pine Street and 14th Street. Max Gersh | Post-Dispatch ©2008

I thought it was kind of boring. However, it showed what the building looked like. This building is filled with patterns so I started to experiment with my angles until I found something I really liked.

When I looked up at the building from the sidewalk, my eyes followed the not-so-yellow brick road. The building’s inherent depth almost gives the illusion that it is laying on its side.

The Ford apartments building remains boarded up at the intersection of Pine Street and 14th Street. Max Gersh | Post-Dispatch ©2008

The Ford apartments building remains boarded up at the intersection of Pine Street and 14th Street. Max Gersh | Post-Dispatch ©2008

As much as I enjoyed the above picture, I wanted to find a better way to illustrate this particular building. I tried to work with the available patterns and incorporate the building’s awning which included its address.

The Ford apartments building remains boarded up at the intersection of Pine Street and 14th Street. Max Gersh | Post-Dispatch ©2008

The Ford apartments building remains boarded up at the intersection of Pine Street and 14th Street. Max Gersh | Post-Dispatch ©2008

I liked the idea but not the execution. The photo was bland. So again, I moved around, got close and looked up.

The Ford apartments building remains boarded up at the intersection of Pine Street and 14th Street. Max Gersh | Post-Dispatch ©2008

The Ford apartments building remains boarded up at the intersection of Pine Street and 14th Street. Max Gersh | Post-Dispatch ©2008

This photo incorporated the best parts of each photo. Angle. Patterns. Awning. Address. This was the published piece.

I recently had to shoot another building. Since this building is only a block away from my office, I was able to wait for opportune lighting.

First I looked for patterns.

An old cigar ad remains on the side of what will be the Maxwell Commons in downtown New Castle after much of the building has received a coat of paint. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

An old cigar ad remains on the side of what will be the Maxwell Commons in downtown New Castle after much of the building has received a coat of paint. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

Then I looked for a better angle.

Restoration on the building that will be the Maxwell Commons is well underway in downtown New Castle. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

Restoration on the building that will be the Maxwell Commons is well underway in downtown New Castle. (C-T photo Max Gersh) ©2010

Both photographs ran in the paper.

These are by no means Pulitzer winning photos. They are representative of how a photojournalist can rely on artistic knowledge to compose a printable image of the most mundane and static subjects.

June's odds and ends
Portraits: 20 under 40
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