Architectural Photography

The term architectural photography is often associated with those somewhat sterile photographs taken on behalf of a client for the simple purpose of showing architecture in the way the architect intended. This kind of photography is still taken nowadays with a professional (large-format) camera. A large-format camera allows the position of the film and optical planes to be adjusted relative to one another in order to correct architectural perspective in all focal lengths. Everything must be perfect in such photos: There should be no distracting elements like big cars to divert attention from the buildings, the light must be succinct, and the sky interesting. Frequently, architectural photos are taken in the “magical hour” (especially for color photography) when exterior light mixes with interior light.
Increasingly, architectural photography was made feasible with medium-format cameras and good shift lenses, but the digital method with a good back, or even a full-format camera with a small-format sensor, has become the norm. Photoshop now offers options for correcting distorted architectural lines.
Looking at artistic photography, there are very few big names that are associated particularly with architecture. One of them is the photographer Reinhart Wolf. He was made famous by his marvelously atmospheric photographs of New York’s skyscrapers, taken from all perspectives and in magical light. The enormous structures don’t look cold; instead the viewer gets the feeling that the buildings have a soul.
Another of his projects was to photograph industrial buildings in Berlin in such a way that the viewer could almost recognize faces in them. Reinhart Wolf is one of the very few artistic photographers that lovingly presented individual buildings in his photographs. It is typical for professional architectural photography to exclude the personalized, abstract view most of the time; Wolf’s inclusion of that view is what has made his photographs so original.
The most famous photographers who specialize in architecture are Bernd and Hilla Becher. They are at the opposite ends of the spectrum from Reinhart Wolf, who tried to intensify his buildings to the mystical plane through magical light. The Bechers, on the other hand, photograph their buildings—whether industrial plants, water towers, or ruins—as neutrally as possible. It is their philosophy to let the object speak for itself, to be as uninfluenced as possible by extreme lighting or perspective. They workonly under gray skies and try to photograph every building from a middle viewpoint. Yet their photos do have a mood. The two founded the Becher School in Düsseldorf, from which three of the world’s most successful photographers graduated: Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, and Andreas Gursky. Thomas Struth also took some rather impressive black and white architectural photos in Naples, yet it would be wrong to categorize him as an architectural photographer.
Naturally, many other photographers take urban photos. Andreas Feininger’s and Berenice Abbott’s frequently shown photos of New York are certainly some of the best-known examples.
As in landscape photography, a rather critical approach has become the norm in contemporary architectural photography. I have already mentioned Hans Christian Schink’s images of concrete architecture. In his often shown series, Neon Tigers, Peter Bialobrzeski shows the faceless architecture of giant new buildings under neon light in Asia’s exploding metropolises.

16 Mar 2014