I have always enjoyed looking at architectural works and spaces they create, the ideas they convey. I remember the old street in Uskudar where I was born with its Albanian pavement covered narrow street and old, mostly wood-structure houses. Even now, I remember the outer door paint job with two color layers with hand swayed swirls; possibly to imitate better wood. The Albanian pavement uses various sized stones, arranged on two sides of a larger-stoned centerline, and posed a challenge to women in high heels. I remember my mother tiptoeing on the large and generally flatter center stones!
Over the years, my interest in architecture made me want to go to a college where I could study it, learn more about it. But, life had other plans and I remained an interested and curious observer. Later on, when I started taking photographs seriously, I had a few assignments that included photographing a few power plants and a glass factory for their annual reports.
I tried to learn by looking at other people’s work, reading, making mistakes, and still continue to do so even today. But, I have not studied either architecture or architectural photography beyond reading books and talking with friends, especially with Prof. Dr. Reha Gunay. I met Reha many years ago and we realized we had many things in common. Whenever I visit Turkey, I try to get together with him if at all possible. And, we exchange e-mail and occasionally sit in front of Skype to see each other.
Reha is a professor of architecture and architectural photography and a prolific author on the subject. He has won many awards, fellowships the most recent one being an award for contributions to architecture by the Chamber of Architects of Turkey in 2020. My heartfelt congratulations once more, Reha.
His most recent book, Architectural Photography (Mimarlik Fotografi) has been in progress for quite a few years and was just recently published. It is an excellent read on the intricacies of this genre of photography with many photographs from his long career. One caveat, it is in Turkish! But, read on.
Available from Yem Kitabevi, the book is very attractively priced at 39 TL which is about $5. Even if the current sale ends, it is a great buy at its regular price which is about double that. The book is over 300 pages, 7: x 9.5″ in a paperback edition. The coated paper and high print quality make it a pleasure to read, look at, and enjoy.
It starts by talking about architecture and its fundamental elements like creating space and structures that cohere in an environment. Then, the core subject, architectural photographs begins. The importance of technique, content, and communication are explained with ample examples. Reha emphasizes the intertwined nature of this type of photography with sociology, economic, material science, function, form, art, etc. In other words, architectural photography needs to convey these dimensions when needed which is most of the time.
Purpose Of Architectural Photography
In an earlier post related to this subject, I tried to emphasize the importance of the architecture and the architect in this genre of photography. The photographer needs to fade into the background most of the time, even the best ones. The book comes from a similar perspective and declares that architectural photography is a form of documentary photography. So, the purpose of this kind of photography starts with narrating the architecture, conveying the environment, landscape, structure, and the spaces created by architecture. Significant details may require special attention depending on the purpose of the study. Here are two photographs of the same guest room in Japan, one shows the environment and context and the other, interior space. Captions below each when clicked will provide further information.
Architectural photography plays a significant role in the history of architecture and the history of art. Modern architecture with contributions from technology presents ample photographic opportunities. Probably one of the most approachable and accessible types may be vernacular architecture and photography. The long arm of architectural photography extends to archeology, building survey and restoration, urban studies, visual communications, and archival studies. The following few examples will relate to the extent of the reach of architectural photography.
One of the keystones of architectural photography is perspective and subject approach, that is how we look at the architecture to convey specific ideas. The book goes into the importance of various angles from the frontal facade or planar to approaching the structure from different angles to emphasize or deemphasize various elements. In all this, we should not ignore the artistic expression in architectural photography.
Below are four photographs, the same interior space photographed straight on and from the corners. (Shikoku Mura, Japan, 1979)
The book starts getting into some technical nitty-gritty and offers extensive coverage of the kinds of perspective and how we may use them for different purposes. From a single-point perspective where the vanishing point recedes into the farther depths of the photograph, to multi-point perspective with three vanishing points presenting views of the work. Here is a unique single-point perspective from the dome of the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne. The very center of the image is the floor of the mosque!
A detailed presentation of the subject gets into both perspective and lens distortion, which is an element that needs careful control in architectural photography. Note in the following photographs, how distance, about 2 miles or 3.2 km, practically eliminates any sense of perspective and objects getting close to the edges and corners get distorted.
Human Eye and How We See
Although it may sound at times a little too technical, understanding the nature of human vision will provide a better understanding of various manifestations of edge distortion that plagues many wide-angle shots.
The subject naturally moves into panoramic cameras as an attempt to minimize much of edge distortion with their curved film-planes. Yes, I said film-planes as these cameras are part of our past and now replaced by careful panoramic photography and digital stitching. Don’t worry, there is ample explanation of what to look for, how to center the pivot point on the nodal point of the lens, and other issues unique to panoramic digital photography.
Here are a couple of samples from his panoramic photography and a virtual reality view below the pair. Click to load, then click and drag to change the view.
One of the fundamental issues in this genre of photography is to control the perspective, generally favoring keeping vertical lines vertical and keeping the distortion to a minimum. Various lenses, view cameras with adjustable fronts and backs, tilt-shift lenses for perspective control are explained in great detail and many examples. There is even a chapter on special topics like photographing architectural maquettes, aerial, archeologic photography are presented in detail.
Like all well-written photography books, there is ample coverage of cameras, lenses, sensors, etc. as well as lighting, contrast controls, accessory equipment, and the like. The highly technical parts of the book are printed with a cream-colored background to make them easy to discern.
The long and the short of it is this: If you are interested in architectural photography you will thoroughly enjoy this book probably even if you don’t speak Turkish. For Turkish speakers, it should be a true delight with a reasonably large closing album of work at the end. Mind you, Reha has been doing this for decades and you will note some of the photographs are dating back to the 1980s.
I picked this small number of photographs from the book and Reha was kind enough to send them to me to use in this post. You will easily see the connection of the photographs to various parts of this post. The book has plenty of more photographs and detailed text. All photographs are Copyright © Reha Gunay and they are published with permission.
Architectural subjects are plenty and you may get hooked once you start photographing them. Give it a try!