From Architectural Photography: Composition, Capture, and Digital Image Processing by Adrian Schulz:

“Just like the field of architecture itself, there are various approaches available to shoot architectural photographs, ranging from purely functional to complete artistic abstraction….

“Even the most perfect, realistic architectural photo has a certain degree of intrinsic abstraction, if only due to the artificial scale of the reproduction or the lack of a third dimension…. [A] photo can only reproduce the emotions felt by the viewer in a given situation. In other words, the way a building is perceived where it stands is often completely different from the way it is perceived in a photograph….

“At what point does architectural photography become art, and how can we differentiate between artistic architectural photography and its documentary sibling? The transition between the two is difficult to pinpoint, but it is safe to say that art begins where the intervention of the photographer begins to influence the purely documentary nature of a photo. This is where the choice of subject is no longer intrinsically connected with the impression made by the building….

“Artistic architectural photographs can often be found in galleries and exhibitions, usually in the context of a particular theme or artist. Here, architecture serves only as a means to an end, with no particular connection between the message of the image and the message conveyed by the architecture itself. In this case, it is the photographer and not the architect who is the focus of the activity.”

Now for something completely different: Let’s spend a little time on architectural photography!

Historical places like Oakland Cemetery and its gardens present opportunities for a visitor to examine a site from different perspectives, embedded as it is with blended natural, historical, socio-cultural, and architectural characteristics. Between trips to the property to explore its natural elements for my winter photo series, I went back on other days to focus on the architecture. On these trips — I’m still sorting out and processing the photos — I aimed the camera at structures like mausoleums, their doors and decorative elements, stained glass windows, and the symbols and iconography abundantly present there. It was fun, and an interesting change, to take photographs of subjects that didn’t shift and wiggle in every tiny breeze; and to examine, instead, the colors and textures present in stable and long-lasting materials like stone, granite, brick, wood, glass, bronze, and steel.

As I was reviewing the photos from these architectural trips, I often wondered if they’d interest anyone but me, and even if they only interested me because I took them. The more I worked on them, though, the more I noticed tiny details similar to those in my nature photographs, especially details around texture, color, balance, and symmetry that a photograph captures in a way our eyes don’t notice or at least discount as insignificant. Since many of the structures I photographed for this new series are more than a century old, time has worn them down. The wear is obvious in their pitted and discolored surfaces — which we probably do notice in real life — but less obvious in terms of perspective, or the trueness of parallel or perpendicular lines. Our eyes compensate for these “defects” and also for vertical correction: we look up at something, for example, and don’t really notice the triangular convergence of lines when we do that, or at least we don’t pay much attention to it. But a photograph — which shifts what we see from three-dimensional to flat and two-dimensional — makes a crooked door or a skewed horizontal or vertical line very apparent. Perspective correction tools in Lightroom — which I used more on these photos than I’ve ever used it before — helps quite a bit, and seemed necessary since we tend to regard asymmetry in images, unless it’s obviously intentional, as jarring and disconcerting.

For the most part, these photos are without context: by isolating part of a mausoleum or other architectural object on the property, I’ve dropped the associated stories around the person or family or organization that had the structure built, as well as its social or historical background. That’s another layer in the kaleidoscope of options presented by a historical site, and possibly a project for another day (or week or month).

Here’s the first gallery, some typical bronze doors and stone structures with embedded dates, probably construction or erection dates.

This second gallery starts and ends with closeup shots of door hardware, with wider shots of door detail in the middle. The tenth and eleventh images are my favorites: the tenth because of the way morning sun produced a soft glow on the door handle; and the eleventh because the vertical lines and their colors created a nice contrast with the silver hardware.

And, just for fun, here are before-and-after post-processing versions of those two images.

These are examples, I think, of applying closeup and macro photography experiences to architectural details, both in terms of choosing subjects and post-processing. Post-processing adjustments followed a similar approach to the one I use for nature photography: figuring out how to emphasize certain elements of the scene over others, then making basic exposure and color saturation or luminance adjustments to serve that end. And as I’ve written about before (see Before and After: Bernadine Clematis, An Illusion), I did use Lightroom’s spot removal tools to blend colors and eliminate evidence of wear-and-tear on some surfaces for a more consistent look across the subject. Select the first image below to view these before-and-after variations in a slideshow for comparison.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

4 Comments

  1. This is an interesting album, and I like the “before & after” shots. My gosh, they really lavished some effort on these tombs. If those dates are when they were built, or the “Shelf Life Expired” date for the contents, the metalwork has held up amazingly well, for more than a century.

    1. Thanks! Most of the mausoleums (there are about 70 of them) were erected by Atlanta residents who became wealthy in the decades after the Civil War, owners of banks, department stores, construction businesses, etc. Nearly all were built in the late 1800s or early 1900s, and show the influence of Victorian architecture, featuring ornate elements also still visible on some of the older homes in the surrounding neighborhood.

      According to the the book “Historic Oakland Cemetery” by Tevi Taliaferro;

      The doors I show with “1883” on them are from the Thornton Mausoleum, a family tomb built in 1883 by the founder of Atlanta National Bank (later, Wachovia until it was purchased by Wells Fargo), and cost $16,000 to build — about $400,000 in today’s dollars. The wealthy spared no expense, apparently, for the design and materials of their after-life homes!

      Thanks for the comment!

      Dale
        1. Well … not exactly, but there are a couple with pyramid-style roofs, topped with granite orbs; and quite a few tombs or giant tombstones patterned after Egyptian architecture, featuring sphinx-like sculptures of lions, tigers, or panthers. Something for everyone! 🙂

          Dale

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