Making a difference in Architecture Photography

Making a difference in Architecture Photography

Posted By: antoniocuellar July 2, 2017

One of Antonio Cuellar’s early mentors was Norman Mc Grath. Norman is a noted photographer who has specialised in architecture photography for over five decades and is renowned internationally for his work.  His long and remarkable career has included a wide variety of projects for well-known architects and designers.  His most popular book, “Photographing Buildings Inside and Out”, sold more than 47,000 copies.  He also co-authored two books, “Manhattan Skyscrapers” and “Skyscraper Rivals”.  Norman is the only architecture photographer invited to join Canon’s Explorers of Light program, which includes top professionals in a wide variety of photographic specialties.

Norman was born in London and was heavily influenced by his father who was an Australian architect.  He earned an engineering degree at Trinity College in Dublin and worked in Ireland as a structural engineer for two years before moving to New York City in 1956.   Over the next five years, he gradually made the transition to working as a professional architecture and interiors photographer.

The challenges of architecture photography

Architecture photography is the art of photographing buildings and similar structures and producing images that are both aesthetically pleasing and accurate representations of their subjects.  Due to the challenges of lighting, size, scope and dimensions, architecture photographers need to be skilled in the use of many specialized techniques and equipment.

©Norman McGrath

Normal Mc Grath, began his career as an architecture photographer, before the days of digital. It was a time when there was little understanding of this specialized field.   Architecture photography is different to any other field of photography.  One of the ways in which it is different is that people are very familiar with the subject. If the photography does not look the same as the building, or it is distorted or not captured effectively, it can make the viewer uncomfortable.  In those early days when Norman began his career, there were many challenges. One of the most recurring issues of architecture photography was that buildings were often depicted as being distorted. There was a misuse of wide angle lenses and little understanding of how important the role of light was in taking a picture that realistically showcased the subject.

©Norman McGrath

For Norman those early days consisted of a systematic approach of trial and error as he experimented with the different types of lenses that were available.  Then, wide angle lenses were in their infancy. The risk of distortion of buildings and their interior was high as very few people had learnt to appreciate the artistry that was involved in dealing with architecture photography.  One of the goals of architecture photography is to capture what it is like to be in the space of the building that you are photographing.  Initially, distortion and lack of understanding of how to effectively capture the essence of a building was commonplace due to it being very much a developing field of specialty.

©Norman McGrath

When capturing interiors, it became essential for Norman to understand the use of a wide focus length lens to be able to produce an image that was realistic.  But it needed to be done carefully and with an understanding of the space. Otherwise the image could appear inaccurate and uncomfortable.  The purpose, always of architecture photography, is to capture the essence of what it is like to be in the space you are photographing.  The focus of the viewer should not be on what type of lens the photographer had used, but rather on the feeling that the space evokes.  The constant challenge of architecture photography is that of capturing the space using the equipment that is necessary whilst avoiding misrepresenting the true proportions of your subject.

©Norman McGrath

Norman also understood very early on, that one of the key differences in architecture photography was the use of lighting.  He believes lighting needs to be introduced very carefully into any space. If artificial lighting is used obviously, then it only serves to detract from the finished image.  In architecture photography, it is essential for the photographer to be able to fully understand how they can use the existing lighting, only introducing as much supplemental lighting as is necessary.

©Norman McGrath

Architecture photography and the introduction of digital and technical advancements

With the introduction and advances of digital, new techniques have become available in the field of architecture photography.  Cameras have become increasingly sophisticated allowing photographers to take multiple images with different exposures. They can then combine these images to produce a result which can appear much the same as if an appropriate amount of light had been introduced.  This is a key skill in architecture photography, the understanding and usage of different exposures and light.  When it is done well, with an understanding of the different techniques it can create beautiful images that accurately depict the building and its interior.  Norman believes that that is one of the great advantages of the introduction of digital.   The ability, for the photographer, when they understand the range of exposures and the effects they can create, to produce images that are spectacular.

©Norman McGrath

Initially, when Norman began as an architectural photographer, the focus appeared to be much more on the exterior of the building. However, times have changed and whether it is an interior or an exterior it all falls into the very specialized field that makes up architecture photography.   The rules are completely different when photographing the interior and the exterior and an architectural photographer needs to be able to master the differences in both.   The understanding of scale is an essential part of an architectural photographer as is the ability to be able to represent it effectively.

architecture photographer

©Norman McGrath

Since Norman started his career as an architecture photographer in New York City in 1956, there have been many changes.  There is now more of an appreciation of what makes a good architecture photographer and the fact that it is a highly specialized field.   New equipment and techniques are available such as the use of different exposures, an extensive range of lenses and the development of things such as drone photography. These all allow an architectural photographer to be able to more effectively capture the buildings that they are photographing.   What has not changed though, is that architectural photography has always been about the art of capturing the design aesthetics of buildings and structures.

Architecture photographer

©Norman McGrath

Antonio Cuellar who was honored in 2013 by the American Society of Media Photographers as best of 2013 specializes in luxury hotel photography.   As an early mentor of Antonio’s, Norman McGrath was one of the first people to believe strongly in Antonio’s work.  He believed that Antonio’s sophisticated lighting style would suit hotels and resorts beautifully.  Now Antonio uses these skills as a luxury hotel photographer. With his understanding of all components of architecture photography he is renowned for his ability to capture the essence of some of the most luxurious and opulent spaces in the world.

16 thoughts on “Making a difference in Architecture Photography”

  1. Rain Santos-Ocampo says:

    I haven’t heard of Norman Mc Grath but I’m glad to know I have now. Thanks for sharing him. My partner is into architectural photography and living space scenes. He might be interested in looking into Mc Grath’s work. I’ll share it with him. 🙂

    I like his interior works!

  2. kadoyatsukasa123 says:

    I never knew this type of Photography existed. First Aerial now this!!! Come on now.

    1. I’m beguinning to think there are a lot of things you don’t know!

  3. Janet Lee says:

    I’ve always been a fan and admirer of Mc Grath’s work especially when I was in architectural school. Seeing this post brought back memories and has renewed my admiration for his work and architectural photography in general.

  4. Mau says:

    This is an interesting read for sure. I didn’t realize there is so much more to architecture photography and reading about how much Norman McGrath strived to take the correct representations of the architectures is inspring.

  5. riley says:

    Really thanks for this post man! you reminded the veteran. And the photos are just bliss.

  6. JansenS says:

    I’m a graduate of Architecture. Aesthetics and Facade is the identity of the building in my own opinion. Capturing these on a professional camera somehow gives you an idea how those buildings or structures able to stand on time, events and history.

    1. You are right on the money sir!

  7. JansenS says:

    Facade and Aesthetics correlates to each other to form the identity of a buildings or structures. Capturing these two items on a professional camera gives you a sense of relativity and idea how they stand on time, events and history.

  8. Rebi says:

    This architecture landscape sure is really good! What a good photography!

  9. Jose says:

    I have been trying to take photographs of buildings, which is no easy task. It´s true, adecuate lighting is necessary to take excellent photographs of big buildings

  10. RITZ says:

    Wow, just wow! those pictures are really awesome! Before, everytime I see these kind of photos in the internet, I thought they were made using creative software tools such as adobe illustrator or photoshop but after reading this article, I was really amazed!!! Thumbs up to all architectural photographers!

  11. John says:

    I am learning so much from this site. Very helpful especially for people like me who wants to know more about photography. Keep it up!

  12. Gustav Klein says:

    That kind of photography skill is surely hard to master. And to be awarded as the best? That surely is something.

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Antonio Cuellar

Antonio Cuellar is a luxury resort and hotel photographer and a avid travel blogger.