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High Drama: Architectural Photography that Packs an Emotive Punch

The One Photo Challenge is open for entries, with a Final Entry Deadline of March 27th, 2021. With 2 grand prizes of $2,500 for students and non-students, plus Fujifilm Instax Wide cameras (accompanied by a twin pack of film) and global media coverage, Architizer’s ever-popular architectural ideas competition poses a simple question:

Can you capture a single photograph that tells a powerful story about architecture?

For more information about the or to submit or your entry, head over to the One Photo Challenge home page!


Imagine yourself in a timber cabin, surrounded by a heavy mist that has settled into the abundant flora and fauna, or, perhaps, you would prefer to be standing in a gleaming skyscraper framed by buzzing, twinkling city lights. Now, transport yourself to a fresh beach villa battered by sea air and warmed by the afternoon sun.

The emotion evoked by architecture does not solely rest in the precise design of structures—that is, in color, texture, and form. Location is also an informant and inspiration for architectural design. The relationship between landscape and building, typically the starting point for any architectural project, determines many factors and inspires vital decisions. When complete, the location of a building can often influence how space makes us feel.

There is no question that architecture is an art form. In the same way that a watercolor arouses emotion in the viewer, a visit to a building also elicits a passionate response. However, with many of the world’s most magnificent buildings currently out of ordinary people’s everyday reach, we turn to photography to truthfully capture the feeling of space, provide insight, and inspire future generations of architects.

Dark and light; sharp and soft; bright and dim; the balance of these contrasting elements generates compelling photographic atmospheres.

The critical task of sharing an architect’s work with the masses lies in a photographer’s lens. The practice of architectural photography itself has developed over many years to document, interpret, share, and celebrate buildings. Over time, the process has changed drastically, but the truism that lighting is everything has remained. The correct or incorrect use of light in a photograph can dramatically change an image’s atmosphere, in turn, changing our perception of a space.

When it comes to lighting, individual photographers have their preferences. In most cases, a decision between natural or artificial light is made, with each bringing a distinct aesthetic to the table. However, when delving deeper into the specifics of day versus night, hard versus soft light, or, more specifically, fluorescent versus diffused bulbs, we know there are infinite ways to manipulate light for photographic purposes. Each choice provides a unique way to look at the world. When documenting a building, it is up to the photographer to understand each project’s individual needs and aims to capture the atmosphere felt.

Dark and light; sharp and soft; bright and dim; the balance of these contrasting elements generates compelling photographic atmospheres.

Haus am Hörmannweg by Architekt Daniel Ellecosta, Truden im Naturpark, Italy

Just as the landscape inspires the architect, it also, in turn, inspires the photographer. A deft photographer combines landscape, building, and light into a harmonious whole that encapsulates the overarching feeling of a project. This skill — the ability to change how an image feels — comes from a deep understanding of the power of aesthetic contrast. Dark and light; sharp and soft; bright and dim; the balance of these contrasting elements generates compelling, emotive atmospheres in architectural photography.

By harnessing lighting and contrast, photographers can convey distinct atmospheres.

The Aluminum Mountain by Wutopia Lab, Guangdong Province, China

The softness — and sometimes stillness — of an image is determined by soft lighting, often related to diffusing shadow. Where there is no stark contrast between shadow and light, an image appears smoother and more peaceful. When pursuing this style of scene, photographers generally shoot on overcast days, when clouds naturally diffuse the sun. Alternatively, they may use artificial lighting to increase the light in areas that are too shadowed. This flattening of light gives a dreamy feeling to an image and is often the preferred style for woodland buildings, cabins, or places with mysterious qualities.

Dark and light; sharp and soft; bright and dim; the balance of these contrasting elements generates compelling photographic atmospheres.

By harnessing lighting and contrast, photographers can convey distinct atmospheres.

Comporta 10 by Fragmentos, Grândola, Portugal

On a different note, photographers can achieve a more dramatic photograph by embracing and encouraging visual contrast; bright colors, sharp focus, and deep, crisp shadows imbue images with more vibrant energy. It is difficult to impose the conditions that create such drama artificially, so architectural photographers must use the environment to their advantage. Hard shadows that appear long, dark, and sharp are often found by shooting early or late on a clear, bright day. These intense lighting effects add interest and intrigue to buildings, particularly to completely blank walls or floors that may otherwise be uninspiring. A similar mentality is required when photographing in different weather conditions. While rain, mist, and wind will support soft images, peak sun and sharply defined cloud shapes will enhance contrast, resulting in more dramatic effects.

By harnessing lighting and contrast, photographers can convey distinct atmospheres.Bürgenstock Resort by Rüssli Architekten AG, Sweden.

Dramatic atmosphere can also be achieved to great effect at night, and by shooting a building from the exterior when the interior lights are switch on. This amplifies the the contrast to between the building and the dark sky, and is often further supported by the buildings around it. It is for this reason night photographs in cities can be some of the most energetic and interesting — particularly when combined with long exposure techniques to make lights appear even brighter.

Dark and light; sharp and soft; bright and dim; the balance of these contrasting elements generates compelling photographic atmospheres.

By harnessing lighting and contrast, photographers can convey distinct atmospheres.The Orbit by Vikelas Architects, Athens, Greece.

Contrast is the backbone of life. Just as happiness does not exist without sadness, warmth without cold, good without bad, it is the contrasts found in everyday life that enable photographers to effectively document architecture’s atmospheric effects. For this reason, the photographer must take time to understand the nature of the space and construct an image using shadow and light to convey a feeling. Capturing a powerfully emotive atmosphere is a complex process that allows us to explore the built world from our homes and our screens — a luxury we should all be thankful for.

To get your photograph seen by the jurors and be in the running for $2,500 plus a host of other prizes, submit a shot to the The One Photo Challenge!

The post High Drama: Architectural Photography that Packs an Emotive Punch appeared first on Journal.

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