The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes “monumental” as “serving as or resembling a monument, massive, highly significant, outstanding”.
Often, during travel assignments, I have been called on to photograph iconic building and structures that define a particular area. They are not always large, but they are always important in that they often denote the culture of that area. Because of their importance I always try to make these buildings seem monumental in my photographs.
Although photography, at this point, is a two-dimensional medium, there are many ways to create a sense of volume in an image. My first step in photographing most buildings is to find an angle that covers two sides of the structure. Ideally one side is lit while the other is in shadow. This play of light against dark creates a very three dimensional effect, creating volume in this photograph of a bed and breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey.
My second step has often been planned out before I left on my assignment. I determine which direction the building is oriented using maps and Google Earth so that I know whether this location is a sunrise or sunset shot. The warm, directional light at either end of the day adds a beautiful glow to the cathedral in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Details are strongly enhanced and the location becomes much more welcoming.
In order to give the scene an even greater sense of depth, my third step is to find something interesting in the foreground that gives the viewer a greater sense of the location. A highly textured adobe oven in front of Taos Pueblo in New Mexico provides visual depth as well as highlighting the material from which the entire pueblo is constructed. The round shape also works well to balance the very square lines of the pueblo itself.
This approach will not work with all buildings, of course, but whenever possible, I try for the “monumental” look in order to pay homage to the areas history and culture.