Black and White photograph of Taos, Pueblo

Stunning Architecture Photography In Black And White

Text and Photos by Chuck Place©

Architecture is one of those photographic subjects that cries out to be captured in black and white. Composed of shapes, texture and light with little inherent color, architectural images often turn quite dramatic when color is stripped away.

Black and White photograph of Walt Disney Concert Hall at dusk

Black and White photograph of Walt Disney Concert Hall at dusk

It’s almost as if the building’s soul is revealed when photographed in black and white.

The choices I make in processing architecture images into b&w are highly subjective, of course. For black and white architecture images, I prefer more contrast than in my landscape images and more emphasis on texture than in my tight portraits.

I’m not trying to sell real estate. I’m selling drama and impact.

The inherent sculptural quality of a structure is what I am actually trying to illustrate. Sometime approaching a building as an abstract object can be interesting, as in the case of Southwest and Pueblo adobe buildings. The texture of the adobe (see above) is as important as defining the massive planes of this traditional style of architecture.

Black and White photograph the church at Rancho de Taos, New Mexico

Black and White photograph the church at Rancho de Taos, New Mexico

At the other end of the scale are sleek, modern buildings like the abstract Walt Disney Concert Hall, especially fun while shooting with a Lensbaby, which is designed to distort reality.

Black and white photograph of abstract building detail using a Lensbaby

Black and white photograph of abstract building detail using a Lensbaby

Often, details of a structure can tell the viewer as much about a building as an overview.

I find this especially true in the case of older styles of architecture, like Victorian, and buildings from other cultures like China. Details can be interesting just because we often tend not to focus on them when visiting a site.

Black and white photograph of the details of a Victorian church

Black and white photograph of the details of a Victorian church

Black and white photograph of traditional Chinese architecture

Black and white photograph of traditional Chinese architecture

Whether your favored architectural subject is a lonely church out in the middle of the Western plains or a busy multi-storied mall with levels that look like the ribs of a gigantic creature, converting your color architecture image to black and white will visually pare the subject down to its elemental components and reveal the true personality of a building.

Black and white photograph of solitary church in the West

Black and white photograph of solitary church in the West

Photographing a piece of architecture in black and white is rather like creating an insightful portrait of a person, only it doesn’t fidget as much.

Black and white photograph of a modern shopping mall

Black and white photograph of a modern shopping mall

Check out  Black and White Photography Conversions and  Black and White People Photography on this site and for more photo classes, check out my Spring 2020 class schedules in the Non-Credit Program at Santa Barbara City College. Thanks.

Chuck Place


A level camera creates parallel arches

Great Photography Tool For Leveling Your Camera

Text and Images by Chuck Place

I love my cameras! There, I’ve said it. Neither my Canon 5D MkII or MkIII has ever quit on me. They give me consistent, predictable results. The quality is great and if an image does not resonate well, I know it is not the camera’s fault.

Fall aspen trunks converge with lens tilted slightly up.

Fall aspen trunks converge with lens tilted slightly up.

And once in a while, I discover a function hidden away in the black hole of the Canon “Menus” that I actually need, like a built-in level. Who knew?

Built in camera level

Simulated camera with built in level at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara. Level camera side to side and raise and lower lens axis until a green line runs all across viewfinder.

I am shooting more architecture lately and keeping the vertical elements in a scene straight up and down and the horizons level is critical. To achieve this, the lens axis and camera body must be perfectly level to avoid convergence, divergence or tilting horizons.

A leveled camera keeps vertical elements parallel to each other.

A leveled camera keeps vertical elements parallel to each other.

I don’t like a grid in my viewfinder. I find it distracting when I am not shooting architecture. I have been using a bubble level that mounts on the camera’s hotshoe. It’s convenient and cheap, but not super accurate.

Viewfinder grid and bubble level

Viewfinder grid and bubble level for leveling a camera.

While watching a video by Scott Hargis on architecture photography, I almost fell out of my chair when he turned on the camera’s built-in level. Where did that come from? A quick replay showed it was hiding in the “Info” button. I normally use the “Info” button to occasionally check an image histogram, but I have never clicked it without viewing an image.

Even a long lens can be leveled for parallel vertical lines.

Even a long lens can be leveled for parallel vertical lines.

“Hiding in plain sight” is a phrase that comes to mind.

If you are tired of shooting slanting horizons or a landscape where all the aspen trees lean into each other, read the manual and see if your camera has a built-in level. If not, the bubble level works OK and there are always corrections in post-production, but you have to love a tool that is built-in, highly accurate, easy to use and essentially free.

I love my Canon 5D MkIII. Even more now!


Forced perspective photograph of Taos Indian Pueblo

Forced Perspective: Add Drama And Depth To Your Photographs

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

Standing in the middle of Taos Pueblo, I was trying to decide how I would photograph the impressive five-story North Building. I knew I would use a technique called Forced Perspective to emphasize the scale of the building and create an exaggerated feeling of depth in the image. Ideally, the photograph would also illustrate the materials used to build this ancient pueblo—mud and straw.

Forced Perspective is a two-step process. First determine your main subject, in this case the North Building of Taos Pueblo. That’s the easy part. The next step involves picking a foreground subject that gives the viewer more information about the main subject and creates a strong sense of depth between the two.

That can take some searching.

Forced perspective photograph of fall aspen grove

Forced perspective photograph of fall aspen grove on San Francisco Peaks, Arizona

I settled on a large outdoor oven, or horno, to provide the foreground. Sunlight lit the oven from the side, emphasizing the texture of the mud and straw adobe used to build the entire pueblo. Placing my camera with a wide angle lens close to the oven made it look larger than it really is and made the North Building look smaller than it does to the naked eye.

Forced perspective photograph of Wukoki Ruins

Forced perspective photograph of Wupatki National Monument, Arizona

This wide angle distortion is at the core of this technique, producing a greater appearance of depth in the scene than actually exists. Stopping down the lens to its smallest aperture guaranteed everything from front to back is sharply focused.

This technique works equally well with landscapes.

Decide what your main subject will be, say a grove of fall aspen trees with the late afternoon sun shining through. Then move around until you find an interesting foreground, in this case a fallen aspen log in a meadow. Position your camera close to the log and stop down your aperture all the way for great depth of field. In this case, in addition to creating a feeling of great depth, the log also produced a leading line that our audience could follow visually back into the scene while backlighting emphasized the glowing colors of the fall aspen leaves.

See earlier posts on Leading LinesBacklighting and the compositional Rule Of Thirds.

 

Forced perspective photograph of brittlebush flowers

Forced perspective photograph of brittlebush flowers and cholla cactus, Joshua Tree National Park, California

One last tip.

Because your camera is positioned close to your foreground subject, move your plane of focus a little closer to camera position than you normally would. Make sure the foreground is tack sharp. If the distant background is a little soft, it looks like atmosphere. If the foreground is soft, the image should probably be tossed in the trash. Check focus on your camera back when you shoot, just to be sure.

Forced perspective photograph of sand dunes

Forced perspective photograph of sand dunes, Death Valley National Park, California

Forced Perspective takes a little practice, but it’s a great technique for creating powerful, dynamic images with an exaggerated sense of depth. Try it next time you’re photographing architecture or landscapes. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.


Main building, Getty Museum

The Art of Subtraction in Contemporary Architecture Photography

Photography and Text by Andreina Diaz

When it comes to visiting, exploring and photographing contemporary architecture, there are two places in Los Angeles that I find myself going back to again and again; the Walt Disney Concert Hall (by Frank Gehry) and the Getty Museum (by Richard Meier). These two locations manage to capture my undivided attention for hours. Over the years I have created hundreds of photographs at each location and I still discover new photographs every time I go.

Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry

Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry

Aristotle said “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” but when it comes to photographing these specific locations I feel like the parts are greater than the sum. These two sites are architectural masterpieces, but what really amazes me are the lines, shapes, forms, textures, patterns, and colors you can find once you begin to break the buildings into sections and sub sections. This is what I call the “Art of Subtraction”, when you take parts of a grand subject and capture it in sections.

Getty Museum by Richard Meier

Getty Museum by Richard Meier

Next time you visit either of these places, try to capture their simplicity, harmony and mystery. Make sure you find an interesting composition that holds a unique point of view under the perfect lighting.

Getty Museum by Richard Meier

Getty Museum by Richard Meier

I can’t wait to see what you will find. Feel free to tag me on Instagram so I can see your pictures @eyeseesb

Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry

Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry

Eye See Santa Barbara offer photography tours for people of all photographic skill levels. Explore Santa Barbara with your camera while learning how to take better photographs by join one of our photo tours. For information about times, tour locations or to book a tour, visit our Photography Tour Section


La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Great Looking Historic Photographs In 4 Easy Steps

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

I had just gotten back from a fun photo shoot with my class at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park near Lompoc, California. It was a Living History Day with docents dressed in period costumes demonstrating how people during the Mission Period made most of the things they needed fore their daily lives, from nails and blankets to saddles and candles.

Spanish priest, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Spanish priest, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

I was able to create a lot of great images, but all that color seemed jarring in that historic setting. My students and I post our favorite six images after each location class on a private Facebook Group Page and I decided to sepia tone all of mine. Luckily, I can now do this without a darkroom.

saddle maker's shop, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

saddle maker’s shop, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Sure, sure, I know. Some of you miss the old days of wet labs. Standing in a darkroom with stinky chemicals was never my idea of a great time and creating sepia images without stained fingertips has great appeal. Blasphemy? Not if you get the results you envision.

The first step is to pick out images with a bit of contrast or subjects that will not suffer from an increase of contrast. I have always found black & white or sepia prints with flat contrast to be rather boring. Just my opinion, but I like a little zip in my images. My favorite black & white photographer, Christopher Broughton, creates images with a great feel of life and texture, even in flat lighting.

weaver, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

weaver, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Next I import my images into Lightroom, create a virtual copy of my favorites and convert the color images to Sepia Tone using the Lightroom B&W Toned Presets. Don’t bail on me yet! Certainly this is a shortcut, but it works fairly well.

soldier's quarters, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

soldier’s quarters, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Now for the fun. If you liked burning and dodging under an enlarger in the days of paper prints, you have the same tools in Lightroom, but with much greater precision. I do a little subtle vignetting, as well as burning and dodging in order to guide the viewer’s eye and when everything looks right, I push the Clarity slider to 100 to add some texture to the final image. It gives me that zip that I want in my “old” images.

colonnade, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

colonnade, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Lompoc, California

Admittedly, the portraits don’t have that stiff look produced by long exposures and neck braces, but I can live with that. With the right subjects this approach works wonders. And best of all, you get unique historic photographs and no stained fingers. Try it.


colorful building details

Have Fun Searching For Colorful Photographic Details

Text and Photography by Chuck Place

The colonial towns of Mexico are some of my favorite locations for photographing details. Early and late in the day, I’m often working on capturing the iconic buildings and sites of a town, but during the middle of the day the harsh sunlight is very strong and, like the locals, I try to avoid it. That doesn’t mean I have to stop shooting, however.

colorful windows details

colorful windows details, Oaxaca, Mexico

Many buildings have unique architectural details, while shops and galleries often display their wares outside in the shade. It’s all a bit like a photographic scavenger hunt.
Sometimes the image is perfect just the way I find it and sometimes I have to move things around for a better composition. Maybe a potted plant is in the wrong location or some carved animals need to be grouped together. I always ask permission first before I touch anything and have rarely been turned down.

carved wooden animal folk art

still life of carved wooden animal folk art, Oaxaca, Mexico

For me, these intimate photographic details often say more about the culture of an area than more general shots and they always add a spot of strong color during a drab part of the day.

cactus fence detail

cactus fence detail, Mitla Archeological Zone, Mexico

Sometimes in can be as simple as stumbling on a fence made of living cactus, sometimes it’s a detail of a popular form of folk art.

detail of black pottery

detail of black pottery, San Bartolo Coyotepec, Mexico

Colorful images can be easy to produce at the beginning and end of the day, when warm light is prevalent, but creating fascinating photographs during the rest of the day is definitely more challenging.

hotel archway details

hotel archway details, Oaxaca, Mexico

How many of us like to collect doorways and windows? They represent an entrance into another culture and I photograph them any time I find one that is unique.

old door detail

old door detail, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Developing your ability to find hidden color among the details not only broadens your coverage of a subject, it also fun and helps you see what others miss. And seeing the world with greater clarity is, after all, one of the main reasons we all love creating photographs.

 


Bar in the Union Hotel

The Joy Of Exploring Small Towns With Your Camera

Text and Photos by Chuck Place

I love exploring with my camera and small towns are one of my favorite subjects. Does the town have a colorful history? Does it have a unique culture? Is it located in a photogenic location? The concept of a small town as it’s own little universe just appeals to me. I even live in the large “small” town of Santa Barbara

When I first started shooting for travel magazines, small town assignments were actually a little intimidating. What should I photograph? Who should I photograph? Where in town should I shoot? As it turned out, these were all the wrong questions to start with.

A photographer needs to be clear in their mind about what is important or unusual about the location. What makes that town unique? What makes it worth exploring? That is the most critical first step. Once I answered that one simple question, everything fell into place.

Bar Stools, Union Hotel, Los Alamos

Farm tractor bar stools in the Union Hotel in Los Alamos

The answer to that question supplies the framework for my photo shoots and frees me up to have fun while capturing the images I need for my client. That one step narrows the focus of my shoot to a manageable range of subjects and eliminates the worry that I am missing something.

I often find that students in my class “Location Photo Shoots With A Pro” often go through the same anguishing process. Our first job when we arrive at a location is answering that question of what is unusual about this small town, not what do we shoot. And don’t think this restricts what a photographer can shoot. In my classes, the answer to what do we shoot is merely a framework for each photographer. It’s amazing how many different ways a single theme can be interpreted by talented individuals.

Rusty antique farm machinery

Rusty antique farm machinery in Los Alamos

Last year we visited the Western town of Los Alamos in the Santa Ynez Valley above Santa Barbara. It’s a very small town, but in recent years restaurants and wine tasting rooms have appeared in some of the old false front buildings. The historic Union Hotel and Bar has long been the main attraction for visitors there, along with a selection of antique shops. We quickly decided that we would try to create images that stressed that old Western feel, whether a new restaurant or rusting farm machinery out in front of the towns old railroad freight depot.

Bell Street Farm Restaurant

Bell Street Farm restaurant and server in Los Alamos

This shoot was both an adventure and challenging all at the same time. Some participants concentrated on the old architecture and one produced abstracts of the old farm machinery. I photographed the blending of old and new as tourism slowly transformed the town. Developing our own assignments covering one small location made the process exciting and forced us to become more thoughtful photographers.

Wine Tasting Rooms

Wine tasting rooms in Los Alamos

As I mentioned in a previous post, give yourself assignments that require you to grow as a photographer. And don’t forget the most important aspect of photography. If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it all wrong!

Let us know in the Leave A Reply section below if you have a favorite small town that you have enjoyed photographing. Thanks.


Backlit portrait of parade participants

The 4 Advantages Of Photographic Backlighting

Contrast in a photograph is a pain! Well, it’s good up to a point—until it isn’t. Even modern cameras can only handle so much contrast until either shadows block up or bright areas blow out, or clip. Images with high contrast appear harsh, uninviting. It’s generally not a pleasant look and if you are trying to create a complimentary portrait, it’s a disaster.

Quarter backlit Bed and Breakfast

Quarter backlit Bed and Breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey

There is a simple solution, however, and it doesn’t require diffusion panels, reflectors or piles of photographic lighting equipment.

Simply move your camera position until the primary light source, usually the sun, is behind your subject. Simple. Why is this so effective? With your subject backlit, you will be photographing the shadow side of everything in your frame, whether it’s a person, a building or a tree, and the shadow side of everything will generally be the exact same exposure.

This lighting pattern solves a lot of contrast problems and produces some stunning effects.

First, of course, most everything in the frame is lit at the same level, whether it is two feet from the camera or two miles from the camera. Meter reading can be tricky, but if your main subject is properly exposed, so is everything else.

Backlit Portrait of Yoga Instructor

Backlit portrait of a woman practicing yoga on a grassy hillside

Second, many subjects will have a beautiful, warm rim light, separating them from the background. This is especially important when the background is busy.

Backlit sailboats racing

Backlit sailboats racing in San Francisco Bay

Third, increased color saturation. Light passing through translucent wildflower petals or sailboat spinnakers produces brighter colors than light reflecting off those same subjects.

And lastly, when your model is facing away from the direct rays of the sun, they are much less apt to be squinting into the lens. Getting strong light off a person’s face makes it much easier to achieve those comfortable, revealing expressions we all strive for. The poor photographer will be looking into the sun and squinting furiously, but who cares? It’s worth the benefits. Right?

Next week we’ll cover some of the issues involved in shooting with backlighting.

Text and Photos by Chuck Place


architecture photograph of cathedral in Oaxaca, Mexico

3 Steps To Creating Monumental Architecture Photography

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.

Photograph of Victorian architecture in Cape May, New Jersey

The Abbey Bed and Breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey

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.

architecture photograph of cathedral in Mexico

Gothic architecture of the main cathedral in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

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.

Photograph of Taos Indian Pueblo architecture

Taos Indian Pueblo adobe architecture, Taos, New Mexico

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.


Cambria coast

Give Yourself A Photography Assignment

Early in my career I often found myself wandering around various towns, frustrated, looking for something to photograph. I came to realize that there are always lots of subjects to shoot in any location. All I really needed was a framework, or storyline, about the subject or location. I needed to have something to say before I picked up my camera. I needed an assignment!

Instead of wandering aimlessly, I began to give myself self-assignments, something I continue to do to this day. This forced me to see what was really important about a particular subject and work on creating images that illustrated my viewpoint. My photography quickly got better and I found I was enjoying photography even more.

What do you like to photograph? Do you like to explore small towns, wineries or farmers markets or photograph orchids, sailboats, historic sites or portraits of people? What’s your passion?

Town of Cambria

Quaint tourist destination Cambria, on California’s Central Coast.

Self-assigned photography assignments often fall into three main categories—locations, series and events. Locations can be anything from a National Park to a city or town. What is unique about that location? Is it the physical beauty, the culture, food and wine or maybe even the weather? What makes it interesting to you personally? I had a talented student go to Oaxaca in Mexico to photograph the brightly painted building in the Colonial Center of the city. When he returned, he showed me a beautiful portfolio of colorful buildings, but each had a brightly painted, jewel-toned VW Beatle in front of it. It seems Oaxaca has a tradition of restoring old VWs. He had taken a location assignment and turned it into a series, or collection, of Volkswagen portraits.

Southwest Indian Ruins

Selection of Indian Ruins in the American Southwest.

A series assignment can be anything, from a group of portraits of local chefs to a series on lighthouses, antique cars, California Missions—anything with multiple versions of the same subject. This often requires a greater commitment of time and a larger amount of research before beginning the shoots. This also forces you to create a variety of images while shooting similar subjects multiple times. As a bonus, you get to immerse yourself in the subject during a long-term photography project.

Summer Solstice Parade

Summer Solstice Parade characters in Santa Barbara, California

Event assignments usually require the shortest amount of time, but can be quite an intense experience and often physically demanding. Parades, celebrations, competitions—these can run from a few hours to a week or so. Again, doing some research in advance guarantees you will be in the right place at the right time to capture those powerful images that define an event.

Sit down now and list half a dozen projects that would be fun to photograph. Fill in each with shoot notes—subjects, locations, dates, special equipment—anything that will help you capture great images and expand your coverage. Then go do it!

Stop the aimless wandering looking for something to photograph. Give yourself the framework of an assignment and shoot what really defines the subject. The quality of your photography will improve dramatically and you will have fully developed photo essays to share with those around you. And please use the Reply Box below to share your favorite subjects with other photographers following this blog. Everyone needs ideas.Thanks.