Lines. Patterns. Contours. Our life is filled with design everywhere we turn. Whether it is work or home or even the street we walk on, how much thought do we really give to the spaces we live in? If we did, we would see that all of them first took shape on someone’s drawing board.
“Architecture is a visual art, and the buildings speak for themselves,” noted American architect Julia Morgan. Indeed. So does photography. And when the two collide, it is nothing short of a harmonious symphony.
But it takes a sensitive photographer to elevate architecture beyond its basic, reductionist equation with buildings. For architecture goes much beyond that.
Picture perspective matters
Capturing the essence of architecture and the immediate world that surrounds it requires the careful selection of perspective. And there is no dearth of angles you can choose to make your photograph.
Professional architecture photographers typically experiment with many angles depending on the kind of image they want to make. A tall building shot from a low-angle adds depth and drama to an otherwise monotonous structure. Focusing on a detail like a gargoyle from a bird’s eye point of view while keeping the rest of the building in perspective in the background serves to highlight the fine aesthetics of its design.
But very few will opt to shoot at eye-level, that much-maligned angle, because it is believed to flatten out the depth and creativity from a scene, producing uninspiring results.
Yet, human interactions happen, by default, at eye-level. Looking someone in the eye while conversing is a measure of transparency and is part of the composite that makes us human. Talking to your loved one by gazing into their eyes is expected to be the expression of deep emotion and a sign of intimacy.
Marrying this honesty into photographing architecture can be revelatory, inspiring people to forge a genuine connection with the spaces they move around in. That is one of the biggest advantages of positioning your camera at a steady eye-level angle. It captures the scene exactly as your viewer will see it. The primordial connection that gets established between the viewer and the camera runs deep, and when a person sees the photograph, there is an immediacy that cannot be achieved with any other angle.
When the viewer feels like they are a part of the image, they are drawn to it, and it becomes more personal. It’s almost simultaneous and is akin to the feeling that comes with forming an immediate connection when you meet someone for the first time. It’s real, and it’s palpable.
Almost simultaneously, there is a higher level of engagement because there is an eye-to-eye conversation that’s taking place. When the camera is placed at above-level or below-level angles, there is a distinct feeling that the viewer is not important enough to be the focus. Shooting at the level that the viewer sees heightens their interaction with the space simply because they can engage more with what they are seeing.
Shooting at eye level
Technically, shooting at eye level produces the most inclusive images. It allows you to play with the depth-of-field and accentuate certain details without compromising on the milieu. Those alluring patterns or the flow of those lines exist in juxtaposition with the promenade on the side or the busy town square in front, which are crucial parts of the story that you are narrating.
For doesn’t every photograph tell a story? Take a look at the Guggenheim photo by Ezra Stoller, for instance.
Taken at eye-level, this is a stellar portmanteau of storytelling and showcases Frank Lloyd Wright’s genius. Stoller’s trademark was transforming otherwise banal images to one that arrests the viewer’s attention. In this photo, he does just that by anchoring the photo to a vantage point to make the kinetics of the space pop. While the gallery’s design is riveting, it also gives us a glimpse of the activity inside.
This iconic photo of the Stahl House by Julius Shulman is another example of the design, the location, and the life of the inhabitants of the house converging into a perfect and beautiful composite.
Dutch photographer Iwan Baan demolishes old-fashioned notions of architectural photography by including all elements in the space he photographs to create stunning and artistic results. The fluid contours of the Heydar Aliyev Centre exude a calm, which is mirrored by the people relaxing against it.
Shooting at eye-level, as you can see, is often the best way to showcase the complex intersection of design, shapes, and other elements around it with emotions and feeling. “A good photograph is knowing where to stand,” as Ansel Adams said. And eye-level is where it’s at.