Post-Production: Fixing Major Issues

Architectural photographs should be clean, simple, and graphic. They should tell a story clearly and without distraction. They should focus on the architecture--the shape, pattern, line, and design of the space. Any element that does not contribute to the story of the photograph detracts from it. That’s why I almost always remove unnecessary, non-architectural elements like light switches, outlets, and air vents from architectural images. These changes are a normal part of post-production and are relatively straightforward to accomplish. Sometimes, however, more difficult situations arise. I’d like to share two examples from one of my recent projects.

The new HealthCare Partners facility in Pahrump, NV features a rock sculpture with light display. Designed by Daniel Amster, Dakem & Associates, LLC.

HealthCare Partners is opening a new 57,000 square foot medical center in Pahrump, NV. The building was designed by Daniel Amster of Dakem & Associates, LLC. The photograph above shows the exterior of the structure, which includes a large rock sculpture with a multi-colored light display. The photograph below shows an interior view of the main hallway of the building.

Main hallway of HealthCare Partners in Pahrump, NV. Designed by Daniel Amster, Dakem & Associates, LLC.

Look at the back wall on the right side of the photograph. That’s not how the wall looked when I was there. Here’s one of the raw images before post-production. There were several palettes with lots of large boxes up against the wall. Unfortunately it was impossible to move the boxes out of the way. I needed a photograph from this perspective, though, and I was able to fix this issue in post-production.

Note the boxes against the wall on the right.

I knew it would be possible to remove the boxes in post-production because they were sitting in front of a blank wall. That's easy enough to replace. The hard part about this fix was recreating the light and shadow on the wall. There is a diagonal shadow and an intersecting hot spot from an overhead light, and I had to reproduce the subtle changes in light and shadow accurately so the fix would be convincing. This fix was time consuming and required some Photoshop skills, but it was necessary and well worth it. The otherwise acceptable photograph would be unusable without this fix.

HealthCare Partners main entry, Pahrump, NV. Designed by Daniel Amster, Dakem & Associates, LLC.

Returning to the exterior, here's a view (above) of the main entry of the building. I made one major change to this photograph to prepare the final image. The column on the left has a heavy garbage can in front of it. It was too heavy to move any distance, and I did not have a dolly to get under it, so I had to photograph with it in the frame. It could not remain in the final image, however.

Note the garbage can in front of the left column.

The fix for this situation was more difficult because I actually had to reconstruct the column. I paid a lot of attention to matching the color and lighting of the column. If you didn’t know I had done anything there, I don’t think you would be able to tell that anything has changed, and that is always my goal with these kinds of fixes.

Rescuing photographs from problems that could not be fixed on location is an important part of post-production in architectural photography. It’s not easy, and it is always much better to fix things on location when possible, but I love doing it. I’m always amazed at what can be done with Photoshop given enough time, experience, and attention to detail.

Portraying Function: From Academic to Dramatic

The O’Reilly Theater in Pittsburgh, PA is a beautiful public theater designed by Michael Graves Architecture & Design. The theater is modern and comfortable, and every seat in the house offers great views of the action on stage.

Main auditorium entrance, O'Reilly Theater - Pittsburgh, PA - Michael Graves Architecture & Design

Inside the lobby, O'Reilly Theater - Pittsburgh, PA - Michael Graves Architecture & Design

These photographs of the lobby and lounge areas show some of the architectural features Graves built into the structure. Inside the theater itself, the curves and the use of wood continue throughout the space to create a warm, comfortable environment in which to enjoy a play. The challenge I had was to portray this space differently from the way other photographers had captured it.

Lounge Area, O'Reilly Theater - Pittsburgh, PA - Michael Graves Architecture & Design

The theater staff told me that when the inside of the theater had been photographed in the past, the images always had an “academic” look to them. They wanted something more “editorial.” At first I wasn’t sure what they meant, but when I made my first photographs inside the theater, I started to understand. The photographs made the space feel a little clinical. It could have been a lecture hall at a university--it had that “academic” feel to it. There was nothing in the photographs that portrayed a sense of the drama that takes place within those walls. They wanted me to make something more “editorial.” So the challenge I gave myself was to use my photography to transform the space from an academic location to a dramatic location. That would be my editorial interpretation of it.

The best tool we have for creating drama in a photograph is light. I used a combination of multiple ambient exposures and exposures with supplemental lighting to provide me the raw materials I needed to create an atmosphere of drama in the room. I later blended these images together to realize that vision of drama. I was careful not to take any technique too far because I did not want the quality of the photographs to degrade. Fortunately I captured enough of a range of material in camera that this was mostly an exercise in blending, which maintains the quality and integrity of the photograph. Here is one of the photographs I produced.

Main auditorium, O'Reilly Theater - Pittsburgh, PA - Michael Graves Architecture & Design

The theater was very happy with my photographs. No photographer had captured the space in this way before.

In my architectural photography, I always try to be accurate and true to the architect’s and designer’s intent. In this case, with some direction from the theater, I believe I succeeded. The space was designed as a location where dramatic performance takes place. My photographs show how the audience will feel as though they are a part of that drama.