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  3. 4 Photographers Speak on the Role of Photoshop in Architecture

4 Photographers Speak on the Role of Photoshop in Architecture

4 Photographers Speak on the Role of Photoshop in Architecture
4 Photographers Speak on the Role of Photoshop in Architecture

One of the most controversial stories to hit the architectural news last week was the revelation by Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune that one of the winners of the AIA Chicago chapter's Design Excellence Awards was given on the basis of an image in which unsightly elements of the building's design had been removed in Photoshop.

The "war on reality" (as one commenter ironically referred to it) is a topic that polarizes even the most level-headed people, with many arguing over the effect that such Photoshop trickery has on our perception of our world. However, with many people unaware of what goes on behind the scenes, we decided to reach out to some photographers for a candid look at exactly what role Photoshop has in the everyday processes of architectural photography, and where they draw the line regarding the ethical documentation of buildings. Read on to find out what they had to say.

Brad Feinknopf

Do you ever use Photoshop (or similar software) to touch up your own photographs for clients?

Yes.

What editing techniques do you commonly use?

The technique we use most often is HDR: where we merge a series of exposures to create an image that more mimics what the eye sees. The fact of the matter, whether film or digital, the dynamic range that both can afford is not near to the dynamic range of the eye itself. In my photography I am trying to A) show the project in the best possible light and B) show it as the eye sees it. I DO wish to create something that is, in its essence, TRUE and not fabricated but I am trying to show projects as good as possible; that is what I am being hired to do.

In the days of film, if you had an outlet you didn’t want seen, you moved a plant in front of it. Today, I might edit it out in Photoshop. I do not see removing an outlet as compromising the integrity of the image or the project, but it may make for a cleaner image. Keep in mind, Photoshop can often be used for GOOD. What comes of a camera is NOT always real or even accurate. Often with very wide angled lenses you get some distortion and exaggeration. We often go into Photoshop to help reduce that exaggeration and show the building as the eye sees it, not as the camera sees it. I don’t go out of my way to shoot the loading docks or potentially negative aspects of a building; no more than you go to a portrait photographer to shoot your every pimple and blemish to show the REAL you. I want to promote the project in the best way possible, painting as much truth as possible, but just as I see it appropriate to retouch a pimple, I see it acceptable to retouch an outlet and still have it be truthful. Let’s be real, anyone on a jury will say they look at the photographs first and if the photography isn’t strong, those projects do not move forward. Good photos win awards, get published, and help to win new work. This is the job I am tasked at doing.

Here, Brad Feinknopf shows the six different exposures that were combined for a single image. Image © Brad Feinknopf
Here, Brad Feinknopf shows the six different exposures that were combined for a single image. Image © Brad Feinknopf

Are there any techniques you use when photographing buildings to reduce the amount of editing required?

Absolutely. I feel blessed that I came from the world of film where everything needed to be done in-camera. I still try to do as much in-camera as humanly possible and reserve Photoshop to being an aid and not a crutch. Certainly there is the use of filters - from polarizers to neutral density filters - that can help make for a more drastic or more balanced image. Composition is a key factor and positioning your camera in a place where more unsightly aspects of a project are obscured or not seen is certainly part of the goal. Even in the days of film, we gelled florescent lights with magenta gels to turn their color temperature from green to neutral and we lit interiors to make the interior balance with the exterior. Just because those techniques can be replaced with color correction and HDR in Photoshop does not make it wrong; just a different approach. I can say that in the world of digital I am better able to approach that which I envision in my mind’s eye than I could in the era of film and I see that is as a good thing, not bad.

Here, the final composite image by Brad Feinknopf. Image © Brad Feinknopf
Here, the final composite image by Brad Feinknopf. Image © Brad Feinknopf

Are there any ethical considerations that photographers should bear in mind when using Photoshop? If so, do you think there is a line that should not be crossed when editing a photograph?

Without question. I see myself as highly ethical personal and though I want to show my clients’ projects in the best possible light, I do not wish to show something inaccurate or untruthful. I really think that the Chicago AIA awards situation was an egregious situation that rightfully created fervor. It is always when things are taken to extremes that situations like this occur. That said, I am approached at every awards program I attend by an architect who has not won an award, and whether sour grapes or not, they have told me that I made a certain winning project look better than it is and that it should not have won an award. I have NEVER been accused of being inaccurate or untruthful. I truthfully do not blame Tom Rossiter, nor do I believe the architect, Moreno, when he says, “I never tell an artist what to do.” I have had plenty of architects request that I take something out and I have little doubt that Moreno asked Rossiter to do the same and he copied with his clients wishes. I have been willing to take things out as long as they don’t change the reality of the what someone standing there would see. This particular situation did take it a bit too far.

There are so many Ansel Adams quotes that pertain to this matter and he was one of the greatest masters, both in the camera and in the darkroom. With filters, burning and dodging, he created a new reality that was much greater than the actual reality. Ansel Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it,” and “When I’m ready to make a photography, I think I quite obviously see in my mind’s eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the world. I’m interested in something which is built from within, rather than just extracted from without.”

Photography, even iPhonography with its countless filters is not about reality, it is about a perception of reality. Errol Morris wrote a book, Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography, where he investigates numerous famous historical images from Gettysberg to the Crimean War that were all manipulated before the photograph was shot, not in post to tell a more compelling story. Photoshop was not the smoking gun then and isn’t today. It is merely a tool that when used in an unethical fashion can lead to lacking of truth and less than real reflection. I am NOT nor am I trying to document a building, I am showing it as best as it can been seen.

Ansel Adams also said, “Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs.” Maybe we should learn that we shouldn’t.

Joana França

Before and after editing on a shot by Joana França. Image © Joana França
Before and after editing on a shot by Joana França. Image © Joana França

Do you ever use Photoshop (or similar software) to touch up your own photographs for clients?

All my photographs go through Adobe Lightroom for light editing. When some more heavy touch up is required I use Adobe Photoshop. I'd say about 10% of my images go through Photoshop.

What editing techniques do you commonly use?

Editing in Lightroom is as close as it can be to photo editing made in the old analog dark room. There I mostly edit light intensity (contrast) and colors in the images.

But some clients, especially for interior design photo shoots, ask me to remove some unwanted elements like cables, switch plugs on the wall or spots on the floor. Most of the times I don't think this makes for a big change in the understanding of the overall image, but it does print a clearer image. For those touch ups I mostly use Adobe Photoshop.

Before and after editing on a shot by Joana França. Image © Joana França
Before and after editing on a shot by Joana França. Image © Joana França

Are there any techniques you use when photographing buildings to reduce the amount of editing required?

As I've gotten more experienced I realized that more time on the field means less time on the computer, which is a big win! Most of all, the use of the right equipment, especially the use of tilt-shift lenses, can save a lot of time editing the images. Also, removing all unwanted objects in the field, that will only read as "noise" on the final picture, saves the time of having to deal with them later digitally.

Before and after editing on a shot by Joana França. Image © Joana França
Before and after editing on a shot by Joana França. Image © Joana França

Are there any ethical considerations that photographers should bear in mind when using Photoshop? If so, do you think there is a line that should not be crossed when editing a photograph?

I believe all photography is a personal interpretation of the truth. No matter whether it is professional or not, architectural or war photography, no two pictures of the same scene, taken by two different people, will ever be the same. I use that moment on the field to create my body of work, instead of relying on post production to make the image work. Also, I do my own editing, and I'm definitely no Photoshop expert.

That being said, whatever the final image is, it's constructed on site, with the equipment, light and positioning decisions, which, combined, give me many variables to be chosen. One change of choice can make for a completely different representations of the same space.

I don't think I've ever been faced with ethical questions regarding editing in Photoshop, but I would think any post production that "deletes" existing architectural volumes depicted on the original image, for me, would be a deal breaker.

Laurian Ghinitoiu

Do you ever use Photoshop (or similar software) to touch up your own photographs for clients?

99% of the time I'm using only Lightroom, and sometimes I need a touch of Photoshop.

Before and after images of Ghinitoiu's photograph of the UK Pavilion at the Milan Expo 2015. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu
Before and after images of Ghinitoiu's photograph of the UK Pavilion at the Milan Expo 2015. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

What editing techniques do you commonly use?

I'm working more as a journalist, always dynamic and running to catch the decisive moments around architecture. I rarely use a tripod which means that I'm not able to stitch photos together, or using bracketing. I'm trying all the time to catch real emotions, reactions and interactions around architecture. I've picked one of my representative photos as an example, where the moment was so short that I didn't manage to set my camera, but shooting raw format allows me to edit it, by modify the exposure, contrast, highlights, white balance, and also to crop it. Sometimes I also use the lens correction tool, saturation and clarity.

Are there any techniques you use when photographing buildings to reduce the amount of editing required?

I'm objectively documenting architecture, from the wide context to the small details with positive and negative aspects, and most of the time I'm not interacting at all with the scene. I believe buildings shouldn't exist without people, and I'm always catching them in a very specific way. But I never direct my scenes, or maybe 0.001% when it's just impossible to get what I want (the woman with the umbrella in the UK pavilion is real). That's why I mostly prefer public spaces where things are happening all the time.

Are there any ethical considerations that photographers should bear in mind when using Photoshop? If so, do you think there is a line that should not be crossed when editing a photograph?

There are different ways of seeing architecture photography, but definitely none of them should imply modification of the real design or the context or the way a building is used. Sometimes, due to the atmosphere, the light or the accuracy in the composition, the photos look like renders but they should be 99.99% reality. Photographers are responsible of course, but the photo could also be modified after, by the client. In this case the only solution is to specify different claims before, through a contract.

Thomas Mayer

Emre Arolat Architects' Sancaklar Mosque photographed by Thomas Mayer. Image © Thomas Mayer
Emre Arolat Architects' Sancaklar Mosque photographed by Thomas Mayer. Image © Thomas Mayer

Let me reply without going through the 4 questions: as with most professionals I use Photoshop and Lightroom for processing my RAW images. I sometimes eliminate details on unfinished facades or disturbing temporary details like pylons around the building but never would touch anything of the design of the buildings or unloved permanent details of the surrounding. For a responsible and genuine architectural photographer it is forbidden to influence the reality by retouching a building or the permanent surroundings with help of Photoshop.

Our thanks go to Brad, Joana, Laurian and Thomas for their willingness to be involved in this article and their thoughtful responses.

Cite: Rory Stott. "4 Photographers Speak on the Role of Photoshop in Architecture" 18 Dec 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/779061/4-photographers-speak-on-the-role-of-photoshop-in-architecture/> ISSN 0719-8884
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