Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rain or sun, colour or black and white


click photo to enlarge
One section of the bookshelves in my study consists entirely of volumes about the history of architecture. As you would expect, most of these are illustrated with photographs. Interestingly, the majority of these photographs were taken when the sun was shining, and it's not hard to work out why this should be so. Sunlight can be used by photographers to model a building in such a way that the overall massing and the details are accentuated by the contrast between the lit areas and the shadows. The smooth, shiny modern buildings of today and the old, sculpturally ornamented buildings of the past benefit from this effect.

But, whilst sunlight is good for revealing the structure of a building it doesn't do so well when it comes to the building's character. Some architectural photographs can resemble those portraits that are taken with a camera-mounted flash directed straight at the subject that makes them look like a rabbit caught in a car's headlights. Such shots show us details, but often much more than is usually apparent. Photographs taken on overcast days rely much more on colour, tone and line for their effect. In regions where sunshine doesn't represent the prevailing weather an image of this sort can be much more representative of a building.

I recently visited the ruined country house of Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire on two successive mornings. On the first day there was light drizzle, and the main photograph is one of the shots I took at that time. On the second morning the sun was shining, enabling me to take different kinds of images that, for example, allowed me to use the shadows that were cast on the lawns. When I came to review my photographs it seemed to me that the fact they were taken under very different skies meant they collectively told more of the story of the building. For example, the sunlit shots say more about Inigo Jones' borrowings from Italian Renaissance architecture than does the shot taken in drizzle: and that one prompts in me thoughts about how much more suited to our climes is the Gothic style with its steeply pitched roofs.

The other interesting thing about books of architectural photographs is the way that they are now largely (though not entirely) books with colour photographs. Only if they are a cheaper production or have an "artistic" bent do they lean more heavily towards black and white. The merits of black and white versus colour in architectural photography will have to wait for another blog post, but as several of my previous images, and the conversion shown above suggest, I think it still has its place.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

(Main photo)
Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 55mm (110mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

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