The position of the sun can make a huge difference when it comes to architectural photography, especially for exteriors. After all, the sun is the brightest light that we can use and how that light, or any light, is positioned will effect not only the dynamics of the image, but what the viewer pays attention to. This is key for any architectural photographer; not just to create spectacular images, but to also draw attention to the important aspects of the design. Such was the case for a recent project of the Canoe Club.
The Canoe Club is a 100+ year old boat house on the Schuykill river that was in serious need of a make over. I actually have first hand knowledge of this since my high school crew team rowed out of this very building.
(I am now happy to say the building has heat, the roof does not leak, there is no mold, the bathrooms are actually usable, the landscaping and parking lot are not disasters, along with many other things. I have to hand it to my client, The Heritage Design Collaborative.)
For my client, the main aspects of the project were the longer elevations of the building and the roof. Although there was some work done to the shorter elevations, this was not as important. Also, since the building was so long, it would be best to photograph the project on an angle showing two sides, or at least partially. So we needed to time each image for when the sun was illuminating the long elevation we were looking at while the short one was in the shadow, thus drawing our attention to the prominent side but also creating highlights and shadows.
Such was the case for the main image of this blog post. Even though the short elevation takes up more of the image then the long one, the longer elevation is still what we look at since it is the side that is lit. Additionally, since the lit side is in the center of the image, the viewers eye is drawn into the scene down the river, not off to the side, which helps make the image more dynamic. This image was captured in the late afternoon around 5:30 PM, as was two of the other three images (see below).
The fourth and final image, which was a reproduction of the historical image from the 1930s, was captured in the morning around 8 AM. Once again, we wanted our focus to be drawn to the longer elevation, which was lit in the morning whereas the short elevation was not. Additionally, for compositional reasons, we choose to shoot from an elevated position to show Strawberry Mansion bridge and give a better sense of location.
Insofar as determining all of the appropriate times, I opened suncalc.org, a favorite website of mine, and located the Canoe Club on the river. Using their sun overlay of Google Maps function, I was able to determind that 8 AM would be best for the land side of the project, and 5 PM would be best for the river side. After this it was just time to set the date and go out and shoot.
We planned on the beginning of the summer, shortly after the parking lot was repaved. But then … the City decided to drop off a dozen port-a-potties in the parking lot two days before our shoot date. Never underestimate public utilities from screwing up a photo-shoot. Throughout the summer we waited and waited and watch the potties being moved around the parking lot like musical chairs until finally we got our chance in August to capture the images.