Since graduating in Fine Art Photography from The Glasgow School of Art in 1997, Andrew Lee has established himself as one of the most sought after architectural photographers in Scotland. Based in Glasgow, his small but loyal client-base includes award-winning architects and designers, influential property developers and housing associations, national organisations promoting good design, and a handful of home-related magazines.
Andrew Lee also undertakes photographic projects dealing with recent physical changes to both urban and rural environments. The Centres series looked at call centre interiors in Scotland, while Tetra is a series of landscapes centred on communication masts. In addition, he has taught classes in black-and-white photography and Photoshop.
Most architectural commissions involve agreeing shots in advance, either during a site visit or with reference to drawings, 3D visualisations and progress photographs. Unlike most photographers, Andrew Lee normally charges per photograph rather than per day or half day. This makes budgeting easier for the commissioning parties and means that scheduling to ensure excellent lighting and weather conditions is the responsibility of the photographer rather than the client. More comprehensive magazine coverage of individual houses is charged at a flat rate.
All photographs are produced and supplied in digital form, with colour-balancing, exposure compensation and retouching included.
Details of commission guidelines and prices are available in PDF format on request.
Andrew Lee’s approach to photographic commissions is best summarised by an editorial piece he contributed to the 2003 RIAS Illustrated Yearbook.
In this year’s RIAS Illustrated Yearbook you will find contact information for architectural photographers for the first time. As one of the attractions of the yearbook is that it is illustrated, this seems wholly appropriate. After all, when you first leafed through this publication, what jumped off the page and made you want to identify the project, the architect, the client and the design team, and then read on? My guess is the photographs.
When the RIAS invited me to explain the importance of good architectural photographs and the advantages of employing professionals to take them, I had a closer look at the 2002 yearbook to gauge the current situation. It was heartening to discover that about 60% of the projects featured had been documented by specialist architectural photographers. Clearly, many architects in Scotland are already aware of the value of high quality documentation. Another 20% of the projects in the yearbook had been taken by photographers clearly not accustomed to identifying significant architectural elements or dealing with the technical demands of buildings. The remaining 20% of the projects had obviously been photographed by non-professionals.
So what difference does it make whether a building is photographed by an amateur or a professional, or even whether a generalist or a specialist is employed? Philip Johnson certainly thought there was a difference when he famously argued that, “no modern building is complete until it has been Stollerized.” The Stoller he referred to was the greatest photographer of modernist architecture, Ezra Stoller, photographer of choice of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. What Philip Johnson recognised was that good photographs taken of a new building are neither simple records nor merely poor substitutes for the real thing. Photographs can complete a building in the sense that they show us attributes and relationships that might be overlooked or difficult to experience first hand. In addition, good photographs will represent the building simply and coherently to reveal the intentions of the architect and the spatial and material manifestations of the design. Photographs also complete a building by bringing it to the attention of a wider international audience. How many famous buildings do you know only through photographs?
Architects wince at the thought of their clients trying to design their own homes. Similarly, architectural photographers wince at the thought of architects taking pictures of their buildings. Not that architects are bad photographers. On the contrary, most architects, with their eye for form and good composition, are very good with a camera. However, a specialist photographer brings much more than a good eye to the job of documenting a finished building. First there is the right equipment. Without getting technical, let’s just say that I typically carry more than my own bodyweight in equipment onto site. Then there is the experience of hundreds of previously photographed buildings that allows the photographer to identify the opportunities and difficulties that exist, and the conditions and timing required. In addition, the photographer combines his or her understanding of the preferences and priorities of the architect with those of publishers and competition juries. Finally, and most importantly, the architectural photographer brings time, patience and flexibility to the commission. I typically spend an hour setting up and taking each shot. Two hours is not unusual, and neither is it unknown for me to drive fifty miles and then return without taking a single photo because the conditions were not perfect. I also spend a lot of my time waiting: waiting for clouds to drift, waiting for delivery vans to leave or crowds to disperse, waiting for the sun to be in exactly the right position or for dusk to fall. And I spend a lot of time moving things: moving furniture and litter, and asking motorists to move their parked cars. It’s hardly brain surgery, but it’s what separates widely-published, iconic photographs from photographs gathering dust in files.
So next time you have a new building coming off site that you want the world to know about, please don’t send out the office junior with a compact digital camera, and please don’t ask the magazine photographer to turn his or her hand to a glass facade between fashion shoots. After all, Mies van der Rohe wouldn’t.
All photographs are now produced using a 100% digital workflow. The set-up used in the field is one normally reserved for high-end studio applications, namely a Phase One H25 digital back mounted on a Linhof M679cs camera and tethered to a laptop running Capture One software.
The H25 is one of the largest digital backs available, producing a 22MP RAW image (magazine quality up to A3, without interpolation). Large file size is not the only benefit of the H25; it also has a 12-f-stop dynamic range which Photoshop layering can increase to about 20 f-stops. Traditional colour transparency has a dynamic range of only 5 f-stops, which means that shadow and/or highlight detail is frequently lost in difficult lighting situations).
The M679cs is a mini monorail system designed specifically for medium-format backs. It has all the camera movements of a traditional large-format view camera, thus allowing all perspective correction to be performed in the camera rather than by software. It also allows differential focus over the plane of the chip sensor, thereby increasing the area of the image in sharp focus.