Architectural Filmmaking – Why You Should (Or Perhaps Shouldn’t) Start the Journey

Architectural Filmmaking – Why You Should (Or Perhaps Shouldn’t) Start the Journey

Architecture Commentary Opinion Videography

Last year my fellow writer, Veeral, put together a fantastic article entitled, ‘Getting Started in Architectural Filmmaking’ which focused on the new opportunities the medium provides and showcases some beautiful examples of videos that take a more sophisticated and minimalist approach to capturing architectural space.  If you haven’t read it, go get inspired and check it out. 

As someone who has somewhat recently merged a career of shooting both stills and motion, I wanted to continue and expand upon some of the insights he made in his article.  While by no means a seasoned veteran in filmmaking just yet, I have been able to successfully incorporate video into the services that I offer, with motion work now making up about a third of my overall revenue. 

While the value photographs provide remains high, our clients are more frequently demanding video to incorporate into their overall marketing strategy.  Video has a broad appeal with most social media platforms now ranking and placing a higher priority on motion compared to stills. 

In this first article on the topic, I want to focus on the reason why you may (or perhaps may not) want to take the plunge into motion.  If you’ve been on the fence about whether or not to delve into the medium, this article is for you.

Before we get into the many reasons for getting into architectural filmmaking, let me provide my high-level thoughts on the similarities and differences between the two media forms – still photography and video.  Each is unique in the value it can provide the viewer as a storytelling device.  Photographs are meant to be observed in a slower manner.  A moment frozen in time, a still image leaves more space for contemplation, imagination, and ultimately interpretation.  Video, on the other hand, connects multiple moments and strings them together in a way that is generally more like how we experience life itself.  Video can bridge the gaps by showcasing what actually occurs in a space or building, perhaps reminding us of our own experiences, both past and future (imagined). 

Why You Should Start Shooting Video

Before talking about how to get into architectural filmmaking (future articles coming), let’s first shift our attention to the why.  As architectural photographers, I would say the vast majority of us have a deep connection to our subject matter – that of the built environment.  Having a medium that allows you to represent your subject in new ways should be appealing to any of us who truly care about showcasing our clients’ work in the best and most authentic way possible. 

Being able to bring forth the experiential qualities of what it’s like to be in a space is a powerful tool.  Yes, the best photographs do this, but film has more of an innate ability to connect emotionally to the viewer and perhaps evoke a visceral response that a still image cannot.  Video also has the added allure of incorporating sound, appealing not only to your eyes, but ears as well.  Audio, whether from the surrounding environment, a carefully curated soundtrack, or from a narrator, can add an entirely new dimension to how we represent our clients’ projects. 

Being able to capture movement in a scene (or move the camera itself), is another aspect of film that sets it apart from still photos.  Whether it’s people moving through space, vehicles whizzing by a building, the way light and shadow animate a façade, or perhaps how rain trickles down from above, motion adds exciting new possibilities to how we can represent a piece of architecture. 

HG Esch’s Tadao Ando is a wonderful example of a short film that is able to capture what a set of stills may not be able to convey. Experience, environmental sound, the element of time, light and shadow, movement – it’s a beautiful tribute to one of the architecture profession’s most accomplished practitioners.

Tadao Ando by HGEsch Photography

Creative people are always looking for new ways to challenge themselves.  When exclusively shooting photos, I sometimes found myself slipping into autopilot mode.  Introducing video into your services can help break up the monotony of only shooting stills.  As someone who was a practicing architect before transitioning into the field, I began to miss the way the design profession constantly stretches the mind, offering up fresh challenges on an almost daily basis.  If you feel like you’re sometimes just going through the motions, perhaps adding video to your arsenal of talents can help break you out of that routine. 

Finally, offering video services has the potential to put more money into your pockets.  It also may help you from losing a client (current or potential) who needs both photography and video, but doesn’t want to hire two separate people to do it.  Admittedly, the fear of losing a client or new opportunity simply because I wasn’t providing video services was the original impetus for getting into it the medium.  Eventually, it was the new ways with which I could present my clients’ work that really got me hooked.

Why You Should Not Start Shooting Video

There are quite a few reasons why you may not want to (or even be interested in) shooting video. 

For starters, you may simply just not have the budget for the equipment you need at the moment.   The good news is that you can most likely get started with the current gear in your kit, keeping it minimal at first and incorporating new purchases when you’re ready.  Renting equipment is also a good option when you’re just getting started.  As you progress, there is a lot of specialized equipment that you will probably want to begin to include in your workflow.  A video-focused camera, movement devices like gimbals, sliders, dollies, audio equipment like sound recorders, mics . . . these are just a few of the pieces of gear that you’ll most likely want to eventually invest in if you plan to take video seriously.

Concurrently shooting both photos and video on site can quickly become overwhelming if you’re trying to do it solo.  I still sometimes struggle when I need to bounce back and forth between the two during a shoot.  Different equipment, different settings, different ways of approaching the same subject – plus the need to learn how to edit video – it can get complicated quickly.  But it doesn’t have to be.  As Veeral laid out in his article, start simple and go from there. 

Finally, you may already have enough photography work to support the lifestyle that you want to live.  And if shooting stills already offers more than enough challenges and space to grow – more power to you.  I know a lot of successful photographers in this comfortable position who simply don’t feel the need or desire to introduce more complexity into their workflow and professional life.  And that’s an enviable position to be in.  For those photographers who don’t want the added complications but are still interested in how video can help them showcase their clients’ work, you can always hire someone to take on the technical aspect of shooting motion and act more as a director on set.  I hope to one day get to that point myself. 


Final Thoughts

Ultimately, photos and video are unique in the value that they can provide our audience.  When used in tandem, the story of the space we are being tasked with capturing can be told in a more complete and compelling way. 

So, should you start shooting video?  I would say do it because you want to, not because you feel you have to.  As I mentioned, I began out of what I thought was a (financial) necessity.  Initially, I struggled with the learning curve and felt frustrated for quite some time when first getting started.  It wasn’t until I began to really embrace the unique way in which video can portray a piece of architecture that I started to become passionate about working with this new medium.  And like most things in life, passion creates the drive needed to produce great results. 

Next up – I will be sharing how I went about starting the architectural filmmaking journey – taking you through the ins and outs of the first short film that I ever created. 

About Justin Szeremeta
I'm an architect turned photographer based in Shanghai with a penchant for tall buildings.
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