I am An Architecture Photographer – Ask Me Anything!

I am An Architecture Photographer – Ask Me Anything!

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I recently participated in an open forum on Reddit, the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet.” The idea of the thread was “ask me anything,” a popular interview-type format where readers submit questions about anything under the sun for the host to answer.

As a child of the internet, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for forums, listservs, and any type of community-driven gathering space as they are where I really became familiar with photography and learned how to operate a camera. It all started with me trading Dave Matthews Band tapes through email chains in the early 2000s, and moved to bass guitar and music forums around the mid-aughts. Anyone remember the PFRE flickr boards from maybe 2007 to 2011? Yup – that’s basically where I cut my teeth.

Today’s most popular message board globally is probably reddit, which hosts a thriving photography community where I regularly participate. Also of note is a great architecture community, which has taught me tons about theory which has better helped inform my photography by teaching me so much more about architecture than I ever knew.

To see the full “AMA,” head over to the thread on r/photography, linked here. I’ve copied a few of my favorite questions and answers below as a preview.

Jigeno: You’ve got a killer eye, I’ve seen some of your work before.

I think others might want to know more about you in your transformation. While I’m sure you’ve always had nice taste, how is it that you came to start using a camera, and choosing to only show good pictures to the point where the right people saw it?

I feel that’s the ‘missing link’ for a lot of people, so while it might not be particularly special or extraordinary from your perspective, it might be nice to hear.

Mike: Thanks for the kind words. That’s a good question and not an easy answer. I do think it starts with a great, tightly curated portfolio. I think a lot of photographers (myself included) waste a lot of time trying to be a generalist. I remember having portraits, landscapes, real estate, interior design, and event photography all on one website. Yikes.

If you want to really excel in any genre, you must – must – must be a specialist. Even right now, I think I shoot too much variety, especially when it comes to architecture.

Once you have a very tightly curated portfolio, it’s much easier to see “what” you shoot – and thus it’s far easier for the people in a position to hire you to actually trust that you’ll execute. You can be a very successful product photography specialist, for example, but I don’t think you can be a very successful product, architecture, portrait, landscape, and car photographer at the same time. The one common thread I see in all of my clients is that they are looking for someone who’s REALLY good at what they need. And thankfully, as images become more and more important in the changing landscape of today’s economy, specialization is more highly rewarded. Hope that makes sense.

Geekandwife: What is your biggest photography regret?

Mike: Virgin Australia tried to hire me to shoot their new 777-300ER interior cabin product a few years ago. It was, and still is, my dream shoot. Everything was ready to go except I couldn’t get out of a scheduling conflict with another shoot and because the aircraft was needed to start its flying schedule on a very specific day, there was no flexibility in the timeline. It still haunts me to this day.

Fortmatt: Besides practice, how else have you honed your compositional eye for architecture and interior photography? In addition, what would you say you struggle with the most on a shoot?

Mike: I have always loved graphic design, product design, and as cliche as it sounds, looking at art in general. Of course practice helps, but constant exposure to art that’s NOT photography is also huge for me. I once heard a quote that – and unfortunately I have no idea who said it – really resonated with me which was that architecture photography is “graphic design with a camera” and I think that is so, so true. In architectural photography we are arranging elements in a scene to create nice proportion, color, balance, just like graphic design. It’s different than most other genres of photography but so similar to many other art forms.

On a shoot, my biggest struggle is energy level, honestly. I don’t know how the f other people do it, but if I don’t get a solid 8-9 hours of sleep and three square meals I am a walking disaster. If a client has ever thought I was standoffish or ‘out of it’, this is exactly why.

On the other hand if I am well fed and rested I am like an artistic combination of Jim Carrey and Bill Burr. Bouncing off the walls.

About Mike Kelley
Mike Kelley is an architecture and interiors photographer who has photographed projects all over the world. He is a self proclaimed airplane food enthusiast and the founder of the Architectural Photography Almanac.