Effect of Digital on Architectural Photography

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by neil_poulsen|1, Jun 7, 2003.

  1. What effect has digital had on architectural photography, primarily
    the province of large format view cameras? (6x9 and up.) How has it
    changed interactions with users of architectural photography?

    As an aspiring architectural photographer, should I spend a lot of
    money on digital equipment, or can I expect to make do for now with
    transparencies and traditional methods. What advantages does digital
    offer? Is it best to capture on film and process through photoshop,
    or is it best to have digital capture?

    What percentage of customers who use architectural photography request
    digital images?
  2. being a commerical architectural shooter myself, here is what is
    happening in the NYC area (where I am based)

    progress, and in house usage photos are being requested to be
    shot digitally right now (on digital slr cameras, d1x etc.). this
    stuff, used to be mainly shot in 35mm and 2 1/4.

    when you think about it, it really makes more sense it is faster
    and since top quality is not the key it saves time and money for
    both you and your cleint- day rates have stayed the same or in
    some cases gone up.

    for the final rendering, for magazine and brochure usage-film is
    still the answer right now. The bigger size digital backs require
    to much hardware right now to be cost effective for location
    usage at this point. With the added expense of a "digital
    assistant" to run the computer (day rate in NYC = $350-$500)
    and the huge rental bill ($1500 + with computer and camera,
    $750 for Sinar 54 back alone) film is still King in the architectural

    for architecture, right now shooting on film and scanning the
    chrome/neg is the best way to go. In a few years, it will be diff. It
    might be cost effective, to purchase a camera like a Fuji S2
    ($2,100) for progress photos, being able to market yourself as
    having the images that night might be helpful in your respective

    i hope this helps you in your decision.
  3. A guy I know in Los Angeles is a large format (4x5 & 8x10) architecture photographer and I recently asked him the same question. His answer was very similar to James'. He shoots using traditional film (finding the digital process still too immature) then scans and manipulates in Photoshop. As I recall, some of his scans are over 1GB. Anyway, just thought I'd chime in.
  4. Some do use digital - and using pro backs, it works.

    Many architrectural photographers with decades of experience will stay with film, but if you are looking to the future, digital is the way to go.

    Finding the £25,000 capital or considerable rental as above is the problem.
  5. I was told by a pro that over here several 35mm, MF and LF photographers got into serieus financial problems after investing heavely in digital equipment (Note you need more that just a digital back). With the slow economy there are less orders and thus less money to pay back the bank. The ones that survive at the moment are those who bought 'cheap' new or 2nd hand traditional stuff, for which they didn't have to take a 2nd mortage and provides results better than digital. If they need to deliver digitally, they have it scanned. You bring the sheet to a pro-lab and 60minutes later you pick it up, processed and scanned. That's quick enough for most.

    Not just for architecture, but in general.
  6. I've been seeing ad's recently from Calumet for a bellows that allows
    movements with a Canon digital camera. Maybe something to look into.
  7. I think the answer depends on who you are working for or what your typical output requirements are. If your work is price driven and high quantity digital could have advantages. But if a typical job is shooting 3 views of a building that need to be of the highest quality then 4X5 film is the answer. I think you'd have to try hard to spend more than $50 on film and processing to accomplish that job. How many times would you do that to get near the cost of an expensive digital camera?

    James is right about the S2 or similar digital as it could be a money making tool if you have need for high quantity/high speed work but its not the final answer at all with that 1.5X focal length multiplier.

    I could see using the Canon 1Ds with the tilt shift lenses to do some pretty good work. One camera, 3 lenses, a good laptop and accessories - $15,000 U.S.! Still it does not hold up to a big 4X5 film scan and the lens range is limited to only 24, 45, 90 for the lenses that offer some movements. The Calumet thingy is probably fine for table top shooters but its not gonna work with wide lenses at all as far as I can tell.

    I'd say the best method right now is your current 4X5 camera, an appropriate selection of lenses, a flatbed scanner like an Epson 3200, and a good professional lab nearby. The flatbed lets you do small prints and produce smaller digital files yourself and the lab can do big drum scans for you.

    I say "save your money."
  8. I feel the need to chim in again here on the "digital revolution" in
    commerical photography.

    As of this moment in NYC (probably the commercial photography
    capital) digital has taken over in the following ways:

    still life photography for catalog and "look book" (in house usage
    for clients like DKNY, martha stewart etc.) magazines such as
    "Lucky" (which only shows product on white backgrounds with
    even lighting = almost no creativity) photos that are destined for
    the web and small brochures.

    there are photographers raking it in shooting digital, because
    cleints aren't looking for top quaility when it comes to the above

    The savings comes in post production. You may have to charge
    a higher day rate or rental fee, because you've gone digital- but
    the cleint saves TONS of money becuase there is no:

    spending 3 days looking at contact sheets/and or chromes
    making 8x10 c prints so everyone can look at the work before
    scanning it

    production people cost LOTS of money and paying a
    photographer an extra $3000 is nothing compared to paying out
    production people $145 a hour to scan and make c prints.

    For smaller markets, and smaller photography the savings isn't
    there- but when we are talking about shooting 1,500-3,000
    exposures a day (this goes on a lot ) the savings is tremendous.

    I fought the "digital monster" until I started shooting it, and found
    out there is not much diff. when using high end equipment.

    You can't fight it anymore- picture being the photographers 100
    years ago fighting film taking over plates.

    Yes I would find it quite stupid to spend $50,000 on a digital
    system right now, but I would find it equally stupid to spend
    $25,000 on a film based system right now. If you have a large
    format camera, you are going to be ok but keep in mind the world
    is changing. If you are doing this for your own sake fine, but if
    you are looking to make a living doing this you MUST change
    with the times.

    I don't mean to sound all high and mighty, but most of the people
    who reply to these threads, don't seem to be working
    photographers. Film is still the preferred method for "capture" (I
    hate THAT TERM) but as the days go by more and more cleints
    are asking for digital. From late 2000 to late 2002 I worked at a
    big rental house in NYC. During my tenure, it was about 80% film
    and 20% digital. Since I have left it is now about 55% film and
    45% digital that is being rented. That is a big jump in less than a

    Don't be so resistant, you still have to be a photographer to use
    digital. You still need to be creative, and you still need to know
    how to light, and still need to know how to expose. If you can't
    use film, you can't use digital.

    Digital is also not "faster" when it comes to shooting. If anything
    it is slower, the cleint can now see (and you) every EXPOSURE
    and you tend to spend more time scrutinizing the photos. So it
    really isn't allowing one photographer to do the work of two. It is
    killing off the lab end of the business-there is no arguement
    about that.

    Learning digital, is just learning another tool right now. If you
    can't or won't you will be finding your cleint base shrinking and
    shrinking until you are just another older guy complaining about
    how everythings changed and "the good ol days" were better.

    I don't hear to many people complaining about the good ol days
    of commercial photography, there never really was any. It is not
    "art" and it never really will be. It is a means to make a living in
    order to make "art" if that is what you want, or it is just a way to
    make a living.

    If you don't want to comprimise or change, don't be a commercial
    photographer. Dealing with cleints is a lot worse than dealing
    with digital!!!
  9. If you want to do your own thing in you own time, film may have it's attractions.

    One of the main advantages to me of digital is the rapid feedback for me, and the short learnig curve for technically difficult work (this includes complex mixed-lighting interiors).

    You can easilly find that you are working for your business (and the bank) instead of the business working for you.

    Digital is ideal for boring repititive (e.g. catalog) work, and that is not what I want to do.
  10. i do architectural photography as my main business - with an arca swiss 4x5. I check the digital possibilies ones a year or so. at the moment i am considering getting an s2 to created more work on the budget side of the market, where clients only need pics for web or archiev-use (where 4x5 seems an overkill). But my worries are that when i start going into the low-budged market I have to compete with all the low-budget-photographers photographers that offer digital photos for cheap money. and because of using a dslr the pic-quality will go down a lot and I might loose out in the high-end quality market. (you see why a famouse brand is selling the low-end product under a different name/brand).

    Here in germany all serious architecture work is still done with big cameras.
    also: since all the architects i work for have digital cameras themselfes, I find it makes a better impression when you arrive with a huge tripode an a gig camera that looks difficult to operate. There could be the danger when using a digicam, that somebody in an architectural firm with an superduper digicam is going to say, hey i can do those photos to with my camera.
    Further: i have no problems charging for film and polaroids..., but explainig a digital capture fee might - architects might not understand.

    final advice: go for a 4x5 and stick to the high quality.
    (you get used drum scanners for 1000 euros these days!)
  11. A question from an amateur - isn't one advantage with going digital (at least in the post-processing stage) that perspective corrections can be handled digitally, reducing the need for lenses with excessively large image circles?
  12. One of the great joys of being an architectural/interiors photographer is delivering 4x5s fresh from the lab and watching the arch. office gather around a lite box with a high-mag lupe admiring the the fruits of labor from a completed project. You can start shooting w/4x5 & film for under $1000, shoot one job and take home $2000. This alone is reason the continue being a hopeless film fan. As many have said before me "right tool, right job" For me, I see no reason to step DOWN(!) to digital shooting on location.
  13. I'm also an aspiring architectural photographer and asked myself the same question. My answer was the same as John's - get a used 4x5 and start shooting film. You can buy a whole lot of camera, lights, and lenses for less than the cost of a digital back (and digital support gear). Then shoot everything you can to build a up a book. Don't worry about digital until you have the cash flow and work to justify the incredible expense.

    BTW, I asked a realtor friend about shooting his listings. He told me that he's got a guy who comes in with a little digicam, runs around the property snapping pix for an hour, then emails him a finished QTVR walkthrough a few hours later. Does the whole job for SIXTY DOLLARS!! If you're thinking of getting an S2 SLR for cheap jobs, that's your competition. Good luck and enjoy your Top Ramen.

    I think James is quite right about 1500-3000 exposure per day catalog shooters, digital is definitely the way to do it. Some people have turned their studios into virtual catalog factories and spit this crap out fast, cheap, and make a good living at it. If that's what you want to do have at it, but you'll regret the day you stopped being a photographer.

    BTW, used LF gear is pretty cheap right now, so leverage a bad economy and put the savings towards film, processing, and scanning. Then go shoot everything you can to gain experience and build up a book. That's my plan, anyway. BTW, a digicam with a zoom lens, manual controls, and flash sync is a nice addition to a large format system - saves money on Polaroids! And who knows, maybe you can pick up some work doing $60 Quicktime's on the side...
  14. Boys! - 1500 pictures a day?

    Thats about one picture every 20-30 seconds for an eight hour day.
    I don't think thats happening. Maybe whoever told you that meant 1500 per per week (more likely a month) and even that is a huge number, way beyond anything I've ever done. In any event, for high quantity crap on white you can't beat digital. Even if you're making only 60 shots per day (which is really moving!) its not long (like by lunchtime) before you start putting film in the ditch (thirty scans they didn't have to pay for). You're delivering seperated files ready to use which saves many days and thousands of dollars in scanning and pre-press. But this has nothing to do with photographing architecture. Nor does the real estate shooter doing Quicktimes for cheap - very different games you're talking about. The good/bad part of this work is that the gear to do high quantity crap work is dirt cheap compared to only 10 years ago. For that matter, there are plenty other branches of commercial photography where this holds true. Very high quality work is done digitally and the cost of the gear is cheaper than ever or did not even exist ten years ago.

    Digital is currently great for progress photos but as mentioned earlier architects and builders very often have a digital camera and can use them well enough to satisfy that need. If you are an aspiring architectural photographer you better aim higher than progress photos or cheapy real estate pics. Architecture photographed for architects is the last holdout for film and big film at that.

    This won't hold forever, but right now there is no reasonable digital answer to a big film camera with movements. Sure they exist, but do you shoot enough to pay $25,000 for the digital back and the support gear? Twenty five grand will pay for a LOT of film and processing!

    Now that I've written this I'm sure someone will chime in and tell us about how he made $250,000 last year shooting architecture with his digital outfit. I'd love to hear that story!

    So Neil, I think you'll not be just "getting by" using film and scanning for now -- you'll be working using the current best method. Getting the jobs is a lot harder than deciding what gear you'll use. IMO
  15. hi neil,

    i think henry kind of hit the nail on the head.
  16. Ake:

    You loose resolution by manipulating perspective in Photoshop - If you start with a 16 shot 40Mpixel file, this may not matter.

    Many "professional" photographers earn a living with DSLRs with no movements: we must all strive for mediocrity and not show them up!

    I would like a system that gives plenty of movement on 24x36mm CCDs with 'blad lenses.
  17. I urge everyone here to "Go Digital" as soon as possible if you are currently a large format film shooter; especially if it's 8x10! Then once you dump all that cash into digital and realize that you have to get at least a few dollars back by dumping all that LF film stuff that's going under... Send me an e-mail and I'll be happy to take that "junk" off of your hands :)

    Russell McBride
  18. as stefan said above,- in germany nearly every prof. architecture photographer use 4x5" cams, some are useing 4x5" cams with 6x9cm backs for economic reasons.
    i dont have any problems with digital photography, but it will take some time till lf backs will be transportable enough to use them fast on locations. so i usually use slides and scan them with my drumscanner. this way to work has become very important cause i can edit my images so fantastic in photoshop.I even changed my way to visualize my pictures,- knowing for the tools digital processing gives me, so i dont want to miss this way of working anymore. 75% of my clients are buying the scanns of the images i shot for them, so this part of my work has become economically important for me too.

    i use a little nikon 4500 as noticebook,this is practical not more. i am opened to buy a 35mm digi-full frame cam,- but i have too little need for 35mm so i can wait till the prices are going down and the quality still aproves.....
  19. Neil,
    I'm late to this thread, but wish to offer a perspective.

    Book publishers with whom I work and Architectural Digest,for whom I am a contributing photographer, still insist on receiving film, preferring to do their own scans. This may change by degrees, but not in the foreseeable future. As far as format, long ago I changed from 4/5 to an Arca Swiss 6/9 and have never regretted that move.

    All my architect clients were taking my film and immediately having it scanned. It was easy for me to take over that function. I now submit all my work to that group of clients on disk, using Photoshop to correct things I never could control in the field. BTW, correcting perspective w/ Photoshop is a compromise at best. It's not a substitute for a view camera - never will be.

    One last thing to consider re buying and shooting very expensive digital equipment in the field. If one of my Horseman film holders or a Copal shutter goes down (and they do), I can replace it with one of the others I always carry with me. If your very complicated digital camera goes down, then what? Carry a spare for another $25,000?

    Film-to-digital conversion and digital printing, absolutely; those are revolutions that improve the final quality of the work and should be embraced. Shooting architecture digitally in the field...in my opinion, not yet.

    Steven Brooke

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