Commissioning Architectural Photography
by Paul Chaplo, M.F.A. Architectural Photographer,
Graduate:  R.I.T. School of Photographic Arts & Sciences, College of Graphic Arts & Photography        










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PAUL CHAPLO Specializing in
Photography of 
and Construction Documentation


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"An Architect's Guide to Architectural Photography Terminology"

Architectural Photography Terminology

by Paul Chaplo, M.F.A, B.F.A., B.A. ©2006 Chaplo
Graduate: R.I.T. School of Photographic Arts & Sciences
College of Graphic Arts and Photography
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, NY

(or at least know what the heck they are saying ...)

Sometimes, as architectural photographers, we excitedly spout a paragraph of technical jargon to a client who is an architect, interior designer, marketing director, etc. We know it's a great idea that we just had, as in "we'll shoot large format with chrome film using a 58mm XL and do multi-pop!!!!" Needless to say, we are met with an expression that makes it clear that a translation is needed. We hope that this page helps.

Sanger High School PHOTO©2002 Paul Chaplo
Sanger High School, Sanger, TX
PHOTO ©2006 Paul Chaplo

A high school?
A facade? 
Your CMU product? 
24 gauge steel? 
Bermuda sod?
Clear and sunny?

To an architectural photographer, it is:

A large format vertical view of the facade, shot with a view camera on "4 by 5" transparency film, then drum-scanned and color-corrected, retouched, enhanced in Photoshop. The color temperature is low, so it looks "warm," and the lens is normal focal length, with camera movements to control the perspective.

Formats are based on the size of the film

Large Format: any SHEET film size 4x5 inches or larger
If you want the best, world-class of architectural photography, large format , a.k.a. 4x5" film format  is the winner, hands down. You can enlarge to mural size, and the
control of the camera is unequalled. For example, to keep buildings accurate
with perspective, so they don't look like they are tilting backwards ;-) But
4x5 views take much more time to set-up, and the 4x5 inch sheets of film
cost more. Even if you print small, the photographs have a sharp crispness
of detail and resolution like no other format!

What to look for: Quality lenses like Schneider XL, the photographer should use center filters in all their work.

Medium Format: ROLL FILM 6x6, 6X7cm, 6x9, and 6X12 cm formats
Also called 120 and 220 depending on roll length. Medium format bridges the gap between large format and 35mm. You can get great prints up to 16x20" and we can shoot roll film rather than sheet film, so prices are affordable for materials.

What to look for: lenses pr cameras with architectural movements like shift to control perspective. If the photographer cannot provide this, your buildings will look distorted.

35 mm: ROLL FILM (no one calls it small format ;-)
If you want 8x10" prints for sales people, and presentations, and websites, 35mm will do (and be much less expensive in terms of time and film). Also, the small. mobile camera can allow the photographer to work more spontaneously, perhaps creating photographs that are fresh, "looser" in style (as in less contrived), more sketchbook-like, etc. 35mm is not a substitute for the larger film formats, it is a tool that fits specific applications. Also, if there is construction in progress, a photographer may choose 35mm to shoot quickly, and navigate a busy space without bulky equipment.

What to look for: lenses with architectural movements like shift to control perspective. If the photographer cannot provide this, your buildings will look distorted.

Note: APS: real pros don't use APS, the film original is too small.

Color Transparencies:  
Slide film, a film positive (also called "trans," "tranny," and "chrome"). Typical transparency films: Fujichrome, Ektachrome. This film scans the best and can have the finest grain (virtually grainless these days). If you want big prints, you want color transparency film, if conditions permit.

FACT: Transparencies have finer grain than negatives, and scan better.

Color Negative:  
Print film, negative image (dark areas appear light on the film original), also called "neg," "color neg" Typical negative films: "NPS" NPL" "Portra" This film is forgiving -- your photographer should not use it as a crutch for all photography as the grain size is larger than transparency film. Some people call this "multi-layered" film, which is misleading -- all color film is multi-layered. However, some color negative films have an extra layer!

FACT: Although this is traditionally called "print film," the highest quality prints are now made from drum scans of transparency (slide) film. But more photographers are starting to use color negative because it is more forgiving. It is NOT always the best choice for you as an end-user of the image.

Drum scans : the best high res scans available. Files of almost any size
available. Typically 150 MB for big prints, then we resize for smaller
applications to make multiple uses of the same scan file. Note: a 51 MB scan
costs the same, so we go with the 150 MB to get the most for the dollar.
That way if you want a large display print for office or trade show, we have
the option.

FACT: Drum scans still rule for highest quality. They are also the most expensive.

Kodak Photo-CD scans: the professional version of the photo-cd with
commercial level scans. Files up to 72 MB. Photo CD scans are decent but
they are bulk scans and require more enhancing than others.
There are other options....

FACT: Photo-CD scans are bulk scans that need Photoshop before printing.

Digital Post-Production: 
Image processing done after the film is processed.

For a quality project like this, plan on taking advantage of digital
post-production to color-correct and optimize the scans, remove unwanted items, fine tune the exposure, contrast, etc. for output. Every scan will need at least a bit of digital time to optimize.

Digital Files:
TIFF: best for all-around use, including publications. When in doubt, get a .tiff
PSD: Photoshop (TM) format, you need an image-processing software to open it.
PCD: Kodak Photo-CD (TM) Format
JPEG: a compressed file, use these for posting on the web and Powerpoint (TM).
PDF: Adobe Acrobat (TM) file that works great for documents.

FACT: Opening and re-saving a JPEG degrades quality as the image is recompressed. PDF files are used widely in color pre-press.

Coming next:

Digital retouching, color correction, and enhancement
File prep for offset printing, websites, trade shows, etc.
File conversion to fit your needs to a 'pixel.'

Complete corporate identity
Logo Design
Publication design: color brochures
Design Competition entries
Trade show graphics, giant prints, and collateral.

Amon Carter Museum expansion, Fort Worth, Texas
Philip Johnson & Alan Ritchie, Architects 
Paul Chaplo, Photographer
Original print: 24x30 inches from 4x5 inch film, digital scan/conversion/retouching by the author.

Paul Chaplo, M.F.A., B.F.A., B.A.
Architectural Photographer
(Based near Dallas, TX)

Consider reading my white paper: 
"An Architect's Guide to Selecting an Architectural Photographer."

All images ©2006 Paul Chaplo, Architectural Photographer. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Please email to: for an estimate 
on your next architectural photography project.

AIA Photographer A.I.A. Member DAIA TSA D.A.I.A. T.S.A.
A.I.A., T.S.A., D.A.I.A.
Photographer/ Member

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