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Architecture photography, Part 2 (02/27/2005)
By Tom Hirsch

Last time, a few hints were given on ways of photographing the exteriors of famous or intriguing buildings and monuments. Interiors pose different but no less interesting photographic challenges.

A common problem with interiors is getting everything you want into a shot. Usually, the wide-angle lens is the one to start with. You'll want an overview to give you a point of view. If possible, back into a corner. This will give you maximum distance, and also show more than one wall.

If you're on a guided tour of a famous building or home, you must contend with the possibility of including other tourists in your shots. If you want to avoid them, wait until the group has moved on to the next room before taking your overviews.

Try photographing a small room by shooting toward a mirror. This will not only give you a shot of the wall or dresser containing the reflecting surface, but the image in the mirror will also show another part of the room that is not in the direct view of the camera.

It might be possible to photograph a room from the outside through a window. For this you might need special permission, but it never hurts to ask.

Always observe barriers. If there is a rope across a doorway, don't cross it to get a shot. You can lean as far as possible over the rope, but try to avoid touching it.

Invisible barriers might also exist. In Springfield, Ill., I was on a tour of Lincoln's home. We were instructed to walk on designated carpets only. In the Lincoln bedroom, I was backing to the edge of the carpeting in order to take a shot when the heel of my shoe accidentally extended slightly beyond the boundary, setting off a buzzer. I quickly stepped back onto the carpeting, but not before drawing some unwanted attention to myself.

Sometimes I use the camera's self-timer in order to take a shot that would have been difficult to get otherwise. While visiting Las Vegas, Nev., I walked through the majestic indoor mall adjacent to Caesar's Palace. Although it's entirely enclosed, a visitor has the impression of walking through an open marketplace in ancient Rome. The ceiling is painted to resemble a cloud-filled sky, and attractive shops line the walkway.

I wanted a few shots of this setting. Flash would have been inappropriate, and the exposure called for a shutter speed too slow for me to hand-hold the camera. Using the wide-angle lens, I set the self-timer, then placed the camera on the top of a trash container. Composition was achieved with the digital camera's rotating LCD monitor. In order to avoid camera shakes as I pressed the shutter release, I set the self-timer at two seconds. I got some great shots of sharp stores and blurry people.

On another occasion, while on a self-guided tour of the California state capital, I came upon the beautiful dome of the capital's rotunda. Another photographic challenge. Flash would never reach, so available light was the only option. While looking straight up, it wasn't possible to hand-hold the camera with the degree of steadiness needed. I set the self-timer at ten seconds, placed the camera in the middle of the floor and stepped back. The pictures were sharp, and although I was unable to see just what I was taking. I was able to get what I wanted.

When photographing interiors of buildings, each shot presents a unique challenge, and there are no universal solutions. In Las Vegas, for example, I could have used a high ISO setting and hand-held the camera, or sat on the floor for stability, or braced my elbows on the trash can, or used a tripod. I used a technique that seemed most appropriate at the time and I was happy with the results. Much of the fun of photography is coming up with new solutions to unique problems. 


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