On the Elimination of Style and Shooting Architecture with a 50mm Lens
[As part of the remit to make the Untold LA iPad Book available to as many people as possible I'll be posting pages from the book in sequential order on a regular basis until it is completely online.]
On page 31 of the book we find the Guthery House, a cross-gabled Craftsman built in 1906 as a speculative venture by the Percy H. Clark Company. Like so many homes in West Adams it's a confluence of styles, in this car Craftsman, Shingle and Tudor Revival.
With a lot of architectural photography you'll find shooters using wide-angle lenses that make it easier to put the whole building in a frame and also have the effect of making the structure look larger, (handy for folks who are trying to sell a small apartment or home). This effect is easily understood if you think of human vision as being roughly equivalent to a 50mm lens. Since we experience the world at 50mm, when we see an image taken with an 18mm lens we get a false sense of the proportions of the image content since we automatically expect all imagery to be 'seen'/'taken' with the same focal length as our eyes.
You'll find directors like Terry Gilliam using wide-angle lenses to make sets look far larger than they really are, (helps when budgets are small - as an example see the image below from Brazil. The use of a wide-angle lens makes the corridor look far longer than it is in real life).
Anyhew, I say all this because I decided with Untold LA that I wanted to go with a 'photojournalist' type style, so I shot with a 50mm lens*, far away, often on a ladder.
I was trying to capture the things as they are, not necessarily how I might want them to be. This was the most difficult part of the whole project for me, trying to eliminate my style, or really making any commentary with the camera at all. Though it turned out I couldn't remove the sense of innate joy within me that I had encountered these beautiful homes. That was a default for me and I couldn't, and didn't want to try, to get past that, that motivating force, prime mover for the project.
But I tried to eliminate as much as possible myself from the book photos, as much of my personal style as I could. Wanted to let the homes be the subject, not the photos if that makes any sense.
You can see how the photo is used in the book in the 'screen-grab' below. You'll notice in the book that the default is for photos to have a light grey border around them. I thought about a black border and using full-screen as a default but felt that made the photos too intense. They had a too much of a 'look at me' quality. I wanted the the design, the craftsmanship of the homes to stand out; even though this is a photo-book I wanted the content rather than the form to be the focus.
* Most of the project was actually shot with a 35mm lens, but since it was mounted on a crop-body that multiplies the focal length by 1.5, (the Fuji X-Pro 1), the images have an equivalent focal length of 50mm.