Why is architectural photography important?
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Why is architectural photography important?

For a detailed overview of architectural photography, please start at our Architectural Photography – An introduction page.

So why is architectural photography important?

Architectural photography has impact

Dustin Hoffman, as narrator of Eric Bricker’s Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman, tells us that “Architects live and die by the images of their work, as these images alone are what most people see.”

The International Centre of Photography (ICP), founded by Cornell Capa, confirms Shulman as “…one of the most important and influential architectural photographers in history”.  ICP also notes that when people think of architect Richard Neutra’s work, it is Shulman’s images that come to mind, while Neutra himself expected Shulman’s photographs of his work to survive him.

We can see from this that images of an architect’s work may be around long after both the architect and his/ her creations have gone. The photographs then, allow for marketing of an architect’s work while the architect is operational, and provide a documentary, historical  record of that work.

Business acquisition

The potential value of architectural photography as a business acquition tool is evidenced by Shulman’s work, and Neutra’s observations. Shulman’s career started in the 1930’s, while Balthazar Korab reinfoced this value in the 1950’s when TWA purchased its Flight Center project based on Korab’s photographs without even seeing the model he used to make the images.

Architects now routinely use portfolios of previous project photographs to promote their work to clients, and strengthen their bids to win new business.

Architect reputation enhancement

The use of photography by architects helps to enhance their reputations as industry leaders. The late Zaha Hadid for example, was justifiably famous for her creations, but it is photography that has enabled a global audience to visualize her designs.

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Image of "Opus, by Zaha Hadid", to support the question: Why is architectural photography important?. Zaha Hadid - Dubai
Opus by Zaha Hadid (Dubai)

Who uses architectural photography images?

Certainly architects use images of their work. Photographer and author James Ewing goes so far as to say that that the continued success of the architect depends on exceptional images which show off their work to best advantage.

Ewing also confirms that there is also a market in magazines and on websites., noting that it is the images which stay with us, rather than the text. He makes it clear that magazines would not exist without images.

The hotel and leisure industry also needs architectural photography to promote their offerings to potential guests, while the travel and tourism industry depends on architectural images to promote locations and destinations.

Design and construction teams consume images to document their projects, along with the progress made at any point in time.

Companies use architectural images in documents such as annual reports, and fine art collectors may purchase unique images for their collections.

Photographers themselves depend on architectural images for revenue. A search for the term “architecture” on alamy.com returns almost 8 million images, as at 27 December 2020. With so many architectural images being produced, we can begin to understand why Hoffman’s quote, mentioned earlier in this article, and that of Hausberg et al. – “How we perceive architecture depends to a significant extent on its interpretation by the photographer” – carry such weight, and why historians also have an interest in images of a bygone urban environment. 

City views - Image showing Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach skyline, as seen from Palm Jumeirah
Fine art print as wall art

Architectural photography presents a success platform for all those who recognize its potential, from the original architects through to photographers. A building’s potential as a photographic subject does not stand still after the building moves from construction to operations. Buildings are regularly updated, particularly on the interior, presenting new opportunities for photographers. Occasionally photographers are able to capture images during a building refurbishment, allowing the presentation of “before, during, and after” comparison images, rather than the more common “before and after”, adding more value to the images, and greater potential return for the commissioning client.

RELATED:  How to #1: Great architectural photography

To find out about creating great architectural images, take a look at How to #1: Great architectural photography.

So why is architectural photography important?

Historic record?

Fine art?

Busienss acquisition?

Reputation?

It makes money?

You decide…

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