One of the perennial debates in architectural photography is that of whether or not to include people in the image. The difficulty is that the human eye is programmed to seek faces and figures so including people in the image can detract attention away from the main purpose of the image which is of course the building or designed environment. The trouble with omitting people is that images can appear a bit sterile with the very purpose of the building, it’s use by people, forgotten.
As with everything, architectural photography has its fashions. For a long time Art Directors and Photo Editors of architectural media definitely preferred the ‘no people’ option but the pendulum has now definitely swung towards the ‘people’ side. From experience I know that whist the ‘no people’ images tend to become the ‘hero’ pictures to be hung on the reception wall, for websites and in brochures etc, people are more in vogue than they have been.
It matters a great deal how people are used. My personal preference is that they should be well in the background. Because the eye is drawn towards figures, figures in the background can be a very effective device to draw the eye into the image. On the other hand, having figures in the mid-or fore ground can be very effective at showing how a building or environment is used.
Because high quality often necessitates longer exposure times, people in architectural images are often featured in movement – slightly blurry. This is fine. It is a technique I use often as it has the value of animating an image without drawing too much attention away from the building design (because the eye seeks the sharp areas in an image).
Of course it is much easier to obtain sharp images nowadays as digital cameras are becoming ever more able to cope with low light conditions and of course composting to take the best of several images is a straightforward process.
Including identifiable people in an image does raise the question of photo consent and model release so we sometimes populate the image with stand in’s who don’t mind the number of shots it can take to get everything perfect. This also helps overcome the need to shoot offices and other spaces at the weekend when we can get the access we need.
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