Architecture Photography
An Interview With David Churchill

Architecture photography has always been one of my passions and I have always wondered what it would be like to be a professional Architectural photographer. I was therefore really pleased that David Churchill agreed to be interviewed for this site.

I hope the interview will give us a glimpse of what architecture photography is all about and what it is like to have a career within this area of expertise.

David is a skilled technical and creative photographer of both internal and external photography.

He is based in London and since turning freelance in 1992 has worked for architects, designers, commercial clients and ad agencies. We are therefore very lucky to have David answer some questions for us.

Hello David, thank you for your time today and sharing your expertise and experience with us. Before I ask any questions I always like to give the interviewee an opportunity to briefly tell us about themselves and their work, in your case your architecture photography.

Architecture Photography - David Churchill

I started photography as an assistant to an extremely good and nice architectural photographer called Richard Bryant. He taught me a lot but it wasn't until I had to shoot some jobs of my own that I realized I had a lot more to learn.

I new some of the technical requirements (this was in the days of film) but I didn't know much about what I should be shooting when I got to the job. This is something that comes with experience and understanding of the subject.

I switched to digital about 4 years ago but I still use the same Sinar Norma monorail camera which I love. It gives me control of perspective, which is essential when shooting architecture and interiors. It is also very well designed.

I really like shooting digitally, the principles are the same but you don't have to worry about Polaroid's, colour correction filters and loading/processing film, which makes things much easier and faster. I also like the added flexibility when it comes to composition where you can use the stitch capabilities.

I have always had a great interest in architecture photography and have often wondered what skills and approach is required to become as good in this field as you obviously are. What advice would you give to an aspiring architectural photographer?

Architecture Photography - David Churchill

I think a good knowledge of architecture and design is essential. To some degree you need to get in to the designers head so that you can portray the elements of the building that are the essence of the design. Obviously light is critical as in all photography.

With interiors you can manipulate the lighting to quite a degree and I like to take control of an interior as soon as I arrive: See what lights I can fade or switch separately, can I use blinds or curtains for the windows, what lighting can I add etc.

For exteriors you are at the mercy of the weather. If possible I will wait for good weather to do exterior shoots, mostly this is possible but sometimes there are strict deadlines for various reasons.

You then have to decide at what angle you want the sun for the best image of each of the exterior elements; this changes throughout the year and can be a big problem in winter when the sun is so low and only available for a reduced period of time. This can produce stunning shots but your scope for different shots is severely restricted.

You became the principle photographer for the Glasgow 1999 city of architecture and design. This sounds like a very exciting opportunity for a photographer. What were the requirements of the position and how did you personally approach the subject?

Architecture Photography - David Churchill

It wasn't an official position, that was the spin my marketing person put on it. However I did shoot nearly all of the work coming from Glasgow 1999 but it was on a freelance basis.

It came about because I was living there at the time. So I phoned them and arranged a meeting to show them my work. They were impressed enough to give me the first commission, that went well and they liked the images so they came to me for the next one and so on. That is really how all my work is generated.

You have to make sure each job is as good as you can possibly make it because as soon as you drop your standards your commissions will dry up and someone else will step in. There are many photographers out there wanting the work.

I notice that you also published two architecture photography books during your time in Glasgow 'The Lighthouse' and 'Homes For The Future'. Can you tell us a little about them?

Architecture Photography - David Churchill

The first book published was "Homes For The Future" which was a book on the new development in Glasgow.

This was brought about by Glasgow 1999 where they commissioned 7 different architects, planners and developers to build 100 new homes on Glasgow Green. With its emphasis on collaboration and creativity, the scheme was both a commercially viable development and a fitting legacy of Glasgow's year as UK City of Architecture and Design.

The second book was about the Lighthouse. This is a building in the heart of Glasgow originally designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh as the Herald Newspaper building.

Glasgow 1999 took it over and architects Page and Park redesigned certain elements of it to become a center of architecture. I was commissioned by Glasgow 1999 to shoot it for the book.

Interestingly you were approached by Ted Young-Ing to produce photographs for his Formula one magazine. As an architectural photographer how did you approach taking pictures for a motor racing magazine?

I was very excited to get the opportunity to shoot formula 1 cars, as I have been a fan for many years. I had always dreamed of doing it but never thought I ever would.

The jobs I did for them were about the factories themselves rather than just the cars. It was very interesting at Minardi; I found a huge room full of old racing car parts like floor pans and exhaust manifolds all jumbled together. They made some great shots.

Finally David, I would like to ask you about a set of images you have on your website of the Cumberland Hotel, Marble Arch. The images are amazing, so vibrant and colourful. The hotel obviously used a lot of different forms of coloured lighting to illuminate their interior. Could you give my readers a brief guide as to how to handle these sorts of lighting conditions to achieve the best photographic results?

The Cumberland Hotel is a very colourful place. To shoot it you just need to balance the light for tungsten and then let all the different colours do their thing there really is no trick to it. I am shooting what is there. The only real problem is to make sure the big light boxes do not bleach out, as this would reduce the saturation of their colour.

Architecture photography is a specialist area to concentrate on, but if it is your passion then photographers like David Churchill are certainly excellent role models and their expertise and experience will help guide you in this field.