JC is an architectural photographer based in Denver, Colorado. JC works with architects, developers, and interior designers to document their work in a creative and meaningful way. He is passionate about photographing the great architectural projects “of our time” from beautiful public buildings and to physic-defying sky scrapers. We are honored to have JC share his tricks of the trade, for as he noted in conversation with us recently, “Photography and travel go hand in hand, so I figured a post inspiring people to see things differently would be fitting content for your blog.” And we could not agree more! To see more of JC’s impressive work, please visit jcbuck.com.
A friend of mine recently just got back from vacationing in Amsterdam. I asked her if she took a lot of photos. She said she was in awe of the architecture and every time she tried to take a picture, she felt she was too close, struggled to find a good angle, couldn’t find a way to frame her subject and would give up.
I know this feeling well. I work as an architectural photographer. Photographing buildings is a lot harder than many realize. I have found over the years through my obsessive observation and photography of the built environment that it’s the details, the moments, the vignettes that create the most beautiful photographs.
I told my friend next time you are in that situation, when your senses are overloaded by all that’s going on in front of you, simply narrow your focus. Take note of the details. It’s the details that tell the story of the whole. If you can’t frame the entire building, get closer. Take a picture of a door, a window, the roofline, a wall, the textures, notice the way the light is hitting the scene. What is it about the subject that resonates? Focus on that.
This is a fun exercise for the eye. When you photograph this way, you are effectively taking notes. It’s proven that people remember more by writing things down, even if they do not revisit their own notes. Just the act of writing helps cement material in our brains. I feel the act of taking a photo does the same.
I know many people feel that when they see tourists with their cell phones and camera’s out, that they are not in the moment. They have travelled all this way to be on their phones. They are not enjoying the present! I totally disagree. I feel the camera becomes an extension of our bodies and by taking photos we are actively observing, studying, and recording a scene for later. The shutter sound alone stamps an image not only to the camera’s sensor, but also to our brain.
The most rewarding part of photographing the details is when you string them together, create a collage of sorts- they begin to tell a story. A story more interesting than any wide-angle photo showing everything; which, we can call “post card photography.” I take those photos too, but come on, what fun is taking the same photo a million others have shot?! You want to create your own memories of your own interpretations, your own visual record.
Given that I work as an architectural photographer, I am biased towards buildings, but the idea of focusing on details works for any subject. If you photograph people, narrow in and photograph just their face, their hair, feet, hands. If you like nature and landscapes, narrow your focus to the flowers, grass, rocks, water, sand- get close and find yourself shooting straight down to the ground. Maybe it’s a hiking trail, or the sand of a beach. The options are endless!
My longtime partner Liz and I have been fortunate to travel with Escape to Shape many times and each time I bring a different camera with me. Last year we went to Marrakesh, Morocco. The photos scattered throughout this post are from that trip, all shot with a Fuji x100f. Notice all the quiet moments, details, scenes that easily could be overlooked. I made a book using these images and collectively they create a beautiful reminder of our time in Morocco.
I encourage you to pick up a travel camera*, something small, it could be your phone, but, in my opinion, a dedicated camera is better because you will be more focused when taking pictures. So next time you pack your bags, don’t forget the camera, narrow your focus and photograph the details!
If this was helpful, if I inspired you to narrow your focus, then please connect with me on Instagram @jc_buck, I would love to see your photos! And use #jclookatmydetails. Just the act of writing this brief post has inspired me to get out there and shoot more details!
*Recommended Travel Cameras: Fuji x100f, Fuji xT2, Sony A6000, 6300, 6500. These are amateur priced mirrorless cameras featuring pro level performance! I shot all the Morocco photos on the Fuji x100f