Vertigo – the highs and lows of commercial property photography

Commission: New brochure photography for an office block re-development in Southampton city centre.

As with all architectural photography this project was weather-dependent. Obtaining sunrise and sunset data was the first step, allowing us to work out the optimum lightfall at various times of the day. We combined this with Google Street View which allowed us to look at potential angles beforehand, ensuring that once on site our time was optimised.











 The first morning visit was forecast with cloud cover increasing by midday from the South. With this in mind we headed straight for the roof to shoot two panoramic views of the city skyline. Here’s the view looking West from what is Southampton’s tallest building.








 … just remember not to look down !












Next we moved indoors to capture one of the office spaces. These are large (and currently empty ) but the aim here was to capture the space and the outlook. This was a challenge as there was a six stop difference between the interior and the exterior levels. To resolve this problem we ended up combining four different exposures and then blending the layers manually to achieve a result that looked as “real” as possible.













We followed this shot up with the reception area with it’s flowing curves and sweeps, reminiscent of the old ocean liners . Shot from the door this gave us deep shadow areas by the lifts and on the first floor landing,  which we lit with two 200ws Lumedyne heads fitted with globe diffusers to balance with the ambient light.


















The second visit was for daylight exteriors of the front and rear elevations and the new signage. These were essentially straightforward shots, just a case of donning a hi-vis and dodging the traffic to find some sympathetic angles to soften the rather rigid geometry of the building.


















The third and final visit called for some dramatic night shots to highlight the building’s lighting and give a busy, city centre feel.

We arrived on site a few minutes before sunset and headed up onto the Itchen Bridge for a long establishing shot. Regrettably the forecast “clear spell” had not materialised and although the sun had set behind the building, the flat, pinkish cloud lacked definition and failed to inspire, so we headed back to street level. About 25 minutes later the structure began to come alive as it’s blue wing lighting came on and the sky started to darken. It’s for this reason that photographers often refer to the period just after sunset as the “golden hour”, but you have to work quickly as it doesn’t last long. For one of the overall shots a low angle worked best as it removed some unecessary street furniture from the frame and increased the drama. A 10 second exposure to catch the light streaks from the numerous passing taxis added colour and buzz. 

















 For the final image of the evening we got down and dirty, with the tripod spread flat in the gutter and working only a few feet from  speeding cars on one side and drunken Saturday-night revellers on the other. We thankfully survived both and headed home for a well earned nightcap !

“The Importance of Being Earnest”

Pre-publicity shoot at The Rose Theatre in Kingston for Stephen Unwins’ new production of The Importance of Being Earnest, starring Jane Asher.

Objective: To create an eye-catching image of Jane’s potrayal of the indomitable Lady Bracknell, that brings out the full depth of the character.

Equipment: 8′ x 6′ Lastolite Hi-Lite 4x BX500 Ri Elinchrom heads Soft boxes Nikon D700 NK Remote software from Breeze Systems

Jane is a very beautiful woman but she is now in her sixties, so soft frontal lighting was the order of the day. In view of the overhang of the hat I also chose to light from a much lower angle than I would normally, which was also more flattering to her skin tones. At this early stage Jane did not know the script,so we had to dispense with the usual run through of lines and concentrate on delivering the expression we wanted by reaction alone. After a few attempts at working full length I moved in closer, which greatly increased the eye contact between us. We tried various angles, but settled on Jane starting with her back to me, then turning suddenly to camera to introduce some spontaneous action. Shooting tethered allowed the marketing and styling team to watch the results on a screen behind me and it very soon became clear we were getting the results we wanted. We shot 130 frames which were wittled down to a selection of five before the final choice was made. The RAW file required very little work beyond a slight level and curve adjustment and a small amount of highlight recovery for the fine detail on the collar lace. The final image and the finished poster are shown below.