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Landscape Architecture Photography: Composition, Light and People

Jul 07, 2017
Video Length:  1:00:24
Presented By:  Sahar Coston-Hardy

Follow along with guest presenter Sahar Coston-Hardy, a professional landscape architecture photographer who has worked for award-winning firms and been featured in Landscape Architecture Magazine, as she outlines the fundamentals of getting the perfect shot of your design. She'll cover what it takes to capture visually captivating photographs of urban design. This webinar is full of great tips for aspiring photographers or for landscape architects looking to elevate their own project photographs.

Visit Sahar Coston-Hardy's website for more information.

Webinar Contents:

Note: The following catalog of content covered in this webinar is time stamped to allow you to follow along or skip to sections of the video that are relevant to your questions. You can also search for content on this page using the FIND command in your browser (CTRL + F in Windows, Command + F in Mac OS.)

  • Intro/TOC
  • Composition
  • Light
  • Site Elements
  • Recap & Choosing Images for Your Portfolio

0:00 – 4:32: Intro/TOC

Note: You’ll need a good DSLR camera and a tripod.

4:33 – 17:14: Composition

“Composition” is the arrangement of parts of a scene to form a particular visual outcome.


The rule of thirds (4:48)

Try to break up the image into three parts, both vertically and horizontally, so the focal point is off to the side rather then being right in the middle. Although symmetry of composition can work well for some images, it’s generally not the most effective approach for landscape architecture photography.


Eye level (7:34)

Try photographing from multiple angles and eye levels to achieve the best view of a scene.


Leading lines (10:35)

“Leading lines” provide vectors that move the eye through an image.


Camera settings examples (12:38)


Remember to focus on certain areas and detail of a site, in addition to contextual shots.

17:15 – 33:05: Light

It’s a good idea to photograph in a number of lighting and weather conditions, and scout for times when the lighting might be more ideal.


Photographing in different types of weather and different seasons (23:00)


Night photography (25:30)

In low light, try taking multiple exposures and merging the images, blending the elements.


Stop-motion photography can also be helpful in low-light settings, in order to prevent light trails.


Question: Do you bring people to be the subjects of your photos? Do you need to get waivers from people in your photos? (28:50)

Answer: Sometimes Sahar will bring people to serve as subjects. In public spaces, waivers are generally not necessary (unless the photo includes celebrities). Waivers are required for photos on private property.


Question: What software do you use, and how much digital enhancement do you do? (30:18)

Answer: Sahar uses the Adobe suite, including Photoshop for photo editing and processing. The amount of editing depends on what the image needs. For images that will go to the press or otherwise be published, she’ll spend an average of an hour per photo.


Question: Do you need to use a tripod for photos where you plan to merge two different exposures? (31:55)

Answer: Yes, it’s difficult to create these images without having used a tripod on the photos.

33:06 – 39:49: Site Elements

People (33:06)

Sahar loves including people in her photos because they make the landscape come alive – whether it’s several people or just one or two.


Note that it can be tricky to photograph children. Sahar suggests keeping a distance but making sure their caregiver sees you with the camera. Caregivers won’t generally be shy about asking that you don’t take photos of the children.


Try to capture movement when photographing people.


Seating/furniture (36:45)


Planting (37:20)


Water elements (37:25)


Architectural elements (38:13)

Your lens will warp any straight vertical lines. You might think about using a tilt shift to straighten the lines.

39:50 – end: Recap & Choosing Images for Your Portfolio

Recap (39:50)


Choosing Images for Your Portfolio (40:50)


Sahar recommends compiling 10 to 15 images of each project.


Aerial photos (40:50)


Ground-level photos (42:35)


Moving deeper into a project to get the “key shots” highlighting specific elements of the site (43:30)


Taking photos of aesthetically pleasing scenes within a site (45:30)


Focusing on the details of a site (46:13)


“Stunners”: One image of a site that is beautiful and breathtaking, and makes the viewer want to be there (47:25)


Question: Do you use drones? How do you get your aerial shots? (48:24)

Answer: Sahar doesn’t use drones. She gets on rooftops of adjacent buildings. Sometimes she’ll shoot through a window, but it’s not ideal.


Question: What are the three lenses you use the most? (49:32)

Answer: Sahar loves a 50mm lens for portraits and landscapes. She also uses a 24-105 Canon EF lens and a 35mm fixed lens. When she goes on a multi-day shoot, she’ll rent a tilt-shift lens.


Fixed lenses (as opposed to zoom lenses) will generally be of a higher-quality glass and will therefore tend to create higher-quality photos. They’re also more expensive.


Question: In a day of shooting, do you typically keep the same ISO setting? Is there a particular ISO setting you typically use? (51:20)

Answer: No, she typically changes it depending on the lighting. For daytime, she’ll use an ISO of 160–250. For overcast weather, she’ll use 320 to 400 or 500. In the evening, she’ll set it at around 400. After dark, she’ll set it to 650, although she’ll set it higher if she needs to do freeze frames.


Question: What kind of digital negatives do you prefer? (52:36)

Answer: Sahar uses camera raw negatives.


Question: Do you tend to have shadow angles extending toward the camera? What about shadow length? (53:00)

Answer: She hadn’t thought about the direction of shadows. As for shadow length, it depends on the time of day.


Question: Do you have recommendations for finding a good landscape photographer in rural areas? (53:58)

Answer: Sahar travels and may very well be able to photograph your designs if you contact her. Otherwise, even a photographer who typically takes shots of landscape views but doesn’t necessarily specialized in designed landscapes could work for your purposes.


Question: Is the trend of moving water in photos fading? (55:14)

Answer: No, not necessarily. Sahar recommends having a variety of shot types, including moving water images in a site that includes these elements. Fountain designers often prefer freeze frames of their designs, however.


Question: Do you tend to have a written plan for your shots? (55:15)

Answer: Often, yes. She’ll look at plans and renderings beforehand so she knows what she’s getting into. Some clients know exactly what they want and others don’t. She’ll often scout a site beforehand in order to understand its unique character.


Question: How do you overcome the inevitable graininess of high-ISO settings? (58:00)

Answer: You can change some settings to lower the noise, but if you’re up in the 1,000s or 2,000s, it will be grainy. You can turn off the auto-grain setting in post-production. Some DSLR cameras will also have a noise-lowering setting.


Sahar will be at the ASLA conference in 2017, where she will be presenting.

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