San Francisco Contemporary, Remodeled

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In October of last year, I spent a couple of days photographing a new project by my longtime client building Lab. Architect Stephen Shoup is a mid-century specialist and so this contemporary house in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood got a little injection of that aesthetic while being transformed in some fundamental ways.

The most impressive of the changes was Stephen’s complete “flip” of the staircase, which originally wound back and forth between the left and right sides of the structure. Stephen envisioned an elegant “hanging” staircase that runs in continuous line all the way down the right side, from the top floor to the ‘basement’ & patio, 4 stories below.

Take a close look at the photo below: the bottom tread doesn’t touch the floor. Everything hangs from the slender rod.

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Stephen’s design aesthetic is un-touchable. I find it difficult to photograph his work because there are just too many beautiful compositions and settling on just one or two in a given area is painful. But of course that’s also what makes it rewarding: I can really make ART when I’m working on a building Lab project.

Here’s a sampling of what we shot over the course of 2 days:

More Lynda.com Videos — Kitchens & Twilight Exteriors

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Lynda.com just published two more courses in my Real Estate Photography series — “Kitchens” and “Twilight Exteriors“.

These are arguably the 2 most important shots a real estate photographer makes. The kitchen is certainly the room where the most remodeling dollars get spent, and it’s nearly always a “money shot” even when it’s not snazzy. And for sheer sex appeal, it’s hard to beat a good twilight exterior with a vivid deep saturated sky and glowing windows and soft glamour light everywhere.

Perversely, these are often the two shots photographers struggle with the most, and so in these two courses I’ve laid out the strategies I follow to really make the most of these opportunities. In the kitchen episode we discuss styling, lighting, and composition to show off the room at it’s best, and (dare I say it) we get a pretty doggone good result, in a kitchen that is frankly not a prize-winner. And in the twilight episode (which I have not yet watched….maybe this weekend) I go for two photos in one night, which involves (literally) some running around.

Feedback? Hit me up in the comments!

New Work from Scott Hargis Photo

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Not seen since January of this year…the latest collection of new work! Click the link above to see it all. Enjoy!

Modern Highrise Residential by Bayon Design Studio

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This one was a long time coming. I first scouted this project at least three years ago, while it was still a raw construction site. Located on the 45th floor of the San Francisco Millennium Tower, it was already clear that this Bayon Design Studio project was going to be special.

Designer Cindy Bayon and I visited it several times over the next couple of years while we photographed other projects of hers in the same building. She held weekly design meetings with her client and they left no detail to chance. Some major items, like the wooden Japaneses soaking tub, took months to work out.

Finally, last April, we scheduled 2 (long) days to shoot. Thanks to Bellcore Construction (builder), Defauw Design (metal fabrication), Heather Menegat (styling), and of course Cindy (everything else) for providing such an awesome project for me to photograph!

Sydney Workshop Recap

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On the last day of May, I traveled to Sydney, to work with photographers at Campaigntrack, an Australian marketing firm specializing in real estate. We shot for 4 days, in 6 different houses ranging from the big and beautiful (see lead image, above) to the small and ordinary.

Campaigntrack was looking for a way to differentiate themselves and create a more upscale, sophisticated image that would stand out from the typical Aussie real estate photo. As they saw it, composition and styling were key components that they could work on…and I agreed. Usually, when I teach real estate photography, it’s all about lighting technique, so this was a terrific chance for me to focus entirely on composition and the “feel” of a photo — two things that are at least as important but which often get short shrift.

Having a variety of houses to work in was great, too – we got to play around in a gorgeous country villa, but we also spent time in houses that are much more typical. Campaigntrack photographers aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and move furniture, and frankly I was a bit shocked at the lengths they’re willing to go to make a room show at it’s best. We did 3 shoots a day, punctuated by one-hour sessions in a conference room dissecting the images on the big screen, and reviewing existing Campaigntrack work as well as that of their competitors.

And, like every time I’ve visited Oz, I was treated to an overwhelming display of hospitality. Thanks to Paul Gal, Nolan Metcalf, Tim Dean, Jori Scobie, and the entire CT team of photographers, videographers, copywriters, retouchers, and stuffidontevenknowabout!

Here are a few highlights from the week — thanks much to Nolan Metcalf for the behind-the-scenes photos!

New Course on Lynda.com

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The latest installment in a series of real estate photography courses I’m making with Lynda.com went live just a few days ago — this one has some pretty cool stuff in it!

This one is called “The Basics” and it’s coverage of an entire shoot, start to finish. I traveled down to Ojai California and we spent an entire week filming to get this 3+ hour video. In it, I take you through excruciating detail on the pre-shoot walkthrough, shooting the small easy rooms, shooting the more complex living room/family room, shooting the kitchen, and then the rear and front exteriors. There’s even a post-production video or two, showing what I did to re-touch some of the images.

Maybe the best part is the living room section, in which I made the same shot 3 times in a row — but with a stopwatch running each time. In the first go-through, I make a 60-second photo – this is the ultimate “Run-n-Gun” shot. Next, I pull everything back and re-shoot it, but with a more generous 5 minutes. And finally, I shoot the room but with a luxurious 15-minute clock running. I think it’s a pretty good example of just what the difference is between “Fast” and “Good”, and just what it is we do differently when we have more time. It’s worth noting that in my usual work, it’s not unusual to spend 2 hours on a single photo, and many photographers measure photo production in days, not minutes!

There are a couple more courses currently in the editing phase with Lynda, and we’re discussing future ones, so stay tuned.

The Business of Architectural Photography

Heads up — I’m participating in an ASMP-sponsored panel discussion on The Business of Architectural & Interiors photography next Tuesday, April 26th, in Oakland:

http://asmp.org/education/event/info?id=1204#.VxvARD_jJR6

Some pretty great photographers are on the panel with me — hope to see you there!

Zen Kitchen by Hanomoco Design

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Earlier this year I shot two projects with the newly-founded Hanomoco Design (a partnership between designers Dan Hano and Charlotte Moco) and my longtime client McCutcheon Construction. Dan and Charlotte have come out of the gate strong and this project in particular struck me as unique.

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I tried to keep the photos clean and simple, following the aesthetic of the space, and with such great lines it was a real pleasure to compose photographs in there! There’s more from Hanomoco coming soon: meantime, here’s the rest of our set from this project.

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Real Estate Photography Lighting with Lynda.com!

Lynda_ScreenShotA few months ago the Content & Production people at Lynda.com contacted me about producing videos for Real Estate photography. I’m pleased to announce today that we’ve sketched out a roadmap for a series of videos that will cover not only technique, but also touch on business and “back end” processes that are so important for making this stuff pay off — literally.

In October, I traveled down to Santa Barbara California and we filmed our first course, which was kind of a test run. We chose a very simple room and I used it to demonstrate what I called the “Basic Bedroom” lighting technique. If you’ve read my book or watched my comprehensive video series, you know this one – it’s the ultimate quick-n-dirty lighting technique for small rooms, and it’s nearly idiot-proof. I can shoot a bedroom using this technique pretty much with my eyes closed. The photo won’t be quite “magazine” quality, but it’ll be plenty “good enough” for a fast real estate environment. Future courses will be intended to show techniques for going beyond the “good enough” level and into “excellent”.

You can see the “trailer” for this video here, and if you’re a Lynda.com subscriber, the entire 42-minute course has been live for a few weeks.

Like I said, this was supposed to be the simplest of simple shots. Well….mother nature apparently wanted to take me down a notch, because what started out as an easy “beginner” shot turned into kind of a wild ride as the sun played tricks and the shoot dragged on longer than expected. In the end I got a photo although neither the process or the finished shot look much like what I had originally envisioned!

Such is the nature of location photography, though, and overall we felt confident enough to plan for more videos. We’re shooting again in April, and we’ve got several more courses in pre-planning so these will likely continue to trickle out through 2017. The next course, (working title: “Fundamentals”) will go into more detail on a more complex shot, and I’ll even demo what I would do differently if I had, for example, 5 minutes to make the photo, or 10 minutes, or 15 minutes (an extravagantly long time in the wild-and-wooly world of real estate photography — in my architectural work we normally expect to spend upwards of an hour on even a “simple” photograph, and two or three hours is not exceptional).

So, is this a replacement for the Lighting For Real Estate Photography video series, or for The Essentials of Lighting Interiors eBook?

No. To be sure, there’s overlap, but there’s no way we’re going to be able to cover the breadth of situations and techniques that are in LFRE and Lighting Essentials. Instead, in the Lynda.com videos, I’ll be going into greater detail on the shots we do show, and trying to address the WHY of what’s going on in addition to the WHAT and HOW. But if you want to see absolutely everything I know, albeit fairly quickly….get the full video series, and/or read the book. These videos on Lynda.com will be a very good companion to either of those products.

Watch this space for more info – and follow me on Facebook if you want to see what’s happening in my world day-to-day!

Mid-Century remodel by building Lab

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A few weeks ago I met architect Stephen Shoup of building Lab in San Francisco to photograph a new residential project. Stephen’s work has a very strong character that makes it instantly recognizable, but it also evolves over time, which is absolutely fascinating, and challenging, from a photographic standpoint.

For example, check out this stairwell:

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And then compare it to this one I shot for Stephen back in 2013:

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Natural wood, check. The thin metal rods that serve as a partial wall have morphed into high-tension wire, but the motif remains the same. Both stairwells have very strong graphical lines and both “make a statement” rather than receding into the background.

And this stairwell came with a little something extra…a playspace for the resident kid!

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I could’ve spent the rest of the day doing nothing but composing shots on this structure, but we did have a few other things to shoot:

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All in all, a fun day! More building Lab projects coming up, so don’t touch that dial!

San Francisco Remodel by Regan Baker Design

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Here’s a terrific project from my friends at Regan Baker Design, in San Francisco. We spent a couple of days here with Regan and her team — here are the highlights!

….for the rest of us

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Season’s Greetings V.3

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Season’s Greetings!

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Happy Holidays from Scott Hargis Photo

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Suburban Estate by Bayon Design Studio

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Anytime I can work with Cindy Bayon and Heather Menegat from Bayon Design Studio it’s going to be a good day, and I know we’re going to make some great photos. Last summer we shot this (almost) new construction in Atherton, California, and the trend held — this is great design, and with Heather’s un-beatable touch for styling and creativity, we got some terrific photos (at least, I like ’em!).

My favorite part of the house was the chain-mail hall table. Weighing in at around 400lbs (about 180kg) that’s a lot of steel, and required more than just your average shelf support. This (along with much of the house) was Heather’s design, and we had a good time photographing it. Another of Heather’s design elements was the abstract wall graphic in the upstairs gym.

We’re just out of post-production on yet another Bayon Design project, and there are more lined up for the first half of 2016….so stay tuned!

 

 

 

Why We Light Things

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If you spend time on a photography forum where interiors get discussed, you’ve seen this exchange:

Photographer A:   Hey, here’s a photo I made. I used a bunch of strobes/hotlights/umbrellas/whatever.
Photographer B:   Nice photo, but you could have just done HDR and gotten the exact same result way faster.
Photographer A:   Uh, no, I couldn’t. HDR isn’t the same as lighting stuff.
Photographer C:   I could have done that with one flash. My new strobe has 1.21 Gigawatts of light!
Photographer A:   Wait, I….
Photographer B:   HDR is just the same! It’s just two different ways to get the same result!
Photographer A:   I think you’re mis-understanding what I did here….
Photographers B & C:   NO WE AREN’T! YOU’RE BEING ELITIST!!

 

It usually goes downhill from there.

HDR, and exposure blending, and Fusion, and Photomatix, and all their cousins, means taking a series of exposures, from over-exposed, to under-exposed, and using software (sometimes referred to as “instant photographer” software) to blend them together, kind of like making sausage. Sometimes the results can be pretty nice, but only when the light is already nice to begin with. These methods can help compress a dynamic range into something the camera can handle, but they can’t do anything to change the quality of the light, at all.

And what’s more important in a photograph, than light? Without some way to manipulate light, a photographer is utterly at the mercy of Mother Nature (even when you’re deep inside a Manhattan loft), and an evil and capricious mother she is…

Make no mistake — when the light is already good, then you run with that. Here’s a shot where I did almost nothing other than a little boost in a couple spots, which in theory at least could plausibly have been done in post:

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Likewise, sometimes the blending techniques can come in handy. In this shot, I did some lighting with strobe, but I also used Photoshop Layer Masks to blend in a shot where the girl was posed just right, and another to add in the dog (because a 5-year-old and a Sheepdog just can’t seem to do things right on cue, dammit). While I was at it, I blended in a better exposure for the far corner of the yard, which was just a little too bright in my “base” exposure.

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Trouble is, the existing light almost never conforms to my vision for the shot. For example, here’s a shot I made earlier this year. This is “ambient” light only, and the exposure was easy — well within the camera’s dynamic range. One click of the shutter button, and I was done:

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So it’s OK, right? Decent composition, evenly lit…..but not really memorable. All the light is coming from a huge floor-to-ceiling window to the left of the bed. It’s flatter than a pancake!

So we pulled the blinds, and replaced that light with our own:

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We also fluffed the pillows and swapped out some of the knick-knacks, but it’s the light that makes this photo. Check out this detail of the fur blanket and orange throw:

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No amount of software is going to give you this result. And this light wasn’t going to happen, naturally, ever.

Here’s another example. This bathroom (designed by my client Holly Bender) had a single recessed tungsten light above the vanity (sometimes called a “can” light). Here’s what that bathroom looks like, in it’s own lighting conditions:

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Again — simple exposure, one shot, this is 100% reality. Holly looked at this shot on my laptop and said something like, “Uh…yeah. Sure. Ok. It is what it is, I guess…”

I told her to come back in half an hour…and showed her this:

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This time, her reaction was a bit more, uh, exuberant, and involved a fist pump. And I was right there with her! Suddenly you can see how the wallpaper has this metallic inlay that makes the tree trunks and pears really POP….when the light is right.

Lighting for interiors doesn’t mean simply getting an exposure up to match the windows. It means the difference between taking a photo, and making a photo.

Below are a few more examples of shots that were manipulated with added lighting, in some cases dramatically, in order to establish texture, depth, and mood. None of these could have been achieved simply by massaging the existing light.

 

Modern Luxury by Holly Bender Interiors

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Back in February I shot this killer contemporary house (architect: Swatt Meiers) for my long-term client Holly Bender. I’ve never done a shoot with Holly that didn’t yield something I really, really liked, and over the course of 2 days we kept that streak going!

Holly worked with the homeowner, who is an art consultant, to combine a color palette and overall aesthetic that worked with the family’s extensive (and awesome) art collection. We worked hard to create a set of photos that really capture that, and also expressed the feeling of this place. We were pleased when Houzz.com featured the project in August, and it got pretty rave reviews!

Here are a few more from this shoot:

And a few Behind-The-Scenes (not many, we were pretty busy on this one!)

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That’s Holly getting some twilight silhouettes of Ken Brown and I, perched on the edge of the pool.

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Assistant (and car photographer) Ken Brown and I on a 10-inch wide edge of the pool (yep, the tripod is down to a 10″ footprint) shooting the landscaping (which was by L&L Landscaping).

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State of the Art

On Tuesday, October 6th, I’ll be participating in a panel discussion in San Francisco titled “State of the Art”, on the topic of Architectural Photography. Details below, but if you’re in the Bay Area it might be worth checking out. First, the other panelists are pretty awesome: Tim Griffith, Emily Hagopian, & David Duncan Livingston.

Second, the venue itself is the San Francisco AIA offices, which are pretty cool on their own merit.

When: Tuesday, October 6th, 2015, 6:00pm – 9:00pm

Where: 130 Sutter Street, Suite 600, San Francisco

And here’s a link to the registration site.

See you there!

Ask Me Anything! But not ’til Friday

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Tune in Friday, September 25th, at Noon Pacific time and Ask Me Anything you want to know about architectural photography, interiors photography, and anything else you want to know. The only thing that’s NOT on the agenda is my recipe for buttermilk pancakes, which I’m taking to the grave with me.

See you there!