Anchorage, Architecturally Speaking

In my travels to Anchorage, AK I discovered much more than just beautiful, modern homes. This city is a winter wonderland filled with amazing people living and incredible way of life.

When I was hired by Anchorage Architects Liz Olberding and Petra Wilm to photograph a mixture of residential and commercial buildings in the middle of the Alaska winter I was ecstatic. Being from Chicago I am no stranger to the cold. What I wasn’t used to was the low hanging and only sometimes present sun. With a sunrise at around 10:30 and a sunset around 3:45 this was going to be a new experience. In addition to that when the sun is out it just sort of hangs in the south and doesn’t get too high. After arriving my first priority was to scout the various properties and make sure I knew exactly when I should be in each location to capture the buildings.

The most important factor in architectural photography is timing. It’s everything. You have to find that sweet spot where the ambient light of the background and that of the building are in harmony. Unless of course you’re going for your basic day-time or long exposure night shot. But even in these cases the matter of timing and time of day play a huge role. At sunset the difference of 15 minutes could be the deciding factor between a great photo or a mediocre one.

Another important step to shooting in these circumstances is bracketing. Always capture multiple images at, above and below the normal exposure values. While I typically think photographers really over exaggerate HRD (High Dynamic Range) photos, when done subtly this technique can really help to fill in important details and balance the lighting of your subject and background. Especially at dawn and dusk. From what I’ve learned about winters in Alaska this is the majority of the time.

Keeping straight lines can sometimes be a challenge with architectural photography. Luckily with today’s engineering we have access to tilt-shift lenses. With a tilt-shift lens you can set your tripod close the building without needing to angle your lens upward which would cause the angles of the building to converge at the top. Keep your lens parallel to the building and shift the base of the lens upward and you’ll be able to capture the building bottom to top with no distortion. To help me line these images up I use a product called CamRanger linked to my iPad mini to give me a larger live view and image review. While this isn’t absolutely necessary it will make your life much easier.

I look forward to visiting Anchorage again whether for work or simply to enjoy the scenery. A lot of cities are near mountains. Anchorage is surrounded by not just massive mountain ranges but also a beautiful coast. I even had the chance to play some ice hockey on a frozen lagoon. Be sure to add this city to your bucket list destinations.

 (Brendan Shanley)
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 (Brendan Shanley) (Brendan Shanley)