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Including people in architectural images

When photographing architecture, it’s easy to focus on the building itself and forget its purpose. While architecture is the main subject, it is important to capture how people are interacting with the building or space. This is why including people in your architectural images is key to convey the design. Architects and interior designers increasingly want people in the images they commission, especially for spaces like offices, university buildings, etc.

Upper Canada Mall, Toronto

Including bystanders

Oftentimes, including people means photographing strangers passing in your shots. This can be tricky, as you usually want a few people, but not too many, or it will look crowded and cluttered. In the image above, I only wanted a couple of people strategically placed: Someone on the benches, someone on the second floor and I had to wait patiently to frame someone walking by. It can take many tries before you get the right person in the right location.

In the image below, the client wanted to communicate how busy the place is since it’s located close to a train station. Shooting around noon, when people are walking out to lunch and eating on the benches, was key.

Telus House, Toronto

One of the best tricks to photograph people, especially inside, is to use a slow shutter speed to blur them slightly. It creates motion and blurs their faces, rendering them anonymous. To get enough blur, but not so much as to have them disappear, aim for a shutter speed between 1/20s and 1/2s. If they’re walking towards you, you’ll need a slower shutter than if they are walking by you.

Scarborough Town Centre, Toronto

Working with models

In some cases, I get to work with models, which gives you more options to create great images. For educational buildings, I’ve sometimes been able to work with students, which is always great.

The Bishop Strachan School, Toronto

You basically have two situations. In the image above, I set up my shots and waited for the students to do their thing, hoping to capture them in an interesting way. In the image below, I set up the furniture and position them to make a believable scene.

The Bishop Strachan School, Toronto

In other cases, my client will bring some of their staff to act as models. This is usually the best scenario, as they are invested in the photoshoot and therefore they are very easy to work with. And sometimes, I even end up in the shot!

Lundin Mining Office, Toronto

As you can see, including people makes the spaces look more lively and shows how the architecture and the design are used every day. It’s a powerful tool for architectural images.

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