Pardon Me, But You’re Blocking My Building

Architectural photography is a wonderful occupation.  When I am shooting for a client, such as a decorator, developer or architect, I usually have free reign to take my photographs with little interference. If there are intrusions, I can work around them or them around me.  Recently, I photographed a restaurant for a client during lunch service. I tried to be out of the way of staff and customers, and everyone was very accommodating. The wait staff yielded to my efforts to get the best shots in a low light situation and the diners, while some looked curious, did not mind the lens clicking or my occasionally hanging over a booth.  Smooth going for the most part.  And the client was happy with the shots!

By Ellen Fisch

By Ellen Fisch

Architectural art photography on the other hand is not as equable. If, for instance, I see a great doorway that would make a wonderful architectural/art photograph and people are standing about, I cannot ask them to move out of the way so I can shoot the marvelous stone carvings. Well, I can, but they are not always cooperative and I shy away from the looooong conversations about photography with people on the street which may ensue after the folks displace themselves for the benefit of my photo shoot.  In situations when people are blocking my shot I am mentally Photoshopping the bystanders out or willing them to move. It becomes difficult when there are time constraints on the photographs, such as an upcoming exhibit of my images or when I’m out for the art photo shoot, the light is fading and I just can’t will the people out of the frame of my architectural focus.

One particular incident motivated me to devise some good strategies for keeping my cool and getting my architectural shots despite people blocking my buildings. A few years ago I did a photo essay about Wall Street, the final images of which were presented in several exhibitions in and around NYC. The photographs were later to be used as promotional materials for the Museum of American Finance which is located on Wall Street. Wall Street is always heavily trafficked in the day and at night there is little light to get the night shots that I could take in say Times Square.  So I tried to think of a time when I could photograph the iconic buildings of Wall Street and the surrounding area in some good light with few people around.  I thought an August (most traders/brokers, etc. on vacation, right?) early Sunday morning (not too many people around since the Exchange and many restaurant/businesses catering to Exchange workers are closed on Sundays) would be perfect.  I awoke in Long Island at 4 a.m. and packed my gear.  I’m a slow starter so I finally got to the centrally located parking lot (taking no chances of train delays, I drove in) which opened at 7 a.m.  I walked three blocks to Wall Street and arrived excited and ready to take photos exactly at the same time as eight huge tourist buses disgorged a few hundred eager tourists, ALL waving cameras. Hmmmm. What to do on an early Sunday morning in August on Wall Street with tourists crawling over every square inch of my photographs? Here are some tips:

  1. Go where people are leaving.  In other words, watch the crowds depart a given place and shoot that spot even if it is not your first choice. Surprisingly, it might be a good pick.
  2. Shoot above the people.  Take shots of architectural details high up on the buildings if people are blocking the lower stories.
  3. Stand resolutely on the spot you wish to shoot from and see if there is an opening in the traffic.  This works in two ways: People get the message and move out of the way (not usually). Or: Your patience might pay off with a few minutes of no foot traffic.
  4. Take architectural photos of iconic buildings in poor weather.  This has a downside in that the images may be poor as well. However, snowy or rainy days can offer charm and appeal.
  5. Plan to return if the place is too crowded.  This may not be possible when taking photos of far off places, but then again obscure locations may not have heavy concentrations of people getting in the way.
  6. Photoshop people out in post-production.
  7. Blur the people in post-production.
  8. Carry release forms on all shoots, just in case.
  9. Make people a part of the photograph as in shooting Grand Central Station and incorporating the commuters.
  10. Get a cup of coffee and regroup.  Waiting the people out will pay off eventually!

10 Responses to “Pardon Me, But You’re Blocking My Building”

  1. Or you could just take several frames with people moving about and then use the statistics feature in photoshop to automatically remove the things that change between frames (the people).

  2. Thanks for the article!

    I sometimes use long exposures so the people blur out. If you can get your exposure long enough there will be no people in the shot whatsoever.

    Stacking a lot of photos in photoshop and combing the 'empty' parts of all the photos works too...

  3. Great tips, Minse! Yesterday I was photoshopping a shot of a street with some beautiful brownstones taken in Greenwich Village. I used motion blur on the people, using the angle that they were walking in. The finished image looked interesting because the people seemed to be moving as a contrast to the wonderful (and stationary!)architecture. I "stack" sometimes & will play around with your exposure ideas. THANKS!!

  4. The following link shines some more light on a real time saving technique when stacking photos.

    Basically you take a couple of photos (more than three) and make photoshop calculate the stationary items in the shot.

  5. Thanks for the link! Meant to say that your site is wonderful, Minse! Beautiful photography!!

  6. Thanks, Ellen! I'm in the process of starting my own business after years of working as a consultant. Your comments are much appreciated. The articles on Black Star are inspiring.

    Love your architectural photos!

  7. Thank YOU, Minse! I wish you all the best & much success!! I too find the Black Star Rising articles inspiring!

  8. Absolutely, Brian! Post production is key to many of my images. Photoshop is a truly great problem solver. Thank you!!

  9. Great hints. Always love the responses as well as the original info on This site.

  10. Thanks, Roslyn! I was just at NYC's High Line: talk about trying to take pix! There were hundreds (literally) of people up there enjoying the nice weather. I was glad to join them even if I didn't get all the shots I had hoped for. Luck & flexibility have helped me....and as you noted, the wisdom of other photographers!

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