The Creative Process: Mobile Photography, Architecture

Let's begin this by setting the score: I'm not a photographer. I love taking pictures, but I don't have a camera nor any professional photography training. I also don't know how to use Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom to post-process my photos (I might've stressed this over a dozen times, but I'm telling it again because this is very important). All I have is my phone, a few post-processing apps and that's it. There's no elaborate magic on what goes behind every photo I take.

I've been getting a lot of questions on how I capture my images, and this is me giving in. For the next couple of weeks, I'll be sharing my process on the different types of photography I do but remember, this is not a masterclass on mobile photography — this is just me and my process. Even a non-photographer can get on board with this. I do hope you can pick up a few tricks to help you get a headstart on mobile photography. Or perhaps develop your own style.

  Post-processed (color enhancement and alignment)

Post-processed (color enhancement and alignment)

Getting Started

The Subject
The subject of your photo is often not there in front of you until you look at it for a moment longer than usual. Sometimes it's not even special (making it speak to your audience is another thing). Half of the time, your subject only appeals to you because you're the only one who can see it. In my case, I've been dabbling in still life, architecture and street photography and most of my subjects were surprises or chance encounters if you could call it. It could be those buildings with great design I happen to pass by, clouds with intricacy on them or candies I saw in the supermarket. It's your subject, and you might as well take whatever the hell you want because the majority of the photos you'll find in your camera roll are awful ones until you get better and better in spotting decent subjects. Although sometimes, even with a bad photo, if you're pretty good with post-processing, you can get away with it.

Point and Shoot
I was talking about chance encounters and I have a lot of experiences with them. I think the beauty of a smartphone's camera is that it allows you to get the shot before it disappears, and that's handy because we're not pros here. A subject could be gone in a blink and your reaction time should be as fast as your reaction when you spot good food. Not to give you some pressure but you can rely on your instincts if it's a good subject or not. Trust me.

Your Arsenal
Let's not kid ourselves here, we're all guilty of being glued to our phones and in this case, that is a great thing. Point and shoot, remember? We're done with the usual introductory and it's time to put those cameras to work.

  Horizontal orientation, post-processed.

Horizontal orientation, post-processed.

Architectural Photography

I feel like I should include a definition for this type of photography but it seems a little textbook-ish so let's just skip that. All you need to know is that this involves taking photos of buildings and concrete structures, making them look visually appealing and providing physical and spatial experiences.

The key elements I look for when I shoot skyscrapers are the following:
a. Structure
b. Design
c. Edges
d. Details
e. Negative space

  Raw shot of a condemned building in a particular angle/perspective.

Raw shot of a condemned building in a particular angle/perspective.

How to Take the Shot

1. Open your phone's camera.
2. Enabling Grids. This is one of the most useful yet often overlooked features on your camera, especially for this type of photography. Grids can help you get the right symmetry for your photos. Get those vertical and horizontal lines straight, fellas.
3. Finding an angle. Get the angle that could highlight the building's design, edges or both. The money shot is for the building to look edgier, sharper than it is.
4. Pick an orientation. Some architecture images look better in landscape orientation, while some does work in portrait. This is more like a judgment call similar to angles. One tip I can give you is this:

Wide buildings = horizontal
Tall buildings = portrait

5. Look for details. Every building has a unique feature. It can be a maze-type ceiling, slopes, or anything that stands out on the entire structure.
6. The right lighting. If you're out in broad daylight, you've no problems getting the shot. One thing about most architecture photos is that they look clean, bright and minimalist. They also look colorful than usual (but you can do that in post later on).
* If you're an iPhone user, you can adjust the brightness of your camera by simply pressing the screen and dragging your finger up or down/left or right depending on your camera's orientation.

7. Zooming in or not. I often try not to zoom in when I take architecture photos as the quality of the image doesn't quite get the sharpness of the subject, especially if you're shooting in low light. But again, if you think zooming in works to your liking, zoom away. It's nice to experiment.
8. Focus on the subject. Before taking the shot, you should consider if your frame isn't getting other background elements that could veer away the focus on the building. Make sure the backdrop is clean. If not, you can remove them when you post-process your photo.
9. Taking the shot. Once you've got all these steps figured out, start taking photos. Take handful ones, with different angles, brightness, and orientations. Your goal here is to have options. Choosing the right one can come after.

 Raw image

Raw image

 After post-processing (color enhancement) and cropping.

After post-processing (color enhancement) and cropping.

On Post-processing

Once you've chosen the perfect shot, it's time to get to the "visually appealing" part. People often have a love-hate relationship with editing photos but I think it helps you project your creative flair and vision for the photos you take. It doesn't necessarily have to reflect who you are in a negative way. Who wouldn't want to put out impressive work, right? As long as it's yours, that is.

The apps I use to post-process photos:
a. VSCO
b. Instagram

Optional:
a. Over (I use this occasionally, they have a few presets as well and photo editing features)
b.  Pixlr (If I have to clear up backdrops and achieve the negative space we're looking for)

  Raw image

Raw image

  After post-processing (color enhancement) and cropping.

After post-processing (color enhancement) and cropping.

Image controls involved in post-processing:
a. Filter/Presets
b. Brightness
c. Contrast
d. Highlight
e. Saturation
f. Sharpness
g. Alignment

Optional:
a. Shadow
b. Vignette
c. Lux

How to Edit Photos

I use some of the apps for different purposes as it helps me separate the elements I need to edit/enhance.

1. Choosing a preset. This is the first thing I do before I get to the nitty-gritty of post-processing an image. Upload the raw image on VSCO, then choose a preset. You can already blend the image controls on VSCO but what I only do is choose the preset on the app then save the image layered with the preset and save it on the camera roll.
2. Open the Instagram app, choose the image. Skip the filters and head straight to edit.

  Raw image

Raw image

  After post-processing, (negative space, alignment and color enhancement) and cropping.

After post-processing, (negative space, alignment and color enhancement) and cropping.

3. Align. The first image control I go into is the alignment. I'm a bit OC with symmetry so I had to get it right first before I move on to the rest. Chose the alignment according to your preference. The align button on the app helps you achieve the right symmetry, get the lines straight, or even enhance the subject's angles. This is very crucial for architectural shots.
4. Brightness and contrast. Once you're satisfied with your image's alignment, you can start blending the remaining image controls. I usually start with contrast or brightness to achieve the clean, bright minimalist vibe.
Sample Setup: High brightness, high contrast =  make your subject look more distinct, achieving that negative space for a minimalist look on your image.
Note: Tweak accordingly to your preference.

  Raw image

Raw image

 After post-processing (color enhancement) 

After post-processing (color enhancement) 

5. Lux. After settling on the right brightness/contrast mix, move to adjust Lux to add depth and texture to the subject. It's important that your image gives off a sense of feeling of a surface. If it's a condemned building, there should be a feeling of grunginess and roughness to it. For most skyscrapers, it has to be smooth with distinct edges.
6. Saturation, highlight and the rest are secondary. For me, these are only elements that add dynamics to your image. Some images don't need tweaking on these elements. I try to make it to the point that I only edit images to achieve the following: depth, color enhancement, and symmetry.

There are some cases when I have to do 2-3 layers of Instagram editing to achieve the particular visual aesthetic I want but it's up to you guys to determine how much enhancement you'd have to do to get the right vibe of your image. There are no right or wrongs. Only learning.

  Post-processed (color enhancement)

Post-processed (color enhancement)

And there you have it! I hope you're able to learn a thing or two from this. I'm stoked to see what you guys are gonna come up with! Feel free to show me your work by tagging me on your photos on Instagram (@cthpscl), or send me an email if you have questions.

Watch out for my next post, I'll be talking about still life or black and white photography. Maybe you can help me decide?