I’ve been working with Mike Kelley for the last few years. I’ve represented him, I’ve negotiated stock sales for him, and most importantly have kept a friendly rapport with someone I believe to be one of the best architecture & interiors shooters in the world.
In an effort to share some of the magic that Mike creates, I’ve asked him a simple series of questions that would be beneficial for anyone looking to get into shooting architecture and interiors. If there’s something that I missed, ask the question in the comments and I’ll get Mike to respond in due time.
CA: What gear do you use?
MK: I get this question a lot so I’ve put together a page which details everything I use. You can check it out by clicking here, and it goes over every little piece! That being said, I’m also of the opinion that the gear isn’t the end-all-be-all. A good picture is going to be a good picture whether it’s shot on sheet film, a Canon rebel, or a medium format digital back. I personally use Canon DSLRs with mostly Canon Tilt Shift lenses and a lighting kit that generally confuses anyone but me (my assistants included). Again, I think light is light, the only thing that really helps is having a ton of power. You can also check out the ‘resources’ page linked in my About section to get a feel for my favorites.
CA: How did you get started in architectural photography?
MK: Long story. Here’s the Reader’s Digest version: At the time, I was living in the Lake Tahoe area with aspirations of becoming a professional snowboarder. I got a head laceration requiring 15 stitches and while recovering at the hospital, met a friend of a friend who referred me to my first client who was working in the high end custom real estate market in the area. I had a week to learn everything I could about architectural photography. Luckily, I had a background in fine art through studying sculpture, painting, and digital media in high school and college. By the skin of my teeth, I knocked the first job out of the park. Repeat business ensued. I kept getting hurt while snowboarding, so finally decided to call it quits on the ‘snowboard career’. I threw all of my money into marketing my photography business, went door to door, got a solid client base of Designers, Architects, and Luxury Home Agents.
After a few years in Tahoe, I decided it was time for a change of scenery. I made a snap decision to move to Los Angeles, one of the world’s most prominent cities when it comes to photography, art, design, and architecture. I started the marketing engine all over again, and here I am many years later.
CA: How did you develop your methods for photographing architecture?
MK: Many would consider me to be ‘self taught’, but it isn’t as simple as that. Of course, there was a lot of reading and studying, lots of practice both on location and in front of the computer, and a lot of advice from some very, very generous people who have offered their help ad nauseum. There are so many artists and photographers who have offered help and advice over the years that it would be impossible to recount them all here, but make no mistake; my techniques were built on the shoulders of those who came before me. I may have put my own spin on it, but by looking at photographs I liked, reverse engineering them, and copying the artists of the past, I was able to come up with a style that I found fit my mindset. This may sound redundant, but the best way to learn I’ve found, is just by doing. Just go out and experiment with your camera, bring it home and spend hours and hours on photoshop and searching your questions on the internet – it’s amazing how much information you can get just by searching. I still do that even to this day.
CA: Are you looking for an assistant? How can I assist you?
MK: I unfortunately am not currently looking for assistants.
CA: Can you critique my work or offer business advice?
MK: Due to the volume of emails I get on the subject, the answer is probably not. I am happy to offer some advice and guidance, but I’m not going to do your homework for you. There are so many variables in every question I get, the answer is always going to be different. A lot of the time, you just cannot learn by me telling you — you need to experience it first hand. Market conditions, client needs, the location, your expertise, your business skills and countless other variables come into play on every job, so it’s hard to really give good advice on these things. If, however, you are in the Los Angeles area, either passing through or otherwise, I might be up to grabbing lunch or a coffee, provided my schedule allows it.
CA: Do you offer any workshops or seminars?
MK: I do not offer any workshops on a regular schedule, but I have joined up with Fstoppers to offer a workshop at their Atlantis Resort Workshop that happens in May and June each year. If you can’t make it to the workshop, I would recommend my tutorial ‘Where Art Meets Architecture: How to Photograph Real Estate, Architecture, and Interiors’ which is also produced by Fstoppers. That will cover most of my workflow from start to finish.
CA: Do you have any more information about your tutorials?
MK: I’ve created a page with a lot of information and reviews that can be seen by clicking here, or you can navigate here to see the tutorial and the reviews at fstoppers.com.
CA: How do you make your pictures look the way they do?
MK: It’s a combination of natural daylight, ambient light from what I’m photographing, as well as artificial light from strobes and/or hot lights. Basically, it’s just a lot of controlled mixing of light. Check out the short videos below which give some great insight into my process.
Be sure to watch full screen to see the details! In this video I show you everything that goes into an architectural exterior, from setup, taking each individual exposure, and combining all of them together in Photoshop to make the final image. For bookings, questions, or comments, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
CA: Are there any free resources that you’d recommend for learning this type of photography?
MK: Below, I have put together a number of articles that detail the techniques and ideology that I use to create my photographs.
- FS Original: Mike Kelley Shows the Secrets to Shooting Architectural Images
- Michael Kelley: Two-Speedlight Architectural Photography
- The Incredible History And Craftsmanship Behind Architecture’s Most Famous Photographs
- Flash Vs. HDR For Interiors And Real Estate Photography, Part II: Mood And Color Case Study
- Fstoppers Reviews The CamRanger: The Best Thing To Happen To Shooting Tethered…Ever.
- HDR Vs. Flash For Interiors And Real Estate Photography
- [BTS] The Anatomy of a Luxury Interior Shot
- Eleven Beautiful Architectural Photographs And How They Were Made
- Taking Your Interior and Architectural Photography to the Next Level