Typically when we think of suburban architectural photography, we think of real estate photos which are not known for being very artistic or exciting. However, taking pictures of domestic spaces can be quite an interesting niche – and lots of people are interested in seeing how other people live.
Suburban architecture can canvas everything from new minimalist houses, estates or mansions, old country cottages, houses with fancy gardens and even just homes that just have a lot of character.
So what’s the difference between shooting commercial buildings and domestic homes?
In commercial architectural photography, the common aim is to get the entire building in the frame, to show off the scale and the grandeur, the curves and features; the architect’s thumb print you might say. Lighting and carefully planned angles help to make them look more impressive.
Domestic architectural photography however has a much more laid back approach. It’s more about capturing the atmosphere, the finer details and the residents that live there. It almost becomes a type of documentary photography. Think of certain cities that are synonymous with certain types of architecture such as the Painted Ladies in San Francisco, brownstone terraces in New York or the white cyclade houses of the Greek Islands. They are all just regular homes where ordinary people live, but they speak volumes about the communities and cultures where they are built.
Creative ways to capture the domestic landscape
1) Emphasise details
Because suburban architecture photography is all about capturing the local atmosphere, that mean that the entire house doesn't necessarily have to be in the photo. Notice how in the photo below, the doors have been singled out as the focal point. Their quirky colours have caught the attention of the photographer.
In much the same way, this viny tree has become the focal point of this home.
In the next photo, the house has been pushed out of focus altogether. But the warm inside lights draws our attention to the top right corner.
Sometimes perfect timing is what makes a great domestic shot. If you can, observe one location at different times of day. See how the overall atmosphere changes with the colour of the light. For example, in the photo below the rainfall has helped to reflect the warm interior lights and the colour of the setting sun. Normally rain would be a photographer’s nightmare!
3) Look for patterns
When in the city, or amongst terrace houses, use the opportunity to capture an entire street or an area of repeating houses. Repetition and patterns make wonderful ambiguous or fine art photographs.
4) Try a different angle.
Often the unexpected angle is also the most eye catching. I’m sure this house isn’t actually falling into the earth, but the angle of capture makes it appear as though it is.
As well as trying different angles, you might try shooting from a higher vantage point. Is there a hill or mountain view that overlooks the suburb or street you want to capture? Likewise a view from below looking up can be just as visually effective.
5) Capture the residents
Another approach to documenting homes and communities is to include the people who live there. You could do this in proper portraiture style with posing, or candidly, as people potter about their home or street.
I find that people are more relaxed when doing their own thing, in their own private sanctuaries, and this makes for more intimate and more compelling photos.
A word of warning
Fortunately in Australia, our rules regarding copyright and photographic privacy are fairly lax. As long as you’re outside of a property and not trespassing, you do have the right to photograph a property from the outside. However, you should still always respect boundaries. If there are signs to the contrary or someone asks you to leave or stop shooting, always be polite and move on.
But if given the chance, explain why you’re taking the photo. Tell the owner that you like the character of their house, their old brick walls or their manicured gardens. They may be happy enough to let you keep taking photos, or even to enter the perimeter.