This Philadelphia twilight view shows the proximity of Public Ledger Building’s (12 story building on right) to world famous Independence Hall with the steeple.

This Philadelphia twilight view shows the proximity of Public Ledger Building’s (12 story building on right) to world famous Independence Hall with the steeple.

While I list my occupation on my tax return as “architectural photographer,” I prefer to answer people who ask what it is that I do for a living with a simple “I shoot buildings.” It usually leads to a much more interesting conversation, as I first have to reassure them that I am indeed a photographer and not in the demolition business. 

“How did you get into that?” is often the next question, or “I didn’t know you could specialize in that.” And it goes from there. But, on occasion, I get asked something unexpected, like if there’s a difference between photographing a building in the city and photographing one in a more suburban setting. 

That’s a good one.  And since I love cities, but live in the suburbs, one worth considering here.

Triad, a revitalized suburban office building in a park-like setting.

Triad, a revitalized suburban office building in a park-like setting.

Many of the projects that I photograph are office buildings. It’s my job to make a building, regardless of where it is, look its best and make the viewer want to be there, to either work there, live there, or both. Creating desire is the centerpiece of marketing.

In a city, square footage is priced at a premium. Space is restricted and tight. Streets can be narrow. So the vantage points from which to shoot a specific building can be limited. In some ways, that makes my job a little easier. Less choice in these situations isn’t always a bad thing.

There’s also more activity in a city – more people, more traffic – so finding just the right time of day (or night) can be an additional challenge. Bottom line? More pre-planning.

Sure, there can be busy suburbs, but the variables are usually easier to manage.

5 Tower Bridge, Conshohocken, PA (All the cars are underneath in a parking garage.)

5 Tower Bridge, Conshohocken, PA (All the cars are underneath in a parking garage.)

2 West Liberty Blvd., Malvern, PA (Look Mom, no cars!)

2 West Liberty Blvd., Malvern, PA (Look Mom, no cars!)

123 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. Imagine no cars on the street—eerie.

123 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. Imagine no cars on the street—eerie.

Traditionally, these locations have green spaces and lots of parking. Navigating cars and parking lots is a common challenge here. In a city setting, we accept that cars fill the streets. In fact, it would look weird – unintentionally eerie – if there were no cars in the shot. Yet in the suburbs, we imagine a park-like utopia where cars are somehow invisible, even though they’re the primary way people travel to and from suburban locations.

Suburban offices are also shorter and more spread out. Many of these campuses have been designed to maximize flexibility for tenants and their employees. So my assignments will also call for capturing amenities like eateries, fitness centers and places to just hang out.

Mellon Bank Center: view up from the street, view from a neighboring skyscraper.

Mellon Bank Center: view up from the street, view from a neighboring skyscraper.

For city shoots, the emphasis is usually on height and grandeur. After all, the modern skyscraper got started in Chicago because land was limited and expensive. Building higher meant a landowner could get more rent from a single parcel of land. Yet, building amenities are becoming more a part of my recent work in urban settings.

Offices: City vs Suburbs

       City

  • More dense
  • More restricted camera angles
  • Land is pricier
  • Pricey land led to skyscrapers
  • Buildings are higher
  • More activity – people, vehicles
  • Landscape often not as important
  • Nighttime traffic can add drama

   

    Suburb

    • Park-like
    • More green
    • More space
    • Camera angles less restrictive
    • Parking lots
    • Do you show cars or not?
    • Lower scale buildings
    • Easier to fly a drone safely

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