Today, I’ll discuss the challenge of going out and photographing the exterior of the London Public Library, Central Library Branch. In architectural photography, every location has some sort of challenge to overcome. This challenge is why architecture photographers love the ability to check out the building or space before the day of the official shoot. To check out the location prior to the shoot is scouting. Maybe you remember me bringing up scouting in a previous post on how to improve your architectural photography on gloomy days. Scouting can be very helpful so that you can identify the biggest challenge you’ll need to overcome and get familiar with a number of other elements.
I’ll share an example of some of my scouting architectural photography with commentary. These images here are shot a few days previous outside the London Public Library, Central Library, on Dundas Street.
I think you might ask why this location or building. I am a curious person and scouting London Public Library is on my list for a challenge:
- Dundas St is being ripped up to create Dundas Place and I couldn’t remember if this area of the street would be part of that construction soon. I wanted to try and get the photos before a potentially big change to the streetscape.
- This is a tight location and photographing the majority of the architecture is not easy. I wanted to know if I could overcome it.
- My curiosity continued to eat away at me. I couldn’t stop wondering how the light and architecture would play at sunset.
- Twilight also peaked my interest and I had to go check it out
- When would be the best time to shoot for the next visit?
- And, I struggled to find high-quality architectural photography of Central Library (mainly using Google Image Search). Not only that, I hadn’t seen a straight on photo, from directly across the street, capturing the majority of it.
- This will also help me in future shoots when conditions are much the same.
With those reasons, I set out to shoot some scouting type architectural photography and overcome the challenges present.
Keep in mind, I’m taking this study on myself as part of my mission to present London in an attractive and modern way to the world.
Architectural Photography, Scouting The London Public Library
To start, I wanted to see if I could get the majority of the Library’s frontage into an image because I’d never seen this shot before. Plus, I love these images. It was instantly apparent that you’d need to shoot multiple images, creating a panorama type final image. Anyone could do this with whatever lens or camera but it’s just more random and may require many more photos. Random in the sense that you’re clicking your shutter button on the building and hoping to get enough photos and overlap that Photoshop will be able to create a share stitched image in the end. This is if you are aware of the possibility or photoshop work.
When you have the right tools for the job, capturing the front of Central Library becomes a pretty simple process. In the end, I come away with an image was maybe 75-80mp. I could be exaggerating but the image was getting close to double the 42mp of what my camera is putting out.
The location is so tight! So what’s the right tool?
A tilt-shift lens. Specifically, I was using the Canon 17mm TS-E because Dundas Street is so tight and even tighter with parked cars. By using a tilt-shift, I could shift the lens in multiple directions to cover everything. There did feel like there was a bit of distortion at the side edges making the cars look long. Ideally, I don’t think I want any parked cars here for this shot or maybe one on the right to potentially balance the bike rack. This means I’m probably want to attempt a sunrise shoot for this shot because there is less likelihood of cars here. However, I still want people on the street and may require assistance or models to help me add people to my architectural images.
As an example, here is what I would have captured if I only took one photo:
Photoshop those photos
This is what a regular 17mm lens would have captured in a single photo. I’m sure there’s someone that could have shot it at 10mm and maybe it captured everything; however, those images are typically very distorted and I think you’d end up potentially losing some architecture trying to correct the distortion and perspective issues.
From here, I shifted the lens around its rotations and ended up with 8 or 9 photos. I did it rather quickly and forgot to focus on the far left side shot. So it’s definitely soft. At this point, I was experimenting and just wanted to know if I could go home and stitch the images. I knew I’d be back again.
The stitching to create the panorama didn’t work properly in Lightroom Classic CC. I don’t know why. Photoshop did a great job though!
The Entire London Public Library from Straight On
There was still work to do. Fixing the sky and bringing out its colour. As well, the horizontals and verticals weren’t right. And to be honest, I am still trying to figure out what’s going on there. My belief is that I need to be better in line with the centre of the library. I might have needed to be a step to my right. Let me know if you think something isn’t straight or if something just looks off to you too.
Anyway, I fixed the initial version of the pano to look like this:
Eyes Playing Tricks
My eyes feel as if the building is on tilt or something. It could be a number of things that are playing with my eyes, such as the building above the library in the top left corner, the signage in front of the doors, the red CBC London sign making the left feel a bit heavier, and light, shadows, and reflections. I’d definitely get opinions from others if this was not a scout. So, being a bit confused still, I tried cropping the image to remove the building in the top left corner:
I am happy with the fact that I know I can get one of the shots of the building that I love shooting: straight on. For a finalized photo, I’d want a few tweaks to what’s in the frame and remove distractions if desired. Those street signs at the entrance are always the enemy of architectural photographers. The scouting photography was enough proof of concept and I didn’t need to spend my time removing the signage.
With that vision captured to stitch at back home, I wanted to try and angle looking down Dundas to Wellington St. But, I’ve definitely noted that a twilight image straight on would be very interesting to get too.
How does Central Library Change with the Setting Sun?
The light was soon to start changing. I decided to only get one more vantage point, but get a few images of that vantage point in changing light. This time, I would go for a single shot instead of multiple shifts and photos to combine. Let me just say, scouting buildings in nice light is much more fun over gloomy days. Check out how Central Library looks as we go into the night:
In the last photo, the night image, there is a lot of light pollution. The streetlight was leaking into the frame and I had no way to block it unless I moved. I didn’t bring anything with me to flag that light from hitting the 17mm lens…not even the lens hood. I was pretty limited in where to stand and shoot due to the traffic and parking. All of these issues could be solved with early morning photos. I did enjoy all of the people that came out of the library at the closing time though. All of the foot traffic helps to make the image even more dynamic.
Response from Community
So far, I’ve only shared the photo before sunset on social media. I love when I get a positive response that relates to a photo in London.
And a Bonus Creative Edit
Also, I created an especially creative edit to the night photo. Picture this area as a movie set and filming about to happen. These kinds of edits are for me to simply get into a state of play. I allow myself to try different features and tools in post-processing software and it usually leads to learning something new. The night image of Central Library is perfect here because of the light leak. I’ve just shared this edit on another photo-sharing platform called YouPic and it’s been so well received. Great site to get a feel for that.
Scouting Helped Answer My Curiosities
Just to end this behind the scenes look at my scouting architectural photography of the London Public Library exterior on Dundas Street, I should go over what I solved regarding my initial curiosities in the beginning:
- Dundas Street, in front of Central Library, is not under construction now. I still can’t recall if it might be soon. I should go back again soon.
- It is a tight area and challenging but nothing I can’t handle with my 17mm Tilt-Shift Lens and shifting to create a big panorama. Shifting and shooting quickly will be done so that too much doesn’t change in the scene. I still wonder if getting on the roof across the street could be useful. I could talk to Attic Books to see if they have access.
- They play well together! It’s worth shooting for hours.
- Twilight or a night image about 1 hr after sunset looks great as all the lights are on inside. As well, it’s closing time and there is a lot of activity at this time. London’s downtown is alive.
- There may not be the best time. Sunrise could prove best to capture architecture without parked cars, but this isn’t a guarantee. Sunrise may not look as dynamic as I believe the sun will rise behind the building leaving it in shadow and potentially flat. However, I’ve captured some of my fave photos in this kind of situation and I won’t discount it.
- Few photos of the exterior for much the same reason there were few of The Cube building. It’s tough to get things right. Specialized photography equipment and experienced post-processing skills yield the best results. A specialized architectural photographer runs into these issues and overcomes them.
- With more attention, I’d remove the street signs and any distractions.
- Bring an assistant to help block a light leaking into the frame. Potentially have another person as a model if the streets are not busy, ie very early in the morning.
Even when not shooting for clients, I try to ensure I’m shooting everyday anyways. These trips help to put me in the difficult situations I face during shoots for clients.
I haven’t normally shared these kinds of scouting images or my thoughts behind them. Usually, everyone else is sharing their bangers and a bad picture is never taken. This post is like a look into my sketchbook and I wrote way too many pages, ha.
Thanks for checking this out if you made it to the bottom!
Also, check out the recent interior photography of the Central Library, London Public Libary.