Q&A - Bernard André Photography

Questions and Answers with Bernard André

How do you approach the art of photography?

I bring my classical education in art from the Sorbonne, coupled with 18 years experience as a professional photographer (see: Bio) to bear on every picture I take. When I look through the lens, I'm looking for a composition that will communicate the message the client wants to convey, coupled with a high degree of aesthetic appeal that will make viewer want to spend time with the image and form a warm emotional connection with the subject and, by extension, the client.

What is your process for creating architectural images?

First I carefully select my point of view. I always make sure that the composition is clear for the viewer. I pay attention to the intersection of each line within the frame. The different depths in the composition need to be easily identified by the viewer, unless we are working on producing an abstract image, to show color or texture combination only. I try to use different focal lengths throughout the same assignment in order to highlight different things. To show the layout of a room, I will use a special wide angle lens to give the viewer an amazing sense of depth and height. In order to show texture, colors or materials juxtaposition, I use a mid-range telephoto or even a macro lens. The different point of views combined with the use of the multiple focal-length lenses help the viewer understand the totality of the space. Lighting is obviously a big part of architectural photography. My philosophy about lighting is to add lights strictly in order to create an image that will look very close to what we think we see when we are physically present in the space. Without lighting, I would lose too many shadow and highlight details, I would have unwanted reflections, and the colors would be completely off-balance. (See the "Digital Retouching" section of my site for a few examples of images shot with natural light and with additional lights in order to show you exactly the benefit of lighting.) I use lights not only to balance the color, contrast and intensity of the different values, but also to shape the composition and the depth. Using digital photography has allowed me to light with more control than before.

The first step in any shoot is staging of the space. When needed, we remove the excess items in the rooms or add props. I try not to under-stage the rooms that I photograph: The space should look clean and neat, but also lived-in for the images to look credible. The staging is decided in collaboration with my client. Some firms insist on having people in each image, some just want very clean imagery to show their work. I listen to the client's wishes, offer other solutions and give my opinion, but I always respect my client's choice and direction. My clients always have the final word, as I never forget that I am here to create images for you, not me. If I feel strongly that I should photograph the space differently, I will offer to shoot my version at no additional charge, so you can decide later which image fulfills your need. Once you meet me, you will realize that I really enjoy the process of creating images with my clients. I may be expert in the art and science of architectural photography, but you know what you want to achieve. Only an active collaboration can achieve the results you want.

Tell me about your camera equipment?

After shooting with Hasselblad and 4X5 film cameras for 15 years, I never thought that I would ever shoot architecture using a digital SLR camera. Digital has now not only caught up with, but exceeds film results. My Nikon D3 digital camera, when coupled as I have it with the full line of Nikon professional lenses, has enhanced the quality of my images due to its amazing capability to mix different lights. Digital has revolutionized post-production and also allows me to turn around images in a fraction of the time, with presentation of a day's shoot to clients via the web in hours, instead of days.

What are the rules regarding licensing?

All the images created by "Bernard André Photography" are copyrighted. My clients are able to use the images for their marketing, web site, brochures, awards & publications. No other parties are allowed to use my images without prior written agreement. I retain the rights to all my images unless my client wants to purchase the full usage of my images for a 100% surcharge fee. I reserve the right to sell usage of my images to any other parties or subcontractors, however I will never knowingly sell images as stock to one of my clients' direct competitors or anyone that my clients ask me not to.

What is your policy when multiple parties want to share the fee of an assignment?

I often work for multiple parties on the same job. I post the scouting images online, so that, for example, the builder, architect & subcontractors can decide on the list of images that will be shot during the assignment. I charge a $500 usage fee to all extra parties, and divide the total fee by the number of parties sharing the images. My clients have been quite happy with this system, allowing them to stretch their marketing dollars.

What kind of computer equipment do you use?

For my digital work I invested in the best Apple computer and screen. My Apple 30" cinema display is regularly calibrated using the X-Rite color management system. My Mac Pro eight core has 16 Gigabyte of RAM, runs a second hard drive as a mirroring RAID. A third drive is installed as a Time Machine, so I can always go back in time in case any files are accidentally deleted.

Who does all the post-production digital work?

I insist on doing all the digital editing myself. This is the only way to maintain quality control throughout the entire process. When I take the original shot, I know exactly how I am going to edit each image. When I shoot digital, the majority of the work is done later in Photoshop. (See: "Digital Retouching" for how I go about it.) This allows me to move quickly during the shoot. It use to take me about 2 to 3 hours to light a scene; now I can do my lighting in 30 minutes, but I need to spend a lot of time in Photoshop to recompose all my frames and finish up the lighting in post-production. Lighting in post-production is a very important part of the creative process, and the reason why I insist on doing it myself. Because of the extended time in editing, I end up spending significantly more time per final image doing digital, but the results are consistently superior.

What is your opinion on digital enhancement?

With digital files there are no limits on retouching. My goal in using Photoshop is to make the space look real. I think that over-corrected images have a tendency to look manipulated. The small imperfections are what make the images look more credible. I see a lot of over-retouched images using automated systems within Photoshop or Photomatix to process HDR images. Unfortunately they look very fake as such systems, without human control, apply a uniform set of rules with no reference to context or goal. A photographer continues to need to be the one deciding where an image needs enhanced detail, not automated software. I do not ignore such automation, but I use it to preview, rather than produce. I layer many images shot at different exposures, then I use Photomatix, for example, to get a glimpse of what can be done with the set of images, but I then manually select each area that I want enhanced and those that should remain as they are. I want complete control over my shadow and highlight details in all my photographs.

Is your business fully insured?

I subscribe to commercial liability insurance through Travelers Insurance. If you need a certificate of insurance, just let me know 48 hours before the shoot, and I will have it faxed directly to you.

How fast can you deliver images?

I am able to shoot a job and post a selection of images the same day to your personal page on this site (accessed through Client Login at the top of this page). Usual turnaround for final editing on up to 12 images is three days.

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