Architecture, photography, speculation and scandal from the Middle Kingdom

Archive for March, 2012

China National Tennis Center : Atelier 11 Architects

As an architectural photographer based in Beijing sometimes it can be frustrating not having a huge array of architectural styles to visit and boost your portfolio with. But in this building I found an unusually pleasing use of hardlined structure and concrete finishing. In the process of architectural photography I want to test myself on buildings that have innate integrity and elegance without the embellishments or extraneous details that often become process in a rapidy growing country, where better to look for such a example  than a communist stadium.

So I arrived at the location and it’s desolate and empty, cold and windy, surrounded by a big fence and a little guard house.

Guard walkby – first take, not enough courage, story not fully formed, no bottle.  Seemless 180 degree turn and back to entrance. “Hi I’m here to take photograph for a big magazine”, the jovial teenage guard keeper smiled, let me in, probably the most engagement he’s had on the job thus far.  Well, at least until his boss finds me and gives him a bollocking. Knowing that my time was limited and that I had only managed to break through the first chink in the armor, I rapidly set up tripod and snap away at different locations.  It’s funny how the first shot you take is often the best of the day, the rest tend to gradually become fillers. After 20mins or so someone important does shoo me away, I pack up and leave, job done.

Stadium elevation, architectural photography by Nathaniel McMahon

West elevation of Stadium

A rare clear blue sky in Beijing, perfect backdrop for the image below, sets of the sandy tone of the concrete perfectly. I was waiting for as long a possible for a little schoolkid to come running over the horizon waving the red flag of china, but alas it’s never quite as good as the adverts.

view of concourse

Architectural photography by Nathaniel McMahon- China National Tennis Stadium



HDR Architectural shoot Beijing

Elevation image relying heavily on HDR processing

Architectural Photography shoot for Parklex last week. Their wood facade system here employed behind a glazed curtain wall.

I started using Photomatrix HDR software for these images instead of the usual Photoshop HDR pro inbuilt feature.  Photomatrix is a software hailed by creators of the more extreme overindulgant togs looking for that surreal painterly effect.  But with a little restraint can actually be tamed to produce a more realistic view (i.e. what we actually see) and there fore more suitable for use in architectural photography. This is down to the dynamic range limitations of camera sensors.

  • Compared to a camera sensor the human eye has a dynamic range that can encompass a lot more (example: a view where we can see details in the darkness and still see details in the brightness would require a camera to expose two shots at different exposures, one to capture the shadows and one to capture the highlights, as both do not fall within the range a camera can capture in one exposure).  Actually as I write this I just found a wiki article on the human eye stating that the human eye has a dynamic range of just 6 stops, below the 10 typical of modern professional DSLR’s. Which makes me think that our brain is perhaps processing a range of captures that result in what we see, which may be a part of the reason why in the morning when we first open our eyes our vision is severely hampered and things seem to bright and with too much contrast.  In effect what we see is a composite HDR image. This requires more thought… will write more later.Actually this article on dynamic range states that the eye has a range of about 17 stops which would make more sense, interesting technical reading at Eye to Eye Cameras and Vision, goes into how our vision is comprised from rods in our eyeballs to the methods the brain uses to interpret the information.

I wouldn’t say Photomatrix is purely a image processor as it seems to add it’s own effects that are add-ons rather than image tone generated purely from algorithms working on the images you feed it. i.e it seems to add some special effects of its own. But these can be tamed fairly easily with manipulations of its sliders, to get acceptable non-surreal images. And the rendering I get from it far surpass what Photoshop produces. For some reason colors tend to go awry a little with the photoshop produced HDR images and the details are less spectacular and at the same time less balanced. I think Adobe has spent little time developing this side of things and would not be surprised if future versions of their HDR Pro plugin are based on offerings by the likes of the people behind Photomatrix.

The few shots below I think vary on the scales of realism but while some would be better suited to an advertising backdrop image than for architectural representation purposes.   The clients favorite was the interior image with the sunlight wrapping round the curved wood facade towards the camera.

As with all things your sense of taste can easily become lost after working hours on a couple of HDR images, and you can wake up in the morning and find that great work you worked into the night for looks like cheap kitsch Google+ fanboy imagery. I’d be interested in your comments…



interior view of curtain wall and timber facade

Architectural view between skins of a building with sun filtering through.

HDR version


Elevation image relying heavily on HDR processing

With HDR

Non-HDR version