In five years in photography, Artyom Arutyunov has gone from shooting landscapes to abstract architectural photography, and his VKontakte public has grown to 100,000 people.
We talked with Artyom and found out how he prepares for filming, what he pays attention to when processing, why he doesn’t like ultra-wide-angle lenses, and why he considers it important not to look at the work of other colleagues.
About the creative path and how to find your style
How did you get into architectural photography?
Pretty funny. I started with nature — I was attracted by the way it looks in the sunset light, what magical scenes can be obtained if you just lean down. But then I realized that it was banal and easy. And I decided to retrain myself. The choice fell on architectural photography, because at that moment I did not understand how to shoot a task beautifully in the context of making it look different from what it really is. That is, how to add something from yourself, because an architectural work is a finished product. I came to this skill only after five or six years of my creative path.
— Do you remember when you first photographed what became the hallmark of your style?
Then I took a picture of a statue in Kolomenskoye during flowering, and this picture went to everyone. After a friend said: “Artyom, if you like sculpture so much, let’s go to the Pushkin Museum.” It was at this point that the biggest shift in my photography took place — I was introduced to academic art, sculpture, Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic architecture. I fell in love with architecture. In its form, content, in the way historical epochs stand out from each other, what elements attract attention. At that moment, I had a click, and I began to purposefully shoot architecture.
— Are there any principles that you have carried over from past experience into architectural photography?
Refinement of color content, creation of a unique picture. Unfortunately, I did not transfer anything in terms of the form from the shooting of academic art. When you shoot it, you shoot what is, without inventing it. Otherwise, it may turn out to be nonsense, because there is a lot tied to the connection of chiaroscuro and color.
— Can you single out the personal principles of architectural photography that you try not to deviate from?
I have only one principle — to shoot architecture in such a way that there is nothing in the picture that would distract the viewer’s attention. Other objects, people, visual garbage. My goal is to convey architecture in the most abstract and meaningful way possible.
— What artists, photographers, directors inspire you? Who do you think influenced you the most?
I am self-taught, so for me the most important point is the lack of reference. I try not to contact other authors, not to take inspiring moments from films and other mass media products. I am a supporter of the maximum identification of myself with my activity, and I want it to be a reflection of my views on the world, principles, ideas. The moment I start replacing my ideas with references and something seen from the outside, I will start replacing my own identity.
I try to be in an information vacuum. For example, I almost never scroll through the Instagram and VK feeds. I love uncomplicated reason, pure flight of consciousness. Then you create the most “honest” product. Because it is yours, you saw it yourself, painted it yourself, filmed it yourself. If you come to a location to do like someone else, then this is already an unnecessary activity. There are already many such photographers, but I try to be myself.
— How to find your style in architectural photography?
You need to understand what you like, what touches you, makes you reflect, what would you like to show. Everything depends on the response, method and presentation. Architecture is a complete object. The people who built the building designed it to be as photogenic as possible. From myself, it remains to add only a look and perception. Architectural photography rests not on the idea, but on visual and aesthetic techniques. Therefore, the search for style is to follow your own taste preferences.
About preparation for shooting and technical equipment of a photographer-architecturalist
How do you choose a subject for shooting?
There are no clear criteria. Everything rests on my subjective perception, a sense of aesthetics and beauty. That is, if I understand that I can shoot this object somehow wrong, bring something authorial, then I take up shooting.
How do you prepare for filming?
It’s all pretty prosaic. I go to the site suncalc.net and, if the object is in Moscow, I definitely look at the sundial to understand what time is best to be there so as not to shoot against the light. I also often get along with the cards, because going through the whole of Moscow is a rather difficult task. Of course, I did it, because I shoot architecture for a long time, but just wandering around the industrial zones is a stupid idea. Therefore, it is better to study the panoramas, highlight the areas where it is most interesting to shoot. I call it “location scouting”.
- What technique do you use?
Often architects first of all buy ultra-wide lenses like 11–24mm, 17–35mm, fisheye. But I advise you to work on 24mm. Ultra-wide angles greatly distort the perspective, the lines become crooked.
If you like a wide angle, great. But I think that the architecture should be corrected in post-processing. There are features of focal lengths, distortions, natural distortions. And, if you shoot at a wide angle, especially at 15mm, then the picture will always fit you. Do you need such a wide angle? In Moscow, there are few places and even the interiors of cathedrals, museums, where 15mm is applicable.
— Have there been cases when you were not allowed to photograph the selected object?
There is such a joke. How to understand where you are? If every five minutes a guard who has the watchman’s syndrome and who forbids filming does not come up, then you are not on the territory of the post-Soviet space. In no other country have I ever been approached with this question.
Another problem is that in fact we can not shoot temples. As soon as you enter the temple and raise the camera, you are immediately surrounded by guards, abbots. In Europe, I can freely shoot almost all cathedrals without using a tripod and flash. In Russia, you need to get permission. For example, photography is prohibited in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. To do this, you need to write to the abbot, ask for permission, and then show it to each guard, because absolutely everyone will approach you. It kills the fun of the process, it makes no sense. I am for people to enjoy, so that certain processes do not turn into torture.
How important is post-processing to you?
Post-production is the most important thing for me. For example, in interior shooting there are often a lot of yellow lamps. In fact, you end up with a picture that has 50 shades of yellow, and I don’t like that. I like to twist the sliders, to search. Plus, for me, the picture taken from the camera is not a clear representation of what it really is, it is very far from my creative perception, so often everything needs to be finished in graphic editors.
— What are the most important moments in the post-processing of architectural photography?
Architectural photography is a good canvas and can be painted however you like. But, on the other hand, you need a sense of style and taste, so as not to turn it all into some kind of kitsch. You need to understand how colors interact with each other, how not to break the picture with white balance.
My recommendation is to always think ahead, not after the fact.
— What do you find more difficult in architectural photography: shooting or editing?
A tricky question, because both shooting and editing will be easy if you come to the shoot with a certain creative sense of the place. If you come with the consciousness that you want to show, it will be easy. Another question is whether you have a picture in your head, what dictated it. That is, it is a question of preparation for shooting, stuffed hands.
When you are just starting, of course, it will not be easy to remove, and even harder to process. A lot also rests on technical issues — the presence of the necessary optics, light, a camera that will not allow detail to be lost and noise to appear.
Advice for newbies
If you came into this field to make money, this is probably your most stupid attempt. Shooting architecture for money is almost impossible in our country.
Working in the architectural bureau is a competitive and very difficult environment to break through. Most often they use the services of designers who make renderings. If we talk about real estate agencies, then you will simply hate architecture when you shoot for agencies. This is always a TK and there is nothing interesting there. You just use a wide angle, shoot interiors so that luxury apartments sell. If I were you, of course, I would try to commercialize, but that this should not be an end in itself. There is not much money in architectural photography in Russia.
About creativity. Everything will be based on what you want to show, why you want to show and why you want to show. Further, everything will rest only on your creative perception, abilities, style, technical equipment.
I think the author’s style is overrated. Your style is an ever-changing paradigm in which you can build something new, add and remove. You should never be tied to some rigid principle that guides all your creativity.
Architectural photography is all about the skill of working with the source material and its presentation. Do what you love, don’t get distracted by stupid factors like trends. I believe that at the moment when each author begins to pursue only his own vision, we will get a real author’s environment, and not a serpentarium that we don’t want to be related to. Indeed, most often it rests on intensives, master classes and “let’s raise money”. It’s not about creativity. Creativity is about desire, ability and ambition. So look for yourself.