Brookstone / Chicago O'hare / AJ Brown Imaging




Earlier this summer I was contacted to photograph 3 Brookstone stores in the Chicago O'hare airport. I have photographed my share of retail spaces over the years but this was a whole different animal being in the busiest airport in the world!  I have to admit it was a little intimidating at first.  Will the TSA think all my gear is fishy, will all the people walking by just stare into the camera ruining my shot, will they trip over my lighting equipment?


I am happy to report my equipment passed through TSA with flying colors and the people were too busy trying to connect than to worry about some random photographer taking pictures.  I after about 15 minutes I was at ease and actually enjoyed the amount of people I had to choose from to include in the shots. 

These 3 images are of the Brookstone popup store in terminal 1.  

Shive Hattery Iowa City Design Office / Architectural Photography / AJ Brown Imaging


I photograph Shive Hattery's projects all over the Midwest and beyond, but this opportunity was a rare one.  They recently asked me to shoot their own brand new office in Iowa City.  Of course, I am honored and consider myself lucky to continually work for such a great company.  Naturally, they designed it themselves and it is beautiful!


Over the years I have been able to visit countless architecture and design firms.  This time I was really thinking about how important it is for a design firm to have a great space to work from.  It really does shape who they are and it also impacts ideas they bring to their clients.  The spaces need to promote collaboration and inspire creative problem solving.  Designers do not want to bring their potential clients into an out of date space and then pitch them new and interesting ideas that their office is unwilling to try.


It was obvious to me that the employees in the Shive Hattery's Iowa City office are genuinely excited to be working in there new office.  I have to admit, I was excited too!  It almost makes me want to trade in my self employment status and go work for them in Iowa City just to be able to work from this space (and whoop them all at ping pong over lunch).


How to take better cell phone pictures - Tip #2

Extreme Composition / Negative Space


First, I want to say thank you to all the people who sent me their photos using leading lines from tip#1!  I saw a lot of really interesting shots!  Keep them coming.


Staying with the compositional theme of the first post I wanted to challenge you to use a technique I call Extreme Composition.  It is actually really easy to do. Unfortunately though I have found that people either love it or they hate it.  That being said, it is one of my favorite things to do in the right situation. 

The idea behind using negative space is that often we focus our attention on the subject too much.  By doing that we often neglect the negative space.  Ultimately you are trying to tell a story in every photograph.  The negative space can often help you tell or leave out specific parts of that story.  




I would say these example photographs are using extreme composition to exaggerate the negative space.  This draws the eye to the subject even more.  An interesting effect is you can at times confuse the viewer of size, scale, and even location of the subject.  It's a fun little tool to have in your bag, I find myself doing it all the time.  
  



Go out and try some extreme compositions yourself and make sure to share them with me on instagram with the hashtag #abiphotochallenge


I would love to see some of your images using this technique.  You can e-mail them to me at aj@ajbrownimaging, use #abiphotochallenge on instagram, or just leave a comment with them in the comment section.  

I'll share my favorite image on this blog and the AJ Brown Imaging Facebook page.  

How to take better cell phone pictures - Tip #1


Let's be honest, photography is extremely popular these days.  With virtually everyone carrying their phone/camera in their pocket everywhere they go much more images are being made on a daily basis.

I am starting a little blog series to give out simple cell phone photography tips that are extremely easy to implement.

Our cell phone cameras do limit creativity compared to DSLRs because they do not allow for us to make decisions about depth of field and have very limited exposure options.  Because of that, we are forced to be more creative in our composition to make our cellphone images better.  Most of these tips are based on composition, but I will get into other subjects further down the road.  This is exciting to me because composing the photo is my favorite part of the entire process.  Creative challenges will only make us better, so bring it on aperatureless cellphone!!!



Use Leading Lines
#abiphotochallenge if your on instagram 



One thing that can make an image great is the depth that can be created.  Like I mentioned before, depth of field is not something we can control at this point with our cellphones.  So how can we create a 3D feel in a 2D medium without an aperture to assist us?  One of the easiest ways to do this is to utilize natural leading lines in a scene.


I start with leading lines because, well honestly, it is my favorite technique.  Shapes and lines in pictures are what inspired me to pursue photography as a career.  Leading lines are everywhere, we just have to learn to see them.  The image above has great depth for several reasons.  The first of course is the road has a grass line right down the middle leading us deep into the woods. The second is the simple fact that it is a road.  Naturally our subconscious will take our eyes down that road because we spend so much time in cars doing that exact thing.  That in reality is a totally flat picture on a flat computer screen, but it looks really deep because of the lines.

The same goes for the image below.

One of the challenges of seeing leading lines is the fact that they aren't always there.  When composing the image below I had to wait all day for those lines to show up.  Our first morning on vacation a couple years ago I woke up and had coffee on the porch, looking at the line of trees close to the water I new there would be some amazing shadows and lines if I came back and made a picture just before sunset.  I was right and created this image which is one of my favorite cell phone shots I have ever taken.  These leading lines once again create depth, and in this case also mood because of the time of day. 


 Leading lines also give you control over the viewer eyes.  This sounds crazy but it's true.  When looking at the image below I would put money on the fact the your eye started at the bottom right of the frame, moved up and then back down ending at the bottom left.  I made your eyes do that with the very specific composition that I chose.  This image is the most obvious example I could find to illustrate this control but this fact is very true of many great images.


So no more boring flat photos!  Go out there and use the leading lines to create interest and depth. 
I would love to see some of your images using this tecnique!  You can e-mail them to me at aj@ajbrownimaging or just leave a comment with them in the comment section.  

I'll share my favorite image on this blog and the AJ Brown Imaging Facebook page.  

MindFire Communications / Architectural Photography / AJ Brown Imaging


I always say that photography is a problem solving profession.  The biggest problem I had last week while shooting at MindFire Communications' new office was deciding what not to shoot.  Every time I turned around I saw another angle that I would have loved to photograph but sadly I had a limited amount of time so I had to be very selective where I spend my energy.


Here are a couple of angles I did decide to shoot in the eye popping space designed by Conceptual Designs Inc.



Architectural Photography / University of Northern Iowa / Redeker Center Exteriors


After a few weeks delay I was able to go back to the University of Northern Iowa and shoot the exteriors of the Redeker Center by OPN Architects.  Here are a couple exteriors shots I promised I would post.

To see the interiors click here.




The top image is my favorite dusk shot of the Redeker Center.  I like the angle of the image below a little better but the way I was able to frame the building with the overhanging trees really make this image more dynamic.  When I was studying architectural photography at Brooks Institute of Photography my instructor drilled the idea of a foreground element into our minds.  It brings so much more depth to the image, and gives the viewers eyes a clear direction on where I want you to focus your attention.



Dry Goods / Rochester Minnesota / Architectural Photography

   Dry Goods is a relatively new store that has been popping up all over the malls in the Midwest.  It was created by the well known Midwest based department store called Von Maur.  You may remember reading about the (at the time) newest Von Maur store in Rochester, NY on my blog late last year. I was asked to photograph their 13th and newest Dry Goods location in Rochester, MN a couple months ago.  


We had a very limited time to shoot this project as it was opening at noon the day of the shoot.  Luckily I had my trusty assistant Joel to help me out moving lights and do some staging.  That's actually the striking handsome/blurry Joel walking by the storefront in the image above.  I really owe a lot of the success of this shoot to him.  I probably could't have got it done in time without his hard work.  So here is a post dedicated to great assistants, something every photographer should have and never take for granted.  Cheers Joel!  Thanks a ton buddy. 




Mossville School / Architectural Photography



   These last few months have been insanely busy.  I have been traveling all over the Midwest shooting all kinds of architecture from medical facilities, financial institutions, fire stations, to educational facilities like this one in Mossville, IL.  Mossville Elementary school is located just outside of Peoria.  This project was a 1 million dollar addition to the existing building designed by Dewberry.


   The image below shows the great work Dewberry did to incorporate the new addition by adding a facade to the existing structure that matches the new construction on the left held of the image.




Architectural Photography / University of Northern Iowa / Redeker Center



The University of Northern Iowa had a dream of transforming their dinning hall called The Redeker Center.  They decided to call upon the well respected Iowa based architecture firm OPN and it seems every one is extremely happy with the decision.  OPN, like always, brought their unique and distinctive style into the space.


Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate with us so we were only able to make the interior images.  I will be going back this week to shoot the exteriors and will post an update when completed.  


The Group Davenport, Iowa / Architectural Photography

Shooting local projects is always a treat for ABI for several reasons.  Of course one reason is I don't have to drive or fly for hours and hours, but the main reason is because I love documenting the renewal of the city I live in.  This building was designed by Marasco & Associates out of Denver, Co and it's the newest highlight on the ever expanding 53rd street in Davenport, Iowa.  


We battled the weather and cancelled the first shoot we had scheduled.  The weather was great most of the rescheduled day until it was time for the dusk shots.  A thunderstorm was in the forecast and we almost called it quits again but we decided to stick it out.  As you can see it really paid off.  The clouds really accent the building shape and added a dramatic effect that is rarely achieved.  


When shooting dusk shots there is a very small window when the interior lighting has the same values (brightness) as the sky and exterior lighting.  During an overcast dusk shoot the window of opportunity is dramatically shorter.  I made these two images seven minutes apart, after I shot the image above I moved too try to capture one more but the moment was over.    


The beautiful interiors were designed by Paragon Commercial Interiors and the project was built by Russell Construction 

University of Iowa Children's Hospital / Construction Photography

   I have been documenting the progress of the University of Iowa Children's Hospital expansion this year and wanted to share some of the progress.  It is really interesting to me to see the projects as they go up.  We get views of the building that will only last a few months and will never be seen again.  Construction photography is the exhilarating process of capturing these moments that are quickly fleeting.


  This Knutson Construction crew worked through one of the hardest winters Iowa has seen in over 75 years!  They are an extremely hard working bunch of guys who are constantly recognized for their craftsmanship and safety in such a dangerous job.


   Below is a rendering of what it will look like when it is completed.  

Von Maur Rochester New York / Architectural Photography


I recently traveled to the Rochester area to photograph the first Von Maur store to open in the state of New York.  Von Maur is a upscale department store that has around 30 stores located mostly in the Midwest but has recently opened stores in Tulsa, Atlanta and this one in Rochester.   


I spent 3 days studying and photographing this extremely large store.  Most of my time was spend shooting the interiors.  Not only did my clients want traditional exterior and interior photographs, they also were interested in images that captured Von Maurs specific display design style, color pallets, and unique features of this particular store.  This store specifically was interesting to me because photography was the theme.  Rochester was the corporate home of the Eastman Kodak Company.  Von Maur put a lot of thought into the interior decorating of this store to incorporate the photographic history of this region.  I was drooling over some of the old cameras displayed all over the store.  This one below was my favorite.



It was a unique photographic experience and I am looking forward to making images of their up and coming stores throughout the country.


Convention Center Parking Garage / Cedar Rapids / Architectural Photography


Lately I have been experimenting with different styles of the architectural photography dusk images.   Over the last few years I would typically only shoot in specific weather conditions at a specific time during the magic hour.  I had normally been waiting until well after the sun goes down and then waiting some more before I start shooting.  This would yield me a very rich dark blue sky, the buildings would really pop out at you.  The colors would shine without bumping the saturation much. You can see an example of this type of dusk shot here.   I really love the look this technique gives me and I don't plan to leave it behind.  I plan to putting it in the metaphorical photography tool belt if you will.  As a photographer, or any type of creative individual for that matter, experimentation is an essential element.  It keeps the art fresh, puts me on my toes, and exercises the mind.  I love this quote from the Hungarian painter/photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, "The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of 'how to do.' The salvation of photography comes from the experiment." 


The day these images were made was completely overcast and raining off and on.  The shoot was only a few hours from my office so I decided to go for it with hopes of a perfectly timed cloud break so I could make the images I saw in my mind.  Well that didn't happen.  What did happen as I was walking around studying the structure was I began to see a mood.  A mood that I would have normally written off.  I remembered the quote I shared with you about photographic experimentation and decided to go for it.  I had been in the experimentation mode lately anyway, and nature was providing me another opportunity for it.  I made these images well before the sun went down.  The overcast sky created a heavy handed soft-box over the whole city.  I always say photography is a problem solving profession.  This shoot is an example of that fact.  My client Knutson Construction was on a tight deadline needing these images right away for an award submission and there was no other opportunities for us to shoot a different day.  Overall I love these images and now the AJ Brown Imaging architectural photography tool belt is a little heavier.  




Western Illinois University / Architectural Photography

The funny thing about architectural photography is sometimes you can end up shooting a project multiple times.  This exterior dusk shoot was my second at the new Western Illinois River Front Campus.  I shot some interior images at this location late last year for the interior design firm Paragon Commercial Interiors, and I will be going back again this week to shoot a few more for Dewberry, the architecture firm.   


Dusk shots are not as easy to pull of as they look.  There is a very small window of opportunity when the ambient light balances perfectly with the artificial lighting.  If your lucky this window will last about 30 minutes.  In some cases if you time it out just right and there is enough existing lighting on the building, you don't have to bring in your own supplemental lighting.  That was the case here at WIU.  With the help of some of the security staff who were running around inside the building making sure none of the timed interior lights were turning off on us, we were able to maximize on this small window of optimal light.  


In this bottom image you can see we are starting to push that window of optimal natural light.  If it were to get much later than this we would need to use some of our own lighting to bring out detail in specific areas.  With detailed and precise planning we were able to get 6 dusk shots at WIU in one night!  This makes architectural photographers and architecture firms very happy!

Architectural Photography at the Cedar Rapids Amphitheater

Let me just start off by saying, I absolutely love Cedar Rapids!  This city was hit with a devastating flood in 2008 which I have blogged about several times.  Since the flood 5 years ago, Cedar Rapids has been going through a major downtown renewal period.  They have renovated many buildings, built a new library, convention center, education center, and the list goes on and on and on.  This is the newest addition to this booming city, The McGrath Amphitheater.   It is located right on the banks of the Cedar River with plans to extend the river walk from the amphitheater down to the festival grounds in the near future.  


The theater has the capacity to host 4,600 visitors at any given point.  They plan on holding concerts of all kinds as well as many different city events and activities at the amphitheater.   The project also serves as a new form of flood protection for the west side of the city which previously had none.  It's a beautiful place and a great example of combining the needs of the project with a creative solution.


Since this is ultimately a photography blog, I often like to mention the problems that arise while shooting specific projects and the solutions/decisions I had to make.  I decided to minimally light the image above because the existing lighting is such a major part of the project.  We only needed to bring in a little supplemental lighting on grass and the side of the stage.  This was a balancing act because I didn't want it to look like we lit the scene at all.  We wanted to show off how nice the lighting setup was designed in the first place so we didn't want to take away from that at all. 

Honestly the biggest issue during this shoot was keeping people off the stage!  I think people are really excited about the project, so all day and night there were people aimlessly wondering around in my shots!   Hahaha, can't blame them though. 

Columbus High School's Architectural Photography shoot


Here is a small preview of a recent shoot I did at Columbus High School in Columbus Junction, Iowa.  The above image is the new administration building as well as an off site outreach center for Muscatine Community College.   The project was designed by Shive Hattery Architects and Engineers who were recently named one of the top firms in the US by Architectural Record. 


To go along with the new admin building the school also added a new sports facility that includes a gym, locker rooms, and wrestling facility.    


Short blog post this time as I have a lot of work to catch up on after returning from my fishing vacation to Minnesota.  Talk to you soon!

In Progress Architectural Photography / Cedar Rapids Public Library


 After the flood of 2008 Cedar Rapids downtown was devastated by water damage.  The old library was ruined and now, after lots of hard work, houses the corporate headquarters of the insurance company True North.  The library was scaled down and functioning with several satellite locations until now. The brand new Cedar Rapids Public Library is set to be completed within a few weeks!   The public grand opening will be on August 24th.  I had the pleasure to photograph the new building for Knutson Construction a few weeks ago to get some in progress images.  The building was designed by OPN Architects and had a total project cost of 48 million dollars.



This library is huge with 94,000 square feet of space!  The building is Leed certified and is expected to meet the platinum performance level.  It supports a beautiful rooftop garden with seating areas for readers to enjoy the libraries massive new book collection while taking in the sites from above downtown Cedar Rapids.  There is a local coffee shop called Brewed Awakenings that is set to operate the library coffee shop and service the drive though window for readers on the go.


   There is even a 200 person theater in the library where they will hold book readings, concerts, plays and many other local events!  The Cedar Rapids Public Library when completed is said to have the possibility to be one of the best libraries in the entire country.   After 5 years of waiting, the people of Cedar Rapids are celebrating the revival and restoration of downtown with the newest addition being their brand new library.

Linn-Mar High School Sports Complex Architectural Photography




The fans and players in Marion, Iowa have recently wrapped up their first season in their brand new baseball complex.  I got the impression that they do realize how lucky they are as the complex looks more like a college complex than a high school's.  Since the complex has completed its first year of use we decided to shoot it in a slightly lived in style while still keeping the images relatively clean and sleek.  The first image was made just after the softball girls finished their final game of the year.  I really love the effect this has on the field with the baselines worn and the obviously not freshly manicured infield.  The field almost appears to still be warm from the game just minutes ago. 

The shot of the locker room has much more obvious lived in effect.  We made this image just before the varsity team suited up for the game.