by Sean Conboy Published 01/12/2014
The technical challenge of shooting interiors and buildings is the driving force that keeps Sean Conboy shooting architectural images. Of course the international travel to vibrant and beautiful cities helps too but it always comes back to getting things right and simply producing great images of fantastic spaces.
'I really do get a kick out of lighting a big interior,' says Sean when I ask him what it is about architectural photography that he loves. 'I'm a very old-school photographer. I learnt photography with the discipline of transparency film so I was always taught that you only press the trigger when there is something worth pressing. Fortunately it doesn't cost £25 every time you press the trigger anymore!' But Sean is also keen to point out that architectural photography isn't as simple as being knowledgeable about the technical side of photography: 'You have to research the building too and be patient with the light - I enjoy those challenges as well.'
Sean has been exclusively digital with his photography since 2009 and uses a Linhof Techno with a Hasselblad back. 'I always used Hasselblad cameras when I shot film so when it came to the move to digital it seemed the logical step for me.' Hasselblad and Linhof have been first rate too with help and advice to transition his business from film to digital. His close working relationship with Hasselblad means that Sean has also featured in their promotional videos and they are well worth a look if you're interested in seeing how an architectural photographer works.
But in an age where most photographers are satisfied with the latest dSLR offering, what is it that keeps Sean using larger-format cameras? 'The quality is a different league, particularly with the tone and range.' Many clients don't have an opinion on the camera that you use, but in the highly competitive and design-led world of architecture, things are a little different. 'My clients are often paying for me to travel long distances and they want to make sure that they will have the best quality file they can get for future-proofing. It's a world where your image might end up as a 48-sheet poster or even wrapped around a building!'
Camera movements are also a compelling reason for Sean to work with Linhof cameras in particular. 'With just a tilt-shift lens there is always some compromise but with the Linhof you have a full range of camera movement. I always enjoyed it with film and it's something I wanted when I moved to digital.' It's much more than that though, Sean also believes that this attention to detail while on site shooting helps to improve his images. 'The whole process of using movements slows you down. The camera is slower to use and it's physically bigger so it makes you think hard about what you're doing. I also don't want to spend ages looking at pictures when I get back, obviously I do some adjustments to the RAW image but I don't want to be staring at my computer screen instead of taking pictures.'
Shooting large interiors means that Sean often works with an assistant. The sheer logistics of getting so many lights in place means it can be too much to tackle alone. 'When I photographed the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool I used about 20 flashes. You need a good assistant for that!' Although spaces like this are designed to look beautiful to the human eye, flash really helps to bring out the texture and detail in the space. 'If you balance the flash and the ambient light well you can bring out all the old Victorian lighting in spaces like the Tower Ballroom while still using flash to highlight details that might otherwise be in darkness.' As well as an assistant, Sean sometimes works with art directors too and they tend to manage the styling of the space. However, on many shoots it's just Sean and his equipment, meaning that he takes on the role of photographer, assistant and art director!
Enough of this shoptalk though! I asked Sean where he would most like to photograph if he was given the chance. 'I loved Tokyo, it's a fantastically exciting city but architecturally I probably prefer New York. It's so hard for me to choose! I've got a real soft spot for the buildings from the 20s and 30s in New York. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building make great subjects.' I tried to get Sean to commit to just one dream destination but instead he threw more ideas into the hat: 'I'm really keen to take pictures in St. Petersburg and it's interior spaces, but I'm also looking at working with a Scandinavian client and I'd love to photograph that kind of architecture too. I can't choose!'
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