Photo by Emil Kara

Behind the Shot with Emil Kara

Photo by Emil Kara

Tripods in Architectural Photography
by Emil Kara

A quality tripod should be essential equipment for any type of photographer but a good support is particularly important when shooting architecture. I would call the Really Right Stuff TVC-33 tripod the most essential tool in my entire architectural photography tool kit.

One of the reasons why it is particularly important to use a tripod when shooting architecture is because this type of photography is almost synonymous with low shutter speeds which extend beyond the reciprocal value required to prevent shake blur. In my experience, some of the most striking architectural images are created during what photographers refer to as “the golden hour” or “the magic hour”. It is the first and last hour of sunlight in the day, known for producing great photographs due to its magical lighting qualities. Architectural photography also includes photographing interior spaces. Taking photos in such reduced light condition in combination with the very high numerical apertures required to maintain maximum depth of field (e.g. f/8 to f/16) results in very long exposures. Additionally, because I shoot all my photos for print, I am always after the lowest possible level of noise in my images, which I achieve by keeping my cameras at their lowest possible ISO.

"PETCO Park" by Emil Kara

“PETCO Park” by Emil Kara

Certain techniques and effects often used in architectural photography to enhance the final image are blurred water features, streams of light in street scenes, blurred clouds and people, exposure blending in post processing and panorama stitching. All of them require using a quality tripod.

"KB Surgical Center" by Emil Kara

“KB Surgical Center” by Emil Kara

Why RRS?

My very first tripod was an aluminum Manfrotto model. Overall I was satisfied with the quality of it, however over time the weight of it (over 7 pounds) started to become a problem. Seven pounds may not sound like much but with some photo shoots lasting 10-14 hours per day, the combination of a heavy pro body and lens attached to a heavy aluminum tripod and head was wearing me out. I decided to step up from the Manfrotto I owned and go for a lighter support system.

"Sharp Cancer Center" by Emil Kara

“Sharp Cancer Center” by Emil Kara

Selecting a tripod for purchase always comes with trade-offs between weight, size, rigidity, load capacity and so on. I knew that besides the weight advantage, the carbon fiber tripods offer the best combination of trade-offs. At the time, Gitzo tripods dominated the carbon fiber market so I ended up purchasing a 2-series model. After about a year and a half of ownership, my Gitzo set up unexpectedly fell apart. One of the magnesium alloy arms that hold one of the legs of the tripod in place completely broke off. It was a major structural failure while the tripod was neither overloaded nor used in harsh conditions. Needless to say, I was very upset and especially because it had happened on location during a photo shoot. Dealing with Gitzo’s service department was very frustrating experience and it’s what pushed me over the edge.

"Miramar College - Math and Business" by Emil Kara

“Miramar College – Math and Business” by Emil Kara

I decided to go out and find the most robust carbon fiber tripod available on the market but was determined to change brands once again. After a long research I narrowed it down to one brand and one model – the Really Right Stuff TVC-33 with BH-55 LR ball head. Part of the reason I decided to go with RRS is because I was already using their quick release systems on both my camera bodies and I loved how solid and well designed they were. Another equally important factor for my choice was that RRS is headquartered less than a hundred miles from my studio.

Photo by Emil Kara

Photo by Emil Kara

I had called their service department before to obtain some general information on their products and was very impressed by how fast my call was answered and how knowledgeable their staff was. After my seconds call with them, I was convinced that servicing their product I was about to purchase would be a walk in the park.

The TVC-33 legs with the BH-55 ball head are both a work of art. Everything from the materials used and their finish to the general design and extreme attention to detail, one really has to handle it in their hands to appreciate the high level of craftsmanship involved.
In the field, the tripod has been an absolute pleasure to use. As far as I’m concerned, I own the best support gear money can buy. The performance of their products in combination with superior customer service is what has made me in a loyal RRS client for the long run.

Photo by Emil Kara

Photo by Emil Kara

For those interested in what the rest of my architectural photography kit consists of, I use a Canon 1DX and a Canon 5D Mark II bodies, each with a Really Right Stuff L-plate mounted to it. My most used lenses are Canon 17mm TS-E, 24mm TS-E, Canon 14mm/f2.8L, Canon 16-35mm/f2.8L II and finally a Canon 70-200mm/f2.8L IS II with a RRS L84 quick release plate mounted to it. For supplemental lighting, I use mostly a combination of Lowel DP and Pro lights.

Emil Kara is a professional Architectural Photographer based in Southern California.
Words and images Copyright ©2013 Emil Kara. All rights reserved.

10 Comments

  1. Great work Emil! Nice to read an article about an architectural photographer!

  2. Emil Kara says:

    Thanks John! Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Ron Simonson says:

    Really stunning architectural photos, Emil. Rich colors, great DR. I love how your composition seems to maintain the subject perspective as well as horizontal and vertical lines. Did you use TS lenses for all of these photos to keep the geometry intact?. If you would be so kind as to identify the lenses you used on each one, it would be of great help! Thanks!

    • Emil Kara says:

      Hi Ron,

      thank you so much! All images above were shot with a CANON EF 16-35 f/2.8L II except Miramar College (TS-E 17) and KB Surgical Center (TS-E 24). The tilt shift lenses do help with perspective distortion, of course, but they do not eliminate the need for perspective distortion correction in post processing. You’ll still have to edit that part. It is almost impossible to get it perfect in camera. The main advantages of the two tilt-shifts for me compared to the ultra wide (and the reasons why I use them) is more for the extremely well controlled barrel distortion, lack of vignetting and chromatic aberration, and the higher resolution output (especially in the corners).

  4. Joe Johnson says:

    Emil, Thank you for a very nice write up and for sharing your beautifully executed images. Composition, lighting and colors are wonderful. It appears the exterior shots were taken slightly after sundown; is that right? Joe Sr.

    • Emil Kara says:

      Hi Joe, thanks much!

      Correct, a lot of them are done around sunset but there are some that were done around sunrise (depending on what worked best with the way the building is positioned).

  5. Thanks for that look into your photography – I would love to see a before & after shoot of the places you shoot (with / without lighting). I guess you are using HDR quite often – that would seem interesting as well cause your pictures do not scream HDR at all.

    Great pics.

    Best Philipp

    • Emil Kara says:

      Hi Philipp,

      I’m not a fan of HDR processing, none of my images are done that way. The HDR software applies the effect globally which does not work for my style of editing. I approach each image individually and after I apply a few very minor global corrections like perspective/lens corrections, I edit only the parts of the image that I think need attention. But overall my goal is to process the image as little as possible.

      About showcasing before/after shots, I’ve just launched a new website and I will have a special section dedicated to before/after images on it very soon.

      Cheers

  6. Jim Wilson says:

    Dear Emil,

    Beautiful work! So glad that there are a few of us left who shoot it right and don’t depend on “HDR” to save it later. I was speaking to a group of architects recently and they asked what “HDR” meant, I told them it was Latin for “I don’t know how to shoot it correctly in the first place”.

    All the best!

    JW

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