Behind the Lens looks at architectural photographers both professional and amateur, examining how they got their start, stories from their portfolios, and tricks to capturing great design. Have a lensman in mind? Send links to portfolios (no photo files) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like many who find themselves entranced by sprawling factories, deteriorating buildings, and abandoned industrial sites, Syndey-based photographer Brett Patman was blown away by the scale. But unlike others drawn to massive relics, Patman had a decent sense of how much of it worked. A former "fitter and turner," better known as a machinist, Patman spent hours as a service technician exploring these sites. He had been an amateur photographer for years—streetscapes, street art, "all the normal things everyone would photograph"—before curiosity got the better of him, and he turned his lens on the country's industrial heritage. After shooting inside an abandoned denim factory, he was hooked, and soon started Lost Collective, a website, Instagram account, and Facebook page dedicated to documenting images and stories of factories, plants, and other abandoned workspaces. Curbed spoke with Patman about the meaning of "ruin porn," the best way to capture larger-than-life subjects, and the benefits of asking politely instead of scaling fences.
What attracts you to these sites?
"It's hard not to be impressed with everything. I can stand there and look at them for hours. It's quite amazing to think how much time has gone into these buildings. Somebody made this."
How would you describe your style?
"It's definitely about capturing scale. I've shot quite a lot of them with big, wide-angle shots, sweeping views through the turbine hall. In smaller spaces, it's about the little details and trying to put people into the picture and let them make up their own mind. There's one shot I have of Callan Park Hospital with a vine that's crept in through the window, and it takes up the entire window."
How do you get access to these sites?
"I try and find out who manages the site, and pitch what I do and how I go about it, send them examples of photos, and then tell them I'm creating a project that's meant to create a respectful conversation. I'm trying to document the workforce that used to be here, to get them to comment on the photos. It's a historical record. If I can't walk in or get permission, I won't shoot it, I want to be respectful. It's funny, the ruin porn idea; what's in a name? If you're still being respectful to the building and bothering to learn the history and getting to know the facts, you can call it whatever you want. I don't like the, 'Oh, it's scary and broken down and people died here' bullshit. If you're respectful about the story, and explain how it fits into the local workforce and the community, I think that's fine."
Any advice or tricks for improving architectural photographs?
"Get the widest angle lens you can, that's probably the biggest help. Shooting with a remote and tripod helps as well. I really love the Nikon 14-24mm. It's got awesome sharpness and catches everything. It's not affordable, but I think if you're really getting serious about taking good photos, it's great. Generally, you get what you pay for when it comes to lenses."
Any tips for shooting buildings on Instagram?
"Keep it fresh and show something completely different every time. Vary sites, and don't just post the entire run at once. If you can add a vertical image to your feed, that's great. Matt Bluejay Searles does it and it looks great. It really stands out."
What advice do you have about getting ahead in the industry for people who want to become professional photographers?
"I don't know if I've made it yet. The fact is, I've never been paid for this before, I'm just lucky people like what I do. I've taken many shit photos over the years. Persistence is the key. I still take bad photos all the time, but it's all about the age old saying, practice makes perfect. You eventually do see the results. Accept that you're going to make mistakes and you won't be great straight away. Work out what you want to do and focus on that specific type of photography. Get to know your lens and style, and just keep going,"
Tell me about the story behind one of your favorite photos.
"One of my favorite photos is of a control room of White Bay Power Station, in Rozelle, near Sydney. It was one of the first parts of the buildings I was let into, and I was still pretty overwhelmed with excitement. The security guard said most people don't get access to this room. There was a big, long wall with dials, gauges, and switches. It's everything I wanted in a photo. You can see the dials going right into the darkness. You can see the height of the boiler house. I reframed it, took a shot I thought I didn't like, and then took another one. When I got back to processing and editing, I realized the one I didn't like was a million times better."