Brian Vanden Brink, Architectural Photographer
Special Projects
Magazine Covers
Book Covers
Archive Search
Brian Vanden Brink Books
At Home by the Sea
At Home In Maine
Historic Maine Homes
News & Events
Client Access

I N T E R V I E W   F R O M   V I E W   C A M E R A


Light Defining
Photographs and text by Brian Vanden Brink

Reprinted by permission from the July/August 2000 issue of View Camera magazine. Copyright 2000 by View Camera. All rights reserved.

Being in the right place at the right time is a very important part of architectural photography. Since light is such a critical factor in defining space, being able to anticipate when the light will be right for a shot (or, when necessary, creating good lighting) will often spell the difference between making an exceptional image and one that is merely acceptable. I depend a great deal on natural light, even for interiors, but doing so requires planning out the shoot so I can be ready when the light is really working for me. Since I like to work quickly, I try to avoid getting bogged down in complex lighting situations. I do everything I can to shoot under natural, existing light. If I do have to bring in lights, I try to make the scene look as if it isn't lit. Working without lights, or maybe with only minimal lighting, lends a very pleasing, natural quality to the final image.

©Brian Vanden Brink
Private Residence, Yarmouth, Maine.
Scott Simons, Architect.

There are times, however, when additional lighting must be done, either to fill in shadows that are too dark, or to light entire areas. At those times, it is important to know how to use the lights so the image appears to be lit naturally, and not overdone.

My lighting is extremely simple, comparatively lightweight, and cheap. I use only hot lights, and do not even own strobes. I carry about 15 10' aluminum reflectors, with stands and gobos. I also have some smaller units that fit nicely in tight spaces, with stands that enable them to be placed close to the floor. In addition to these, I have a Lowell quartz kit with four 1000-watt lights for those times when I need a lot of juice. I can't remember the last time they were used, thank goodness. I carry lots of bulbs for all these lights-everything from 15 watts to 500-watt floods, in both blue and clear versions. And, of course, all the paraphernalia that goes with lighting-cords, gaff tape, clamps, dimmers, etc. I am also using collapsible, PhotoFlex type reflectors more frequently. I really like these because they are so easy to use, and can be conveniently carried along with the camera equipment. Very handy.

Developing a shooting and lighting style is a lifelong process of refining skills, paying more and more attention to the little things, and learning better ways or working and seeing. This narrative reflects where I am today, but I still have a lot to learn.

Technical Notes
The photos for this article illustrate various types of lighting, for both interior and exterior. Below, I'll discuss why a particular angle was chosen, why it was shot at this time of day, filters, exposure and development, supplemental lighting, etc. All of these images were made with a Sinar F camera.

Private Residence, Yarmouth, Maine. This shot illustrates a lighting situation that is unusual, and one that I try to avoid because it represents so much work. It is a dusk shot that required both interior and exterior lighting. This view was the most important exterior shot of the whole assignment, but the light was not right until dusk because we wanted to show the transparency of the house. We went through the house and placed lights in each room, anticipating the need for them when the time came to shoot. We used 100-watt clear bulbs. As the time came, I realized that the house itself was getting too dark and we would need to (quickly) add some lights to bring up the level on the exterior. We rushed to get the lights in place-three units with blue 100-watt bulbs to more closely match the evening light. One was placed on the far right of the frame, lighting the large part of the house. One was used on the far left, lighting that end of the building, and the other was directed at the porch/fireplace in the center of the frame. The lights are hardly noticeable, but they make a big difference in the final image. Without them, the outside of the house would have been too dark, and the image itself too contrasty.

We shot the scene through a Nikkor 90mm f/4.5 lens on 4x5 daylight Ektachrome 64 and Tri-X. I believe I added a .10 blue filter at the last minute. Exposure time for the Ektachrome was about 60 seconds at f/16 and the Tri-X was exposed for about 15-20 seconds. Ektachrome was processed normally but Tri-X had a slight reduction in development time. The print was made on Ilford Multigrade fiber, with some burning of the sky.

©Brian Vanden Brink
Fisherman's Cottage.
Le Havre, Nova Scotia.

The sweet little Fisherman's cottage was almost effortless to shoot. An overcast day seemed perfect, and the shot was made in minutes. I used a 75mm Nikkor f/5.6 lens, and exposed the 4x5 Daylight Ektachrome 64 for 1/2 second at f/16-22. Tri-X was exposed for 1/15th second. No filtration. Printed on Ilford Multigrade Fiber, with a slight burn to the sky.

Private Residence, Dining Room, was a very dark Victorian space and I needed a lot of light to show the detailing on the ceiling as well as the beautiful paneling on the walls and the table setting. There was virtually no daylight coming into the room, and the existing lights were wholly inadequate for photography. We used a total of nine lights for this shot.


The first light was positioned left of the camera, to skim across the fireplace and give detail to the tile work and display space on the mantel. The second light was put next to the first, but pointed toward the table and the chair closest to the camera. It also spilled on to the floor, lighting the carpet. The third light was put on the right side of the camera, pointing up to illuminate the ceiling. The fourth was also on the right side, pointed toward the table. The fifth unit was placed beneath the flowers in the foreground, pointing up. Next, we moved out into the hall and put a light near the large vase and flower arrangement, just outside the door. The seventh light was placed in the stairway, lighting the archway. Another unit was placed to light the all in the same area. Number nine was put farthest from the camera, lighting the other large vase at the end of the hall. We used different watt bulbs in each light, depending on the situation. Smallest bulb was 25 watts, and the largest was 200 watts.

©Brian Vanden Brink
Private Residence, Kennebunk, Maine.

We lit the fire, as well as all the candles, and turned on the overhead lights. We left overhead lights on for only a small portion of the overall exposure, which was 45 seconds at f/22, on Tungsten Ektachrome Type 6118. Exposure for the Tri-X was 10 seconds. We added a .10 blue filter to reduce some of the yellow/red generated from all the incandescent lights and fireplace/candles. This shot took a long time to produce. I try to avoid this type of situation, if possible.

©Brian Vanden Brink
Ruggles House, Columbia Falls,
Maine, built 1813.

The Ruggles House was a simple shot to do. Sunlight provided all the illumination necessary, and all I had to do was record what God was doing. Shot with a Nikkor 75mm f/4.5 lens on 4x5 Tungsten Ektachrome Type 6118 and Tri-X. I used an 85 B filter to convert tungsten film to daylight, with an exposure of 5 seconds at f/16-22 for color, and 1/2 second for the Tri-X. All film processed normally, and printed on Ilford Gallerie, dodging foreground a bit and carefully burning hot area on window. This is a good example of being in the right place at the right time.

Brian Vanden Brink, based in Rockport, Maine, has been featured in Architectural Digest, Architectural Record, Art New England, Boston Globe, Elle Decor, House Beautiful, Metropolitan Home, National Geographic Books, The New York Times, Old House Journal, and many other books and publications.


P.O. Box 419, Rockport ME 04856 Tel 207-236-4035

Website design by Cutter Blue Design.   Copyright ©2005–2012 Brian Vanden Brink. All Rights Reserved.