On-Site Architectural Photography

Last week I spent a frigid couple of days in the far northern part of Wisconsin with Poul Ober, an architectural photographer, so that we could get professional images captured of the modern cabin I wrapped up in this area earlier this year. Ultimately I think we will end up taking two trips … not because it’s fun, but because this cabin has two personalities – one where the cabin is covered in a blanket of snow, and one where it is not.

Everyone we talked with during our 4-days in Wisconsin was quick to point out that we had come at a terrific time since it wasn’t cold … and they said this with a straight face despite the temperatures dropping into the low-single digits every day.

Bob Borson Freezing Cold Selfie

Being from Texas, I don’t have a closet full of winter clothing (it was 72° here in Dallas as I am writing this) so my game plan was layers and a heavy-duty base layer underneath all the other layers. I don’t think I would get too many arguments from people telling me that 15° with a 20+ mph wind chill feels good, but when you are standing around in knee-deep snow drifts, I think just about anyone would agree that this was not particularly pleasant weather.

I also learned that cellphone batteries die exponentially quicker in cold weather

Poul Ober taking pictures in the trees

This is Poul Ober, an architectural photographer who also happens to be my next-door neighbor. He is Danish and I am Norwegian and neither one of us let’s the other forget it. Poul and I have known each other just about two years and we get along pretty well, share similar interests, and tend to make the same sort of jokes. In addition to Poul’s photographic skills, these are the sorts of things that are important when spending 86 hours in each others company in a remote cabin with no TV or cellphone coverage.

Protecting the Life of Poul Ober

During this trip, Poul’s job was to take pictures and my job was to do all the grunt work that Poul needed to be done. Since I have photographed this cabin many, many times, I already had a pretty good feeling for the shots I wanted, but there were floors to clean, pantries to stage, boards (painted black) to hold, fires to build, and snow to shovel.

I decided that I would document this photo shoot from my perspective (that of “assistant”) to show you the glamorous side of architectural photography. Just look at the picture above … if it weren’t for me holding these branches out-of-the-way, Poul might be uncomfortable. That and we didn’t want these particular branches in the shot.

Poul Ober rigging up a ladder

There were a lot of images we wanted to capture where the camera needed to be about 12+ feet off the ground (even if Poul sat on my shoulder’s, that would only get us to about 9′-6″) so a ladder was required. Normally, not that big a deal – but this was a little different … cold and snow make everything harder. In fact, Poul was using gaffer’s tape to help secure his tripod to this ladder and it was so cold that the tape was freezing and becoming brittle.

Helping Poul Ober carry the ladder

Carrying an 8′ double-sided ladder down into steep snow-covered valleys was unpleasantly amusing. I took this picture as we were walking down the driveway because once we started climbing down embankments, I needed both hands.

Photographer Poul Ober in the woods

It’s hard to really tell from this angle, but we are about 20′ below the finish grade of the cabin. The snow is only about 20″ deep here but what you can’t see are all the fallen trees that are buried in the snow. Awesome!

We were waiting for the sun to set in this picture – once the sun enters the homestretch, you only have about 30 minutes of golden time and there were three pictures we wanted to capture. I’ll share one of them down below towards the end – you’ll know it when you see it because it’s the view that I typically share of the cabin – the view that presents itself when you emerge from the woods and approach the cabin on foot.

Modern cabin photo shoot - building a fire with Photographer Poul Ober

Poul wanted a fire built-in this fireplace for the pictures he was taking of the lakeside elevation. The clients also own the cabin next door and that’s where are the firewood is currently being stored. Yes, I drove the car next door and loaded about 20 pieces of wood into the trunk and drove it over. As I was working on the fire, Poul was working the perimeter looking for detail shots.

Not going to lie … I was extremely happy to build that fire.

Photographer Poul Ober - Preparing the Drone

We also wanted to get some drone images while we were on site. Poul recently added a DJI Phantom Pro 4 to his bag of tricks and we both were excited about aerial images we could collect.

Flying a drone in the woods when it’s windy is not as easy, or as fun, as you might think.

Photographer Poul Ober - Flying the Drone

To Poul’s credit, there were no crashes or branches damaged during our handful of flights. Maybe there were some close calls but those don’t count as far as I’m concerned.

Control Panel of the DJI Phantom Pro 4

We took the drone out on the first day there but the wind and the extreme cold were not playing along nicely. The drone was beeping at us incessantly alerting us to high winds … eventually, we gave up and decided to have another go the next day, hoping things would improve.

Control Panel of the DJI Phantom Pro 4 - Photographer Poul Ober

Which they did! We took a handful of shots that turned out pretty amazing. If you are a regular on this site, you know that I don’t publish finished images very often – choosing to focus on “in progress” type posts and images. Today’s post isn’t really much different even though I will share at least one finished image a bit later.

Looking out towards the lake - look for the drone

I thought it would be interesting to show an image of the drone I took as it flew out over the lake in an effort to capture the cabin mixed in amongst the trees. I put a semi-transparent red dot over the drone to help you pick out its location but my graphic actually looks like there’s a red planet in my shot.

That big area of white in the image above is the lake frozen over. I thought it would be exciting to walk on … but it wasn’t. It really just seemed like walking across a giant empty parking lot. If you look right in the middle, you can see a single lone ice-fishing shack on the lake.

Modern Cabin winter drone - Photographer Poul Ober

Here is an aerial partial view of the site taken from 400′ – the legal limit we can take the drone without special permits or approvals. You can see just how many trees there are and imagine how difficult it would be to get an exterior photo made that isn’t nonsensical.

Architectural Photo Shoot with Poul Ober

We also decided to attempt a few interior shots during the time we needed to come in to avoid hypothermia. The owner only took possession of the house this last summer and winter deliveries are tough … as a result, the interiors are basically lacking all furniture and art.

One of the things that made shooting any of the interior spaces challenging, is that there are windows on basically every wall, which meant unwanted reflections. Luckily, we had a way to deal with those …

Architectural Photo Shoot with Poul Ober

Giant 4′ x 8′ 1.5″ thick rigid insulation boards painted black. These panels are typically used to winterize some of the semi-outdoor spaces but we pulled them out and one of my jobs was to position them in all sorts of manner so that we could avoid getting reflections.

Worked like a charm!

Modern Cabin winter night snow - Photographer Poul Ober

And here is the only finished image I will share with you – the one image that everyone is probably familiar with if they’ve read any of the construction progress posts on this project.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

We had to be careful in the sequencing of all the photos we took so that we didn’t introduce footprints into the snow. It was a complete pain but seeing how this image turned out, I am happy that we thought this through ahead of time.

Bob Borson Modern Cabin covered terrace

This is the last image I will leave you with. I had just spent the last few hours shoveling snow around and despite the cold, I was hot and a bit tired. The view was lovely, there was a fridge full of beer about 10′ to my left, and a fire in the fireplace just to my right. This was not a staged photo, but one that Poul just happened to take – and I’m glad he did. This image does a pretty good job and capturing the peaceful and comforting nature of this place.


Bob signature FAIA

If you would like to contact Poul, maybe go on your own winter-wonderland, you can reach him through his agent:
Quitze Nelson Artist Management 

Source: Life of an Architect