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Liao Yusheng on Architecture and Photography

Interview Date: 26-02-2014
(More interviews from this person)

What is your relationship with architecture? What attracted you to architecture, as a photographer?

Some of the best architecture is about the manipulation of light. The same can be said of photography so I think they are a natural fit. Architecture and photography are two of the things I love most and being able to combine them into a vocation has been a great blessing.

We can say that most of architecture photos of buildings do not include any people. What are your thoughts about including people in your photos? Is it important to photograph a building in use, or by itself?

I try to incorporate people into my photography when appropriate. The problem is finding a way to do it that doesn’t take away the focus on the architecture. If I had a giant budget I could hire actors to be in the photographs, but real people doing real things are usually too unpredictable and fast moving to be useful in a carefully set up architecture photograph.

What have been your most exciting and challenging architecture photography projects?

The most exciting projects to me are seeing the great works of modern architecture’s old masters, such as Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, etc. At the same time, these famous buildings are also the most challenging since they have been photographed so many times that it’s really difficult to bring something new and unique to how these buildings are seen.

Many architecture theorists and a lot of people think that contemporary architecture is designed in order to be well photographed. Doing this work, do you have this feeling of buildings that are not designed to serve specific needs but are rather iconic and self-promoting?

I come across many buildings where the form doesn’t follow the function and it’s all about achieving a certain showy look. However, when a building’s form isn’t true to itself — its function, its environment, its materials — it can’t really look beautiful. I can still make it look good, but it’s a beauty without substance.

Most of architects worldwide share the passion of photography for various reasons. At the same time they usually photograph their projects on their own. What special skills and equipment would you say are required for architectural photography? How do architecture photographers do better this kind of work?

You don’t actually need a lot of equipment to do architecture photography. A tripod, a camera, a wide angle lens, maybe a tilt-shift lens and the technical knowhow to operate them and you are good to go. There are special techniques and tricks we employ but nothing that can’t be learned through some research. The difficult part knows how to capture the essence of a building through photographs.

As you say, many architects also happen to have a good eye for photography and they certainly can take some nice shots of architecture. In fact, I’m always curious to see the architecture photographs my architect friends take, to see what architects see when they experience a building. When I was starting out as an architecture photographer, I was helped immensely by observing how architects see their own work. The democratic nature of photography means that anyone can take a great photo, often through sheer luck; the value of a professional photographer, architecture or otherwise, is that we are able to consistently deliver under deadline high quality photographs of the subject of our expertise (architecture in the case of architecture photographers).

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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photo © Liao Yusheng

Liao Yusheng

Country: Taiwan, Province of China
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Liao Yusheng is an architecture photographer based in Taipei. Though he didn’t formally study photography or architecture, his time at The Cooper Union gave him many opportunities to immerse in the world of architecture and design.

His photographs have been published in architecture books by teNeues and Taschen as well as in periodicals like Time Magazine, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

In his spare time, he travels the world looking for good eats, documented in his Flickr account (