Interview With Architectural Photographer Rick Harris

by Murat on February 12th, 2012
Rick-Harris-Photogapher

Rick Harris was born and raised in Toronto. He studied at Glendon College and has held a variety of careers, including software and graphic design.

His work has appeared in Max Magazine, File Magazine, The Shadow Collective, and UTATA.

He works with Heritage Toronto to document and raise awareness on endangered properties and heritage buildings.

Rick: “My body of work is an attempt to capture decay and ephemera close to home. This includes landscapes, waterscapes, rusted stuff and a wide assortment of found objects. More for a recorded document than an artistic journey, I scour the back roads exploring forgotten, discarded, disappearing landscapes.”

Rick says he is an amateur photographer, and his architectural photographs definitely do have a style of their own; quite different from the work of most professional architectural photographers.

His architectural portfolio doesn’t contain hundreds of photos, so I didn’t have to sit and to choose the most interesting shots among them – they’re all remarkable and deserve to be seen in their entirety.

You can reach Rick on his web-site: http://rickharris.org.

St. Stoney, Architectural Photographer - Rick Harris
St. Stoney

Rick, you have held a variety of careers in the past, including software and graphic design. How did you get into photography?

I am relatively new to photography. My interest in it coincided with the rise of digital photography, and my introduction came largely through my involvement in graphic design and the compositional and technical skills I picked up through it. These skills easily translated into photography.

This newfound interest in photography has been fostered by my involvement in online photographic communities. I’m pleased to see how willing most people are to share their enthusiasm and knowledge of photography.

My greatest interest, architectural photography, stems from my involvement with Heritage Toronto. They’re an organization mandated to raise awareness of endangered heritage properties. I have a passion for architecture, especially heritage and abandoned properties. I’m always amazed at the beauty I discover in deserted, decaying buildings. I love documenting these types of endangered spaces. I also believe and hope that documenting these building increases the chances that may be salvaged.

St. Stoney Rectory, Architectural Photographer - Rick Harris
St. Stoney Rectory

The vast majority of your architectural photos are more like works of Fine Art than traditional classic architectural photos. What made you decide on this approach? Is it because you think of it more as a hobby? Is it influenced by your work as a graphic designer? Or is it simply because you find it too boring to shoot commercial buildings?

I don’t know if I consciously decided to use one style or another. I don’t have a roster of clients, so I’m not tied to a specific style. I believe the challenge and the joy of these spaces is discovering their hidden beauty. It feeds my love of exploration and discovery.

Woodward Church, Architectural Photographer - Rick Harris
Woodward Church

I see that you actively use HDR – at least for your architectural photos. Can you offer any tips on techniques for getting the best results with HDR? Would you say that HDR technology is right for regular commercial architectural photography?

I admit that initially I enthusiastically embraced HDR and may have overused it. I’ve since learned that less is more as far as that technique is concerned. It does resolve some tricky lighting issues. And when used properly, it can produce some stunning results. I think that some people lose sight of the fact that it is a tool that, when properly applied, can render a more realistic view of the scene.

Lighting is often difficult in abandoned or empty buildings – this is a good situation to use HDR. I also believe there is a place for it in commercial photography, where the lighting is challenging or there is no option to introduce professional level lighting.

However, I do feel that this technique is to some extent overused.
My rule-of-thumb is that if you can tell it’s an HDR image, then I’ve overdone it and I need to tone it down.

Detroit Piano, Architectural Photographer - Rick Harris
Detroit Piano

What are your plans for the near future? What do you imagine yourself doing in 5 years? Do you see yourself as an all-round photographer or more as a specialist in a particular area?

My near-term plans are to prepare and participate in an exhibit sponsored by Heritage Toronto. We will be showing a number of images related to transportation facilities during the months of April and May 2012.

I may travel to Detroit in the spring. Detroit is a surprisingly beautiful city with rich, compelling architecture. I am always traveling to cities in North America to document abandoned, endangered properties.

I intend to branch out to different types of photography, especially studio work with models. I am currently exploring that side of photography. I love artistic projects and hope to explore many styles of photography in the coming years.

Packard Tire, Architectural Photographer - Rick Harris
Packard Tire

Do you think of photography primarily as a hobby or a job?

I consider myself an impulsive type following my instincts and experimenting with a number of styles and forms. I never see it as a job with all of the inherent responsibilities. I also see it more than a hobby. I approach it as a student would approach a subject they love.

Which do you consider to be your most successful commercial project and how were you introduced to the client?

If by commercial work, you mean work that I get paid for, then I would have to say my fine art pieces garner me the most sales. I have had good success in selling through my gallery exhibits. Given that I’m an enthusiastic amateur, I don’t have a roster of clients. I do dream of the day when my income is drawn from creative sources though. Today I have a day job that pays the bills.

Cat Skills, Architectural Photographer - Rick Harris
Cat Skills

Do you feel a sense of competition in a world where everyone with a digital camera is a photographer? If so, in what respect?

I don’t feel I’m competing with other photographers. I’m amazed with the quality of photography produced by professionals and amateurs alike. I find my muse and my inspiration from all photography and never feel the need to compete with others. It’s for this reason that I use a Creative Commons license on the majority of my work.

Could you tell us something about the equipment you use, particularly for architectural and landscape photographs?

I use a Canon 5D Mk II as my body. I use three lenses: Sigma 10-20mm for landscapes and architecture. I use my 24-70mm 2.8 for interiors (it’s amazing for low-light situations). I use my 135mm prime for fine art and candid street photography.

Cat Skills, Architectural Photographer - Rick Harris
Cat Skills

Our company develops Daminion – a multi-user photo management system. With that in mind, we’d obviously be very interested to hear your thoughts about organizing photo archives. So here are a couple of photo-archive-specific questions: 1. How many photos do you have in your photo archive? 2. Do you have a favourite photo software tool? 3. How do you backup your photo archive?

  1. I have around 750-800,000 images in my archives.
  2. I use Lightroom and Photoshop
  3. I use a device called Click-It

Are there any particular pieces of architecture that you would really like to photograph? (In your country or internationally)

I’m interested in documenting the rust-belt around the Great Lakes in Canada and the US. I sense that these areas will transform over time and we will lose a bit of our heritage. I’d love to record these areas before they gentrify and transform into something else. We lose a little bit of our heritage as these areas improve and shake off their manufacturing legacy.

Detroit Pew, Architectural Photographer - Rick Harris
Detroit Pew

A list of extra questions

Where were you born?

I was born in Toronto, Canada

How many years have you been involved in photography – and in architecture photography in particular?

I’ve been involved in photography for approximately 10 years. I’ve been interested in architecture photography for approximately 5 years.

Who are your favorite photographers?

My favourite photographers are landscape and fine art photographers:

  • Peter Bowers
  • Linda Plaisted

Detroit Loom, Architectural Photographer - Rick Harris
Detroit Loom

What do you think you would be doing now if you weren’t a photographer?

I’d be a painter or a musician. Pursuing some creative project.

What do you enjoy most about being a photographer?

I love the creative aspects, the opportunity to explore and discover that comes from photography.

Is there anything you dislike about being a photographer?

The cost of equipment. And the seemingly endless need to upgrade gear.

From → Interviews