Dennis Guichard [ Architectural Photographer]
by Michael Kruger
Living in Dubai, you’re constantly surrounded by some of the world’s most amazing buildings or pieces of architecture. Some incredible feats of engineering occur in this part of the world, you only have to look at the incredible Burj Khalifa to understand this!
So, X-Pose Magazine thought it only fitting to chat to someone who has a passion for photographing this genre, architectural photography. Dennis Guichard, who used to live in Abu Dhabi, and now currently in his home town of Durban, South Africa, clearly has an eye and a passion for this sort of photography. Lets have a natter with him to find out more about what he does!
XPM: Hi Dennis, thanks very much for taking the time out of your busy day to chat with us! So, you’ve lived and worked in the Middle East. You have a good understanding of the wonderful world of Architectural beauty? We’d like to concentrate and chat about your experiences in this field. How did you come to shoot architecture? It’s not something a lot of photographer’s do!
DG: Thanks guys, I am an architect myself so from an early stage in my career I used to simply just photograph the various projects that I worked on. I had access to construction sites where others didn’t so that played to my advantage. I worked as a Senior Architectural Design Manager on the Al Raha Beach mega-project in Abu Dhabi so that gave me access to shoot high-impact, abstract and fine art photographs at will of many of the sensational projects being developed by Aldar Properties… the iconic Aldar HQ building, the Yas Viceroy Hotel, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the Yas Marina F1 circuit, etc. Many of my construction development photographs were published in an exclusive limited-edition boxed hard cover book ‘Yas Island – Race to the Finish’ which was handed out to VIP guests, Royal Family members, race teams, etc, at the inaugural 2009 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix and that really launched my success in the Middle East.
Khalifa International Stadium – Qatar
XPM: As I photographer myself, but one who doesn’t really ever shoot buildings and architecture, have always wondered something! If a client commissions you to photograph a particular piece of architecture, surely it’s not as simple as taking your camera and tripod down to the location and take a few snaps! Different sides or dimensions of the building will look better at different times of the day [according to the light falling on it]. So it must take hours or even days to shoot one project? Can you elaborate on this for our readers please?
DG: Absolutely! If all you ever create is the same imagery as everyone else then you have little control over potential income because the next guy will always simply undercut you on price if his commodity is the same. It is vital that we each find a distinct and unique way of differentiating the style of photography we shoot so that the product we have becomes something special and desirable. Beautiful light is an essential element of architectural photography, as it is in any genre, and this can frequently mean that extended periods of time and frequent revisits to any project are required to get the shots we are after. Sunsets and sunrises happen very quickly in the Middle East, we sometimes have at best 3-4 minutes of perfect light to capture a scene, so this can commonly translate to getting just one image for the client in a day! It is essential with such tight timeframes that you know exactly what you are going to shoot and from where when that window of opportunity presents itself. Extensive construction activity across the general region, sand storms and even simple hot air summer convection air currents all lift dust into the air leaving buildings looking very dirty and the sky constantly a dirty brown. For this reason buildings are usually best shot in that fleeting dusk light or even in the dark of night where distracting details and dirty facades can be lost into the shadows. The capture will then also become more all about the architecture and the light which is an essential element of good architectural photography. Ansel Adams once commented that he was pleased if he successfully got just 12 amazing images per year, architectural photography can be a lot like that too…
If you want to be successful in any genre of photography, and earn a respectable level of income, then it is vital that you find a way to be unique and distinctive. Do not let your style of work become a common commodity!
XPM: So it’s highly advisable to do reconnaissance trips to your subject [the architectural structure or building] before even starting the shooting process?
DG: Yes it’s an essential part of the process. I will usually visit the location during the day and spend a few hours wondering around with my camera looking at all the various facades and exploring the architecture looking for the details I want to shoot. Buildings all have soul and personality so it is important to spend time with the structure to get a feel for it and to try and identify what elements of its design will best showcase its personality. Different aspects will frequently exhibit themselves differently in different light so it is essential to invest the time to explore this so you can be assured of giving the client (usually either the architect or the building owner) a comprehensive collection of beautiful images that adequately showcases the building to its best potential. It can be an extensive process, frequently revisiting any building repeatedly over a long period of time (both day and night), but that’s how you get to create high-impact images with a difference that set you apart from the others. The building is always going to be there, it’s the changing light that is the key to how you are going to showcase various elements of the architecture!
XPM: What’s the longest amount of time you’ve spent shooting something and can your recall which structure it was and where?
DG: I spent 6 months travelling back and forth shooting a large stock image library of Doha architecture recently. Every time I go back the light is slightly different, the sun rises and sets in a different bearing, and I can resultantly get a completely different look and feel on exactly the same building. I spent 18-months building an image library of the construction development on the Al Raha Beach and Yas Island mega-projects in Abu Dhabi when those projects were actively underway. When beautiful photography is so very heavily dependent on beautiful light to showcase any building or structure, the more time one can allocate with any building the more varying and impactful the resultant photography will always be. Good architectural photography requires a slow considerate approach to any commission. This however will always be very heavily driven by what the nature of any commission seeks to attain, what the clients specific time pressures are like, and what budget the client has to invest in best capturing and showcasing their project.
National Conference Centre – Qatar
XPM: I know that in some cases buildings can look pretty spectacular at night. Do you do a lot of shooting at night? And without stating the obvious things like lighting, what are your biggest obstacles when shooting at night?
DG: I do almost all my shooting at night (it’s my favourite time of the day). I choose to shoot a particular style of high-impact, abstract and fine art photography, frequently shooting in black-and-white so the play of light and shadow at night-time presents the most exciting opportunity for creating sensational images with a difference (and no one else seems to do it). Construction sites across the Middle East invariably work 24-hours a day and are extensively illuminated at night with artificial lighting so this provides the most wonderful opportunity to get some amazing photographs if you can get access to the sites. I always shoot with available natural light so I travel light and rather just work with whatever opportunity is available. This is also why regular visits to any construction site are so valuable in that the lights, and the nature of construction, are constantly changing and providing new opportunity. Night shooting frequently calls for long-exposures, depending on the availability of light, so the right gear is essential – a sturdy good quality tripod and a remote release cable, shooting at ISO 100 for maximum image quality and sharpness.
Aldar HQ – Abu Dhabi
XPM: I’m guessing you must have a favourite project or one particular architectural structure you love or admire the most from a photography point of view? Can you share this with us and why?
DG: As an architect I simply love and appreciate good architecture. The beauty of the Middle East that there is good architecture everywhere! In Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha you can point your camera in almost any direction and be assured of finding something sensational to shoot, so I get really excited working in any of these cities. The artistic freedom that architects have to create beautiful buildings without boundaries, the sheer scale of development and the sensational nature of the architecture everywhere makes architectural photography surely one of the most exciting and rewarding genres of them all to work in? I love almost all the buildings I shoot as they each provide new opportunity for creating something artistic that will go onto a boardroom wall, into a book or magazine, and which will help showcase the art of the architecture. There’s also a new challenge in every project which is something I relish.
In South Africa I shot each of the ten host stadia for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, in Dubai I’ve photographed the metro stations which I love, in Abu Dhabi I’ve photographed the Aldar HQ extensively, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and the Yas Hotel which are all memorable. In Doha I’ve shot an extensive image library collection of the ‘best of Qatar’ including the Khalifa International Stadium, the Qatar National Conference Centre and many of the beautiful buildings in the West Bay area. I’ve also had exclusive access to shoot some construction photography on the new National Museum of Qatar by Jean Nouvel architect and ARUP Engineers which is one of the most sensational structures I have probably ever seen.
XPM: Do you ever shoot from an aerial point of view? I know some clients like their projects shot from the air? If so, tell us more and it can’t be easy hanging from a helicopter or similar?
DG: That’s a funny question. I’m parachute qualified but I’m actually terrified of heights! I don’t have the guts to get into a helicopter to do any aerial photography so all my photography is done from the ground. It’s also a nature of shooting at dusk & dawn and into the night that long exposures become necessary so fortunately that doesn’t suit having my feet off the ground.
Dubai Metro Station
XPM: If there was one structure you haven’t shot and would love to, tell us what it would be and why?
DG: I’d love to shoot the new museum projects on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. I’ve been knocking on doors and looking for opportunity on that for years but I reckon you have to be REALLY well connected to get a break to shoot what is unquestionable some of the most sensational and prestigious architecture on earth. My distinctive style of abstract fine art photography would align perfectly with shooting what is ultimately the pinnacle of worldwide museum architecture on these projects. I’d also love to photograph the new 2022 World Cup stadia being built in Doha. I’d also love to spend some time capturing the spectacular architecture around the Dubai Marina which I love and which would make for a most wonderful coffee table book.
Viceroy Hotel – Yas Island
XPM: Well Dennis, that’s about it from our side. Once again readers, please check out Dennis’ work on his social media and website links below: