Shangri-La Toronto: the creative process

Shangri-La Toronto: the creative process

It is more than time to share my first architectural image from Toronto. I am working on an architectural series with the Toronto buildings. My goal is to improve my skills and discover the city through its buildings. It is going to take time since I plan on shooting other genres as well. This first image is of the Shangri-La Toronto (the building on the right).

About Shangri-La Toronto

The Shangri-La Toronto is a very recent skyscraper that includes a hotel and private residences. It was completed in 2012 and it is one of the ten tallest towers in Toronto, at 214 m (702 ft). Adjacent to the Financial District, the building has an easily recognizable shape, which makes it a new landmark in Downtown Toronto.

Creative Process

I thought I would walk you through my creative process for this image to help you understand the result. This process can be really short (a few hours) or quite long (weeks or even months).

On location

Let’s start with the building itself. I chose to photograph Shangri-La Toronto because of the modern and quite remarkable architecture. It also helps that it is two blocks away from my place… When I arrived on site, I just wandered around with my camera in hand, trying to “see” the building. I am looking for interesting features that will help build a composition, in this case the strong lines and the balconies.

I also study the environment of the building, to see if I can include other elements: another building, a lamp post, etc… These elements can complement the main subject, make a strong contrast, or put things into context. For the Shangri-La, I liked the other building because it provided a strong opposition and there was some contrast between its rugged stone and the polished glass of the Shangri-La.

When I have found a nice angle, I set up my tripod and my camera to reproduce the angle I had when holding the camera and I take a few test shots to check the exposure and the focus. I then set up for long exposures and shoot a few frames. I will not get into technical details here, but you can check my previous post about long exposures for more technical information.

In post-processing

Then the post-processing begins. Sometimes I let an image untouched for several weeks, or even several months because I am not ready to work on it. Sometimes I have a very precise idea that I want to put into place right away.

I always start in Lightroom to make a rather neutral black and white conversion. I say “rather neutral” because I start to work towards a specific idea from the start, but the Lightroom result is still pretty dull. It’s a good basis on which I can build. The main part of the process happens in Photoshop where I transform the initial black and white rendition to a fine art black and white image.

I enjoy working with zones: I split the image in several areas on which I work individually. In this image, I had three areas: the two buildings and the sky. It allows me to focus on the strengths of each area without being influenced by the rest of the image. This way, each part of the image stands by its own. That’s when the strong features I studied on location come into play. My goal is to alter the tonal relationships between these features to communicate my vision. I use similar tools and techniques to have a continuity between the zones.

I then look at the whole image to see if the parts come together as a final result like I intended. Almost every time, I go back to fix or improve something. With architectural images, the sky is often the link between all the elements, and it’s the last area I work on. It helps me bring the image together.

As a rule, I wait at least one day before publishing every image, and quite often I make an adjustment the next day or so. I find that I get so focused on an image that I loose the context. Looking at other images or completely different things helps get a new look on an image. In the case of this image, I waited several weeks because I felt something was not quite right. I finally put my finger on it: the composition did not work for me. So I played around before choosing to rotate the image 90° and to use a square crop. I finally got the impact I wanted!

I hope this process is not to convoluted and will help you work on your images. Never be afraid of waiting a few days – or weeks – before putting the last touch to your image!

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