Simon Lewis

P&P Part Three

How space changes with light

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Hotel lobby by day and night. I love the reflected lights shining in the nighttime marble. I should have made better use of them, but the point is that they weren't visible by day.

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Bach bar - comes to life at night.

Here's what I learnt from this exercise:
- When photographing places there's an important need to visualise the end result. I imagine this happens more and more with practice. However seeing a space at different times with different light demonstrates just how the look and feel of the space can change so dramatically. The use can also change - witness the beach bar; by day a pleasant but otherwise ordinary space, but by night (or twilight in this case) an enchanting social space. Or take the hotel lobby: maybe it's bustling and full to bursting point by day, but deserted by night. And if so, what are we trying to convey with our images? The hustle and bustle of desk staff or the drawn out boredom of the night porter?
- Sometimes the image needs to interpret the use. So a bar is perhaps
always best photographed at night.
- It's worth understanding where the light is coming from - and where it will go to as time passes. Where is the sun now, where will it be later? Will that make things better or worse? Any reflections? Will it cause a silhouette or deep shadows? And what about artificial light, type, quantity, effect? These are all worth finding out about before removing the lens cap.

The user's viewpoint

Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem

This mini-amphitheatre is a modern addition to the Jerusalem skyline. Perched overlooking the Old City, it is perfectly placed for tourists to not just take in the scenic vista, but to also hear about the 5,000 or so years of civilisation unfolded before them.

As with the last exercise, I did not have the benefit of the widest of lenses, but I think this angle manages to convey the viewers perspective whilst at the same time illustrating the architectural features of of the space (seating, access etc). From this camera position, this is what the tourist sees.

Airport Lounge

From the far end of the BA lounge (First Class of course) I had a good view right across the space. This angle and height is exact perspective a lounge user would enjoy whilst seated here. As with the previous exercise of whether spaces work I could not help wondering how the space or user experience would change with the light (dusk, night etc) or as the lounge filled with people. As luxuriant as the space seems at first glance it is bare and soulless - not helped by the bizarre contrast between sumptuous wooden floor and cheap ceiling tile…

Hotel Lobby, Israel

A typical view across the lobby as a guest makes some last minute adjustments to his suitcase.

Hotel Bedroom, Bulgaria

A true user’s perspective - my hotel room in Sofia. The room was absolutely enormous and I can’t remember if i’ve ever stayed in a room quite this big. What I wanted to illustrate here is that most of the time a guest’s room experience is normally focussed on the bed. Much of the time hotel room users are horizontal with the lights off and eyes shut - so size and decor are unimportant from a practical perspective. Of course aesthetically, decor and ambience make all the difference to what agues feels about the space which is why so much time and effort is spent on hotel room decor. Here the large legs try to redress the balance with the large room equalising the effect.

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A short series of images taken from the users perspective. As a collection I feel they say more about the user than the spaces. As individual images however they each indicate the purpose, use and success of the spaces themselves.

Here's what I learnt from this exercise:
- I travel too much
- That aside, there’s a lot going on in spaces that I have previously overlooked. I’m quite into architecture and interior design as a result. I’m now fascinated at how a space changes use, dimension and aesthetic as the user’s perspective changes. In the last image above, the user experience and resulting photo of the hotel room would be vastly different if taken from the sofa in the corner. The bed might have been dominant, but would that have added to or detracted from the image? I should have spent more time finding out. Either way, I am certain the photo would have conveyed a different message altogether.
- So by extension, which would make the better image? More work is needed on this...

Exploring function

Dead Sea Hotel Lobby

I like this space. It’s clearly a reception of some sort and in this case it’s a hotel lobby. So what should the space be doing? The question can be answered in a number of ways; aesthetically, functionally (from the guest perspective) and operationally for the hotelier.

Aesthetically I find the reception pleasing. It’s light, airy and has plenty of space. There is a significant height to the room but this is brought into a more human scale with the large metallic globes hung from above the reception desk. The decor seems contemporary. From the scale of the people we can see that this is a large lobby. I imagine it presents a good first impression to arriving guests. But what does it look or feel like at dusk or nighttime?

Functionally one has to be careful. Hotel lobbies can often be crowded with people (and suitcases). The roped off queuing zone is a giveaway that - at times - this space feels more crowded and works far less comfortably for guests. That’s an area worth exploring on future visits to this hotel. The broad reception desk allows plenty of room for guests so that alone could alleviate any sense of crowding. There is a VIP check-in desk to the right (carpet just visible). I could not cover this in my camera’s field of view but overall I would propose the space does exactly what it needs to do - allow large numbers of guests to arrive and depart, while offering a personal level of service if required.

From an operational level the size is a benefit. Large areas for mountains of suitcases (large groups) is a bonus. A smooth floor on one level allows luggage trollies to pass quietly and easily. A wide reception desk could be crammed with reception staff if needed in busy periods.

Spa Lounge

This lounge has a far more intimate sense of scale than the lobby above (different property). This is demonstrated by the lower ceiling with beams and more densely packed furnishings. The wooden floor mirrors the look and feel of the ceiling, helping to enhance the overall effect.

So what should the space do? The scale suggests intimacy while the decor and furnishings imply people are intended to spend time in conversation. In essence this is what a lounge should provide. Does it succeed? Well there are no people in evidence which suggests at first glance that it does not. However the time of day is wrong. At 10am one could assume spa guests are elsewhere. I would expect this area to come to life in the late afternoon onwards. Again, a further aspect to explore photographically.

Shopping Centre, Amsterdam

This converted government building is now the home of an elegant shopping centre. From my vantage point on the top floor I had a birds eye view of people coming and going. Whilst not a busy centre, I imagine it attracts ‘deliberate’ shoppers, rather than those who simple want to come and browse. Ignoring tourists like me though…

The main ground floor entrance to the building is lower right of frame (adjacent to the two shoppers) and the building is set into three collonaded atria with the centre in the main area of the photo, a second one in the background and the third behind the camera.

Does the space work? I chose this location as the purpose and use had changed - it was once a grand office building. Surprisingly, as a shopping centre, it does work. Shoppers can browse easily along the colonnades. Visibility across the atria is good and access to different floors is conveniently provided through two pairs of escalators. As a grand building the architecture adds to the upmarket feel of the overall experience. There is plenty of light and space too. The central retail island in the lobby adds an anchor to arriving shoppers as well as those descending from upper floors. In so much as this, I think the space does succeed - though with any retail experience it’s all about the mix of shops too.

Squash court

I like the open door of the court and ball on the floor. They add a sense of drama or anticipation to the image. Without them the space just seemed empty and unused - even unloved. Perhaps most of the time that’s exactly how there are - lights off, closed down, waiting for action. That might make an interesting image. With people in the space the only option i think would be to shoot play taking place - all very predictable. So in the image above I find the empty space successful. I like the geometry and strong lines. The partially open door helps to reduce the yawning emptiness and the ball adds a human touch.

Here's what I learnt from this exercise:
- Space changes with time i.e. they get busier and quieter. The look, feel, use and therefore image(s) will be affected by this. A quiet hotel lobby does not look or feel like a busy hotel lobby.
- Light has a big effect. What does the lounge look like at night, versus day? I see this is the subject of a forthcoming exercise.
- Spending time studying at least these two aspects will have a profound affect on the photographed result. As is often the case it’s all in the brief.