Jeffrey Jacobs Makes His Exteriors Glow

Shooting Spacious Interiors Takes About 100 Lights.

This Wisconsin cabin was the dream child of designer Thomas Jones, owner of Thomas R. Jones Design In Orange County, California. He built it as a summer retreat for his family. In contrast to the cabin that once stood there, this one is spacious and modern. It was also a huge project to photograph. I had three assistants led by Trice Patterson, my son Josh among them.

Now that I’m shooting digital, I’ve changed my approach. ln the past, I would have had to do twilight exposures such as this all on one piece of film. Today, I shoot the dusky sky separately and my digital artist, Jeremy Paine, seamlessly blends the Images (here and in the next shot).

The glass facade meant you could see practically every detail in the house, and that meant putting lights almost everywhere. Aside from the sleeping quarters that you don? see, there? a loft upstairs, and downstairs is the family room and kitchen. There were over 100 lights at work here, exclusive of the existing down lights on the property. So I may have t o gloss over some of them and focus on the main areas.

I use my bulbs like paintbrushes. Each light, whether It? a Lowel, Arri or ETC Source Four, serves a specific purpose. They?e not really interchangeable. However, the Lowels do give me a bit more leeway, since they?l accept a variety of bulbs. Also, practically every light has blackwrap, which I use in place of barndoors.

We arrived on site in my extended Ford Club wagon, which I packed to the gills. We were there for three days in June, producing 12 shots, both exteriors and interiors. Since I have the option to shoot the sky separately, I light at night, which lets me better visualize the lighting. Our exposure for the house was 8 seconds at f/12.5 on a Cambo Wide DS with 35mm Schneider lens and P 45 Phase One back, One more thing: to achieve the necessary depth of field, I set focusing at the hyperfocal distance.

Let? start outside the cabin. The surrounding property Iends depth and texture to the place, so if there? a tree, I?l light it. There are 575W Source Fours outside illuminating the trees near left and far right. Other lights outside served to fill in the black holes among the trees, I hate black holes in a shot. More lights brought out the grass and steps in the foreground, and I used spots to bring out the texture in the brick on the right and highlight the adjoining wall of the cabin, All the lights inside and out were hidden by camera angle or pieces of furniture, for the most part.

As we step into the house, we move all the way to the loft in the rear, We positioned several lights here and aimed them at the ceiling. There were additional lights spread around the kitchen and living room floor also directed at the ceiling, but these were stronger bulbs to attain the needed reach, The broad ceiling lights were 75W Par 30 floods, The highlights along the ceiling came from 100W Par 38 spots, All the down lights are existing lights, except one. To highlight that lighthouse sculpture above the fireplace, I switched out one of the bulbs with a Par 30.

Just inside the house, far left, are black chairs that needed to be lit. We highlighted those with a flood positioned on the floor, while another flood, also at ground level, was aimed at the back of the dining room set to the right, We also had several spots and floods raking across the stonework inside the house, also from the floor. There were several spots aimed upward toward the loft, to give us those highlights along the front edge, and another spotlight (suspended from a grip arm attached to a stand) sweeping across the railing , Other lights targeted areas that may be somewhat obscure when viewed here.

Now we move back outside and come to a 75W Par 16 flood which was aimed upward so that it? raking across the stonework to the left of the lounge chairs. We also had a Par 30 flood at the back of the porch, almost in the corner, hitting the stonework all the way back and filling in the wood canopy. In that area, we also had Par 30 spots hidden by the columns and aimed across the chaises. The principal lights for the canopy and black mullions came from Par 38 spots and floods running across the porch.

With this second photograph, we move down south to a commercial facility, Park It Here, a multifaceted parking garage near Memphis International Airport, on assignment for architect Todd Walker (Archimania), The site is massive, so big, in fact, that we included people in the shot to show scale, and the vehicles add to the sense of a busy facility, reinforced by the car zipping past the camera as a red streak (a 3-second exposure), As before, I shot the dusky sky separately, but the covered parking (populated by metal halides) mandated another exposure (4 seconds), with yet one more for all the fluorescents (8 seconds), I used the same camera , lens and back here as before, As you often see in car shots, we wet down the whole parking lot for dramatic effect.

The key to lighting sites such as this is taking control of the environment- not only what? in the frame, but also what surrounds the frame, So we began by turning off all the open and covered parking lights, along with all the fluorescents, although the sign remained lit. We bagged some streetlights that were affecting the scene with duvateen. And to deal with those lights that have sensors, we simply popped the sensor off, and replaced it when done, uncovering the other lights as well ?all with the aid of a lift.

We again waited until nightfall. My lighting helps to tell the story about the place, to reveal the texture and materials used. Here that meant using a mere 93 lights (all switched on for the base exposure), with more than one-quarter of them (22 of the 250W floods) pressed up almost against that wall of glass on the right. My feeling is, if the designer or architect took the time to make that an integral component, then it? my job to show it and light it. Wherever similar glass structures were concerned, I wanted the viewer to get a sense of the metal support system, not simply the glass itself-and would position lights as just indicated. Moreover, there was one more consideration: The existing lights exhibited a color shift from panel to panel, and replacing them gave us a uniform color balance.

There were also lights aimed at the grass and sweeping across the face of the covered parking facility. Additional lights were aimed upward onto the face of the buildings to the left to accentuate the ribbed metal in the overhangs and more lights still to bring out each fa?e. Aside from that, there are lights suspended behind the overhang where the people are standing. We had a flood aimed at the top of each column, and a spot pointed at the bottom. In addition, I had two rimlights on the people, and, coming from the parking lot, there was some frontal lighting on them for fill. We also had lights aimed upward into the corrugated metal on the wall (facing camera) of the far building, for separation.

We needed to light inside the conference room (the space behind the sign). While it may be difficult to see here, the lighting did two things: It brought out the desk and chairs (with lights pointed in their direction from below), but even more importantly, it highlighted the translucent nature of the glass (with lights aimed outward). There were also lights hitting the ceiling. We also added some lights to the adjoining room so that would not be a featureless void.

We still had the parked car far left to deal with, I rigged two Source Fours off the edge of the building, using a lift so we could get them way up high. We used a flood to light the back part of the parked car and a spot for the front. And then I brought in a small flood to light the foreground person, and added a spot to edgelight the guy at the back of the vehicle.

Jeffrey Jacobs ( operates Jeffrey Jacobs Photography out of Memphis, Tennessee. He specializes in architecture, hospitality and large-scale productions.

As told to Jack Neubart, PDN

Jacobs Highlighted in Rangefinder

"The longer I am with a subject, the more it reveals itself to me," shares Jeffrey Jacobs, a Memphis-based photographer specializing in architectural photography who counts Hnedak Bobo Group Inc. (architects), archimania pc, FedEx and Hilton Hotels as clients. "I have always been fascinated by the built environment and feel compelled to share my vision of what is real or what could be real. I try to create a three-dimensional experience of space and structure that allows the viewer to appreciate the distance between objects and planes; to sense the depth throughout the entire scene. If I had to describe my style in one word it would have to be ?ainterly.' "

Park Avenue Perfection

A photography traditionalist whose work and ethics are marked by excellence, Jacobs repeats two phrases: "I am only as good as my last image" and "I will only be remembered for my least successful image." He adds, "Architecture will be studied, mimicked and appreciated in the future." Continuing, "When I take on a project I'm aware of how huge a responsibility it is that I protect the visual reputation of the structure, the client and my own standing; I shoulder a personal responsibility for preserving this subject for history."

One of Jacobs' many favorite shoots, which, like all his work, came with the stress of client reputation tacked on, was that produced back in 2007 for client RTKL, a multi-national architectural design firm based in Baltimore, MD. RTKL wanted Jacobs to photograph the offices of their client, a financial institution. Jacobs agreed to the opportunity and deftly planned the assignment in less than 24 hours (see pg. 19). "I love working in New York but there are a lot of logistical headaches to contend with there. When you travel with 2000 pounds of lighting and gear, plus crew of at least three, then consider parking and unpacking?t's a challenge."

Spying the venue with its location just a few blocks from Grand Central on Park Avenue, Jacobs reasoned the best time to move gear into the space would be a Saturday afternoon. He arrived at 3 p.m. and took about an hour and a half to reposition objects inside the room to his best advantage, then initiated lighting setup; capture commenced at 4:30 p.m. and ran until 9:30 p.m in the evening.

"In this tight space, it was my goal to bring the outside in, expanding the scene to create an interior view of Park Avenue. We envisioned capturing the hustle and bustle of the city?he speeding taxis and activity in the street?o contrast against a soothing interior, thereby creating a transparent barrier between chaos and calm."

Shooting late in the afternoon and into the evening, Jacobs' final photograph was a strategic composite of files that captured moments of the most beautiful light: images with natural light, images as the sun set, images at night with the blinds closed. To create his lighted base scene, Jacobs staged an elaborate chain of illumination magic that employed roughly 30 Lowell lights. The crew hung spots from the ceiling over each chair. A light was positioned just below the table to bring up texture and detail of the rug; lighting was added on the wood to enhance its grain and bring up tones; and a mixture of soft light and spots was added to make the dark granite plant stand glow.

An image like this would be much more complicated and nearly impossible with film, shares Jacobs, who notes that digital post-processing allows him to pick and blend the best exposures taken over a time span. "The starting point uses a lighted base scene, the rest comes by blending a few more digital files. I rely on Phase One's Capture One and Photoshop to manage and produce," he reveals. "I started with the lighted base and added three more for a total of four. During edit I pulled in two outdoor motion scenes: one to bring in an additional taxi, one to add more executives. An additional file was added to display the subtle reflection on the table, taking special care not to obstruct the detail in the rug."

Vertical Wonder

Not all of Jacobs' assignments are so environmentally contained. Shooting indoors minus weather and passersbys to deal with doesn't always happen, shares the master who has tripped a breaker or two, climbed up street poles to bag lights with Duvateen and attracted crowds of onlookers. "We do make a spectacle of ourselves sometimes," acknowledges Jacobs, "but we seldom have any trouble. I carry so much gear that folks think I must know what I am doing. I may be toting around 156 lighting instruments, power cords, all types of grip and rigging equipment, several stands (tiny ones to C-stands and Matthews Studio Equipment Beefy Babies). I'll even rent a baker's dozen of HMIs when needed." Fortunately, Jacobs has a background in motion picture lighting and a spectacular crew so he says there aren't many situations that surprise him. Another divine image was taken in Memphis. "This was the first time I lit a 22-story tower from scratch," says Jacobs.

"We were photographing the early 1900s Lincoln American Tower (above). Originally an office building, it was undergoing a conversion to apartments so only four tenants resided there at the time. This allowed lighting setup to go smoothly and the team was able to illuminate primarily from the interior."

During the scout session, Jacobs discovered that all windows could be opened, making his job that much easier. From the seventh floor (hidden behind the trees) he boomed three 575-watt ETC Source Four(s) out the windows to rake light up and onto the terracotta structure, accentuating the intricately textured detailing. Hidden behind trees and boomed were another three Source Four(s) placed out the windows of the fourth floor and angled to stream downward. A few 250-watt spots were placed to highlight the blue awnings. Topping the main structure was a combination of two more Source Four(s), plus a 75-watt flood bulb with Lowell L-lights. To three of the seven arches atop the structure, Jacobs accented rhythm with 75-watt floods in Lowell L-lights. It was a pleasant happenstance that a row of red curtains added color to the top windows, but Jacobs did strategically keep some windows dark. "I like the negative feeling that rises up," he shares. Setup commenced at 4:30 p.m. with daylight still present. Using a Phase One P45 mounted on a Cambo Wide DS with a Schneider 47mm Digitar XL lens set approximately 40 yards away, Jacobs captured images of the building and varied cloud patterns. From his vantage in the park he obtained interesting shots of the carriage, trolley and people. As darkness fell, Jacobs made sure some of the nearby lights were covered with black Duvateen. Then there was a final lighting decision?ebate over whether to light the tower in a single shaft of light or two. Jacobs staged both, deciding on one ray in the end. "We were in the park for nine hours and yes, all the rigging does attract attention and conversation."

What's Light Got to Do with It?

Lighting has always been a big element for this master. He employs products from Arri and Calumet and presently has 86 Lowell L-lights. "I'm heading to 100 of those." He laughs about light bulbs and says GE should sponsor him; he uses 75-watt through 250-watt bulbs with various beam diameters and may have as many as 150 shining at a time. With this much power, Jacobs is very aware of safety and electrical limitations. He'll engage the services of an electrician or gaffer if need be.

"My goal has always been to capture or create a fulfilling feel for the entire scene, so lighting is an important element," explains Jacobs. "By fulfilling, I mean to bring out every minute detail throughout the whole scene so the viewer can visually understand the detail, not just ?ee' it. I usually set my first lights at the farthest point from the camera and fill in from there. I'm into showing textures and layers, spatial relationships and depth. With some subjects these elements are obvious to the eye, while others are not so obvious; I enhance the obvious and accentuate the not so obvious to create the final experience."

Price Points

Attracting business and then sticking to your guns when it comes to price and usage, especially in this economy, can knock a few photographers off their base. Nonetheless, Jacobs has ardently remained focused when negotiating. "Fortunately most of my work has come from word-of-mouth so a potential client usually has an idea of what to expect. But then again, there have been times when I am bidding against another photographer and there's a gap in price and product quantity. They'll call and ask why I am that much more expensive. I can appreciate budgets but I won't budge on quality and not often on price unless we come up with a simpler approach." Sometimes Jacobs lets the deal pass or takes it because he sees value to be made up later in the stream of licensing revenue.

"The lifespan of an architectural image can be as long as three to five years, although I do license images as old as 20 years?his speaks to the long-term value I am able to instill into each image," he remarks. "Photographs of structures are often timeless. I have bid on projects where I really didn't make anything on the production portion, but I can see solid potential for future revenue in residuals and it has paid off big time."

Timeless Classics

Creating a timeless and spectacular image is foremost and in the 28 years he's been shooting, Jacobs has earned high regards among peers and is among the best paid in his field?ut price comes with a price.

"I work for people, projects and occasionally money," he says. Meaning: There has to be connection with the client or the project has to inspire him, and if all else fails, then the motivator is revenue. "I know my bid will often be among the highest. But that's because I am bringing so much more time and effort to the assignment. I've got a crew of between three and five (sometimes more) and a truck full of gear to transport. I also take the time and effort to enhance every single element within the scene."

Jacobs adds that the biggest difference in cost, when competing with more accomplished photographers, usually comes down to production value and vision. "Architecture is one of the most historically significant subjects a photographer can photograph. I take that to heart with every commission and create an image that's worthy of the structure's legacy."

Martha Blanchfield is creator of the Renegade Photo Shoots ( and a freelance marketing and public relations consultant.

Jeffrey Jacobs's Architectural Magic

Working With The Magic Hour

"Magic hour is a time that I always strive for and work around," observes Memphis-based architectural photographer Jeffrey Jacobs ( "I arrive at the location before sunset (or before sunrise, as the situation warrants). After 10am, depending on the time of year, the usable light is pretty much gone. And it doesn't come back till 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon." Magic hour, those moments at dusk when the sky loses its brilliance but not its deep blue color, is a favorite time for architectural photographers. It provides ambient light that fills in shadows, thereby reducing contrast. And of equal importance, it provides a richly colored canvas on which to paint a structure, as well as a cool-colored backdrop outside a window for an interior. But Jacobs doesn't stop there. He will also use twilight, so that the sky becomes a tapestry of cool and warm hues, enriching the scene even further. And the story gets even more interesting when you learn that the "hero" shot of the structure (or interior) itself?he key image that is finally selected?ormally happens past midnight, when the night sky is pitch black. Jacobs begins shooting from the moment he and his assistants arrive at a location, capturing various nuances in the sky. No, his skies are not always deep blue or rainbow colored, but those times of day routinely add a texture that a shot needs. When a brighter sky is called for, he won't hesitate to use that. And not every architectural assignment requires that he add lights, but most do. He'll truck all his gear to a location?e rarely flies these days, as driving to most locations proves more economical. And he seldom rents lights, since what he needs?nd more importantly, in the numbers he requires?s beyond what is available at any rental house, even in major cities such as New York or Los Angeles. In fact, there are certain lights that he will fashion himself if need be. As long as he has the bulbs and fixtures, clamps and Gaffer's tape, he's set.

His Camera Gear Of Choice

Jacobs has been a photographer for 28 years, over 20 of those focused on architecture. His interest in capturing building designs began as a photography student at the Art Institute of Atlanta. He was given an assignment to create a portfolio. One day, he'd set up his view camera looking out at Colony Square in Downtown Atlanta just as the right light was hitting it?nd the scene came alive for him. From that moment, he was hooked and he'd found his calling as an architectural photographer. His own camera at the time was a Minolta SR-T 101, but the school had 4? view cameras for student use. Over the years, like many others, he made the transition from film to digital, and today works with a Cambo Wide DS with a Phase One P 45 back. As an adjunct, he'll use a Canon EOS 5D (usually with a tilt-shift lens), "when I need to shoot an interior and exterior at the same time" (which camera does what depends on the situation and the client's needs, with the view camera always in the forefront). The P 45 lets him shoot exposures lasting minutes, not just seconds, with results as noise-free as those exposed for a fraction of a second (thanks to the camera's built-in dark frame subtraction process). With these nighttime captures, there's only so much light you can throw at a building, so exposures tend to be long. The camera, by the way, is supported on a Gitzo with a three-way head, plus sandbags for a secure stance.

Getting Around Camera And Lens Limitations

With this 4? Cambo field camera system, you cannot view and focus at the same time. "So what I did was establish the hyperfocal distance for each lens that I use," Jacobs points out, "and I set that distance on the lens in advance. Through experience, I've also established an f/12.5 exposure with, for example, my 35mm lens. That roughly covers everything from 6 feet to infinity. I don't see this focusing approach as a limitation. In fact, I'd say not having to focus each shot is a benefit. It has allowed me to make photographs where focusing would have been impractical to impossible." The only times he has to adjust this stratagem is when shooting interiors involving tight spaces, "where I need more depth of field for added foreground. In that case, I'll use a tape measure to calculate the focusing distance, and then I'll rack the focus back a little bit. Since I'm always shooting interiors with the Phase One back tethered to a Mac laptop, I use the computer to review focus at 100 percent. It usually takes no more than two exposures to get it right." Other lenses in Jacobs' employ are 47mm and 72mm, and, when needed, he rents a 24mm, applying the same focusing approach with all optics. Where required, he'll add a polarizer.

Hot Lights And HMIs Take The Lead

Jacobs owns four Calumet monolights that he brings out only when there are people in a shot or when he needs to stop action. Day or night, the thrust of his lighting centers on tungsten and HMI illumination. HMIs produce a powerful blast of light, and they're generally relegated to placement outside a structure. He'll use these lights to simulate sunlight or even moonlight streaming through a window (portable generators may be needed outdoors). Tungstens can be anything from Lowel L-lights (which are easily hidden and often used as kickers or accent lights) fitted with GE bulbs ("for the cleanest light") to much larger fixtures, such as ETC Source Fours and Arris. To help with all this lighting is first assistant Trice Patterson. Jacobs rarely uses a meter, preferring instead to depend on experience. He will bracket exposures, not so much to guarantee a usable exposure but rather to create components that he can use for a final composite. He will, for example, shoot an interior, tracking the changing light of day and employ that light to highlight needed features in that interior. Once that's done, he'll lock down the camera to ensure perfect alignment, set up his lights, and make additional exposures at night. Or he may reverse the process and start at night and work till dawn or sunrise. And instead of using an automated HDR (High Dynamic Range) merge, he manually merges the individual captures to bring out all the detail, at times with the help of digital artist Jeremy Paine. The result of all this effort: a richly textured scene flavored with every available nuance. Jacobs leaves us with this thought: "It does not matter how many lights you use; it's what you do with them. You don't have to have a hundred lights to make a successful photograph. You have to have good light. And you have to be able to see and understand it. I know I need a light when I feel the need to provide information, and I use that light to create or enhance depth and dimension in a scene."

By Jack Neubart, Shutterbug

© 2011 Jeffrey Jacobs Photography, All rights reserved.