Nailing the camera angle in 3d Arch Vis

Many people ask me what the most important step is when developing up a 3d architectural CGI. I believe that nailing the camera angle down in 3d Arch Vis is the single most important aspect of creating a great-looking 3d image.

Just like traditional photography, camera placement is vitally important and needs to be one of the first major steps to work through to create a great CGI still image. Study some of the great modern architectural photographers, such as Julius Shulman’s iconic black and white photos of great Modern LA Architecture of the 1960s and you can see how much time goes into achieving the right visually balanced composition.

Pierre Koenig’s 1960 Stahl House
Architect Pierre Koenig’s 1960 Stahl House, Case Study House #22, Los Angeles, California | Photographer: © Julius Shulman

Decide on the hero of the shot

Customers often want to show as much as possible in every shot we produce. This is often the worst approach to take as the angle of the lens has to be so wide it ends up distorting the extremities of the shot, therefore diminishing the scale of what is often the central focus of the shot. Just like with conventional photography, you need to be careful when working with a camera lens wider than 20mm.

The key thing to decide on is, what is the single most important thing you are wanting to convey with the shot? Is it the panoramic view? The spacious interior? Maybe it’s the relationship between the living space/kitchen area/terrace? What ever it is, the ‘hero of the shot’ needs to be determined early on in the process as a single image cannot present everything. Consider it a fine balancing act.

The James Newmarket
The James Newmarket – Core City – Hulena Architects.
Shot using a 23mm lens.

Only use the very best backplate photography

Only use the best photographic back plates you can to complement your 3d shot. As well as this, spend time shooting the right time of day. Aim for moody early morning or late evening when the shadows are long, low and the sky is dramatic. This will require visiting the site on more than one occasion. Pay attention to the weather and schedule your shoot when it is not too overcast.

Take as many pictures as you can, viewed from multiple angles, even behind you as these are useful in generating complimentary reflections in the 3d scene. Play the elimination game later on to track down the best shot.

Hereford residences Tawera group
Hereford Residences – Tawera Group – Paul Brown Architects

Go on – remove those walls

Don’t feel limited by being restricted to placing the camera inside the room to get the shot. Unlike conventional photography, when producing a 3d image, walls can be removed or made invisible to the camera, allowing for more freedom to set up the shot with a camera outside of the room.

buildmedia-3d-cgi-conrad-bathroomSmall spaces don’t need to be viewed like this.

buildmedia-3d-cgi-oasis-bathroomOasis Apartments – Martin Kells Developments – Paul Brown Architects

By removing a few walls and carefully placing the camera outside of the room, the viewer has a much better understanding of how each of the interior spaces work together. This is perfect for long, narrow rooms or tight spaces such as bathrooms.

buildmedia-cgi-The-James-Newmarket-livingroom1080x352px-The James Newmarket – Core City Group – Hulena Architects

Spend time with the composition of the shot

Consider the rule of thirds and offset the camera off centre. Again – look at how the great photographers do it. Consider single-point perspective. This works well when you want to frame a view. While it seems easy enough, even a few degrees off a true one-point perspective can throw the entire finished image off. Keep in mind that if you can’t quite get the one-point perspective down then move back to a traditional two-point, otherwise you’ll end up with something looking like a failed attempt.

Lower the camera down to a more cosy and relaxed seated level. Somewhere between waist and eye level is typically a good range to stay within – you could say ‘children’s eye view’. This tends to provide more spacious depth within an image. Then straighten those verticals, just like an architectural photographer would do using a tilt-shift lens.

buildmedia-Great-North-road-Barrington-Kells-living-room-540x304pxThe Barrington – Paul Brown Architects

What is the hero? Is it the view?

Or the interior?

Can a One-point perspective work?

Can a One-point perspective work?

Remove a wall and pull the camera back

Lower the camera

Straighten the verticals

Consider that the final image will most probably end up within a number of different outputs – brochures, web, blogs, potentially a newspaper – so it will end up being squeezed, pushed, pulled and cropped to fit. Try to produce a final image that extends/bleeds slightly beyond the shot so there is some flexibility for cropping later.

Working through and setting up a camera angle cannot be rushed. Time needs to be spent experimenting and testing multiple camera view options before deciding on the final shot. Do this first before moving on to the next stage of the project. Nailing the camera angle is the single most important aspect of developing a great looking 3d Arch Vis image.

Nailing the camera angle is the single most important aspect of developing a great looking 3d Arch Vis image.

Gareth has been working with 3d visualisation since the days of floppy disks. He now spends his time wrangling a specialised team of creatives at Buildmedia.

Testimonial Gareth Ross
Gareth Ross
Creative Director