Architectural Photography: How Ema Peter Constantly Pushes the Limits of Her Craft

From camera models to post-production processes to chasing light, the award-winning architectural photographer shares her process.

Francesca Mercurio Francesca Mercurio

Feast your eyes on the world's most outstanding architectural photographs, videos, visualizations, drawing and models with the winners of Architizer's inaugural Vision Awards. Sign up to receive future program updates >  

Designers, firms and major publications are always after Ema Peter Photography, and there is no surprise why. 

A coveted architectural photographer, Ema Peter has been dominating the North American photography scene for the past decade. With a degree in photography and a PhD in photojournalism, she began her career working as a news anchor in Bulgaria before pursuing photography full-time. Ema has been published internationally and remains one of the most influential female photographers of her time. Just last year, Ema Peter took home an A+Awards Jury Prize for her photography of BlackCliff House, a private residence designed by McLeod Bovell Modern Houses. Ema beautifully captures the home’s unique relationship to its location, which not only encompasses its perch on a rock but also the atmospheric effects of the ever-changing light in the sky and dancing on the water below. Her photography encapsulates the home’s unique spatial experience, transporting the viewer to the site in Vancouver, Canada. 

Her use of light, geometry and human form is mesmerizing, and her thoughtful curation paints a story we can all deeply feel. Capturing the architecture at various moments throughout the day, she maintains continuity through distinct compositional choices that emphasize the design’s geometry as much as they reveal her mastery of the craft of photography. 

Ema’s A+Award-winning photograph was chosen to grace the cover of the 2022 Volume of Architizer: The World’s Best Architecture. This limited edition book celebrates the inspiring projects from last year’s 10th Annual A+Awards. With over 120 featured projects from around the world, the Architizer Book is one of the most comprehensive yearly compendiums of elevated architecture and photography. 

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We chatted with Ema Peter to learn more about the magic behind her front cover photograph. 

Front Cover of “The World’s Best Architecture” Book. Project by McLeod Bovell Modern Houses. Photo by Ema Peter

Francesca Mercurio: Congratulations Ema, we are so pleased to feature your beautiful photograph on the cover of Architizer’s latest book, “The World’s Best Architecture.” What initially drew you to architectural photography and what does this medium mean to you? 

Ema Peter:  I studied at the National Academy of Theatre and Film Art and specialized in photojournalism. My studies coincided with a lot of political turmoil in Eastern Europe, which gave me the opportunity to record some of the clashes during that period. I always had a camera in my hand, chasing after the moments that make great photojournalistic images. After graduating, I was accepted as an intern in the Parisian bureau of Magnum Photo Agency which represented some of the most famous photojournalists. While in Paris, I visited Villa la Roche by Le Corbusier and I remember looking at his incredible clean lines and being in awe of how people interacted with the building. Those were my first memories of thinking about how incredible it would be to combine my love for chasing moments with my love for architecture.

Can you share a bit of your experience photographing the A+Award-winning project BlackCliff House

When I first entered BlackCliff house, I saw a million possible images. It was almost a surreal experience. I felt like I would never be able to get enough shots and so I got down to work immediately. The work of Mcleod Bovell Modern Houses is always truly elevated but I thought this particular project showcased their exceptional ability. They were able to morph the environment through modern architecture to create breathtaking panoramic views framed in concrete, and at the same time, have quiet interior spaces that filter the light through vegetation. There were endless opportunities to chase the light in this house.

Which camera did you shoot this particular image with and can you speak to that choice? 

I used the Canon R5 for this shoot. Canon is truly unmatched with their tilt-shift lenses, and in this image, using the 17mm allowed me to frame the pool and room beyond with the sharp shapes of the upper part of the house. It created a completely different image and made the scale of the figure even smaller, creating more impact in the architecture.

When photographing architecture, how do you balance your own artistic vision with that of the architect? 

I have learned that to truly understand a project you need to understand the architect you are working with. You need to know what inspires them, who are their biggest influences, and what type of images they like the most. When you learn about the person and understand them, it is so much easier to collaborate and tell their story. When you care about the person and their work, it becomes a lot more about wanting to make sure that every shot shows the best of the building. It becomes a very beautiful collaboration. I like to surprise architects with images they do not expect to see. They often look at the building in a specific way and I feel I can bring a twist.

How big a role did post-production play in conveying the story of your photograph, and how do you approach that process?

I try to give my post-production team as little to do as possible. Call it pride, but I like to look at the image I photograph and know it is as close to what I would like to achieve as possible. This specific image has minimal photoshop work on it. We do have firms that have very specific styles and in these cases, we try to make sure we understand exactly what they want to achieve. In specific circumstances we are able to tell more of the story by using specific moods or filters based on their vision. I am never opposed to using new styles. 

What inspires you? 

There is a quote that I love to repeat to myself every day, which is: “It is your mind that creates the world.” I try to look for inspiration in every little moment: how the light moves, the feeling when the eye, lens and heart aline, moments in which pressing the camera shutter become elevated experiences. My inspiration has always come from Henri Cartier-Bresson and his decisive moment. I feel we have decisive moments to chase in life and in photography, my biggest goal is to never miss one. So in many ways every ray of light I see inspires me.

What does being featured on the cover of this book mean to you?

My image being on the cover is really an honor. Seeing it made me stop and think about all the incredible firms and talented architects that are featured and how special it is to somehow represent the book. It makes me feel like I am part of this big global community that constantly pushes the limits.

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Feast your eyes on the world's most outstanding architectural photographs, videos, visualizations, drawing and models with the winners of Architizer's inaugural Vision Awards. Sign up to receive future program updates >  

Francesca Mercurio Author: Francesca Mercurio
Part of the Architizer team, Francesca covers a broad scope of topics related to the built environment. Trained as an art historian at McGill University, Francesca is interested in architectural conservation and the ways designers are using historical spaces to better society today. Francesca is based in Toronto, Canada.
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