Ema Peter Reveals the Secret to Taking Inspiring Architectural Photographs

Decorated architectural photographer Ema Peter describes what it takes to capture beautiful architecture.

Nathaniel Bahadursingh Nathaniel Bahadursingh

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The One Photo Challenge is in full swing, challenging photographers to share a single image that tells a powerful story about architecture. With two $2,500 cash prizes, publication in the inaugural “One Photo” eBook, global media coverage up for grabs, this is an incredible opportunity to show us what you’ve got. 

Enter the One Photo Challenge

Our esteemed jury of influential practitioners and industry leaders from the worlds of architecture and photography will evaluate the entries. The quality of the competition comes down to the jury, and we’re proud to say we’ve assembled the very best.

One of the standout jurors is Ema Peter, who has established herself over the past 15 years as one of the leading photographers in Canada. Ema Peter has worked with many international firms to document their projects in compelling ways, including BIG, Kengo Kuma and Associates, and Omar Gandhi Architects. In recent years, she has won awards from Architizer, Creatures Design, Production Paradise, Canadian Architect and more. She has also been on the jury for the Architecture Foundation, Canadian Architect, Archiproducts, amongst others.

As the Regular Entry Deadline of April 17th for the One Photo Challenge approaches, we spoke with Ema Peters to learn more about her background and understanding what it takes to capture a captivating architectural photograph. 

Ema Peter; Photo by Tina Kulic

Nathan Bahadursingh: Tell us about you – How did you first get into architectural photography and what do you love most about it?

Ema Peter: After finishing my photography degree, I was accepted as an intern at Magnum photo agency in Paris to follow my dream to become a photojournalist. During that time, my uncle who is an architect in Paris took me to visit Le Corbusier’s Maison La Roshe. This was the moment I knew I wanted to photograph architecture, it was one of those pivotal experiences in life. Seeing Le Corbusier’s work made me think about how this man saw the future so many years ago. I have always wanted a peek into the future, and I feel working with the modern architects has given me exactly this. 

When it comes to architecture, how do you choose the subjects that you photograph? What do you look for?

Every building has its own soul, its own personality and as we try to catch the decisive moment in photojournalism I feel with architecture we need to find exactly those moments which are a combination of light, shape and the life added by the human element. In many cases you really need to look for the invisible, for the unusual, to follow the path that the architect created for us and explore the building visually.

Teahouse in Coal Harbour designed by Kengo Kuma & Associates and photographed by Ema Peter, Vancouver, Canada; winner of a double 2018 A+Award in the Architecture +Photography & Video category.

Are there any new, up and coming trends in architectural photography that have caught your eye?

In recent years, the photographers that are standing out really follow the life of the buildings and try to capture them not only from the perfect polished side. They photograph in different weather conditions and not only in sunshine and with blue skies. They try to look at a building not from the standard points of view.

Are there any techniques, styles, or subjects that you would like to see architectural photographers hone in on going forward?

What I would like to see more of in architectural photography is the unusual. I would like the norms and rules of photography to be broken a bit. Photograph towards the sun, photograph in rain, in the snow. Forget about the rule of thirds. The rules create images that are the same and no one in the history of photography who has stood out followed the rules. They created rules of their own.

Parq Vancouver by ACDF and Architecture 49 and photographed by Ema Peter

What do you look for most when judging an architectural photograph?

When you judge you almost immediately know the images that stand out. Even if they are very subtle, they will take your breath away. When I look at an architectural photograph which makes me desperately want to visit that building, this is when the photographer has a winning shot. They have managed to not only do an amazing image but also showcase the work of the architect to the world. One truly great image can make a strong impact not only for the success of the photographer but for the architect too.

Do you have any tips for those participating in this year’s One Photo Challenge?

Competitions like this are seen by the international architecture and design community. My advice to the photographers is to really evaluate their work and make sure the shots they submit have a strong impact. They must tell a story and make the viewer be truly interested in the building they have captured. At the end of the day, we are here to record the work of incredible architects. We are here with our images to tell their story and the photographs have to make justice of all of their hard work.

To you, how does a competition like The One Photo Challenge contribute to the architectural profession? Do you see any broader implications?

I am very grateful to Architizer for creating the One Photo Challenge. With the development of technology everyone takes photographs and everyone is a photographer, we are truly inundated with images. Every day we see hundreds of shots and it is so very easy to scroll and not stop. We have all become so very selective of what image will stop us and make us really look, what will make us want to see more. This is where the really talented architectural photographers will stand out. This point needs to be made and I truly hope that this challenge will do exactly this.

Now show us what you can do: Register for the One Photo Challenge and submit your best drawings for a chance to win $2,500 and more amazing prizes:

Enter the One Photo Challenge

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