Green things are finally growing in the University of Texas at Austin Greenhouse, and as far as one could tell, the plants seem pretty content with their new home on the roof of the Norman Hackerman Building. They have a great view of the surrounding University and their researchers have more control over their environment than the previous greenhouse. Substantial completion for the new greenhouse was reached in late November and a group from Payette traveled to Texas earlier this month to document the project with professional photographs. (New Englanders should note that Austin is an excellent place to escape the below-freezing temperatures in January!)
The key to any photoshoot is starting with the story you want to tell about the building. Before traveling to the site, our team nailed down the most important elements of the project that would express the use and design of the spaces. Once at the Greenhouse, it was not uncommon to see hands in the air, one eye closed, framing the views to roughly test angles and crop extents. Once a view was selected, our photographer, Warren Jagger, set up his equipment while we worked to move any visual clutter out of the frame. We then carefully staged the shot so the space looked used but organized. Adding people into the shots greatly enliven the space and expressed usability of the building. I was surprised and interested to learn that Warren photographed the models one at a time in different parts of the room. This allows him to ensure that each person looks right. Often models were instructed to move around so they would appear blurry. The photos of each model will then be stitched together for a complete image. When the view was properly captured, we had the task of putting the room back together before moving on to the next shot.
Staging the interior shots were particularly challenging for this project as the researchers had just moved over all their supplies from the old greenhouse without the time to organize it in the new space. Stacks of pots and bags of soil had to be moved from one side of the Headhouse to the other for the photos.
Getting an exterior shot was a different challenge. Since the Greenhouse sits on the roof of a six story building in the middle of a dense campus, there were very few views from the ground that captured the entire addition. We were fortunate to gain access to the top floor of a nearby building that had operable windows. It took some persuasion to get the old wooden window frames open, but once up we had a great view of the Greenhouse for a dramatic dusk shot.
Of course the weather is always an unpredictable variable. On our two-day photoshoot, we started off with perfectly blue skies, bright sun and warm temperatures. Contrary to the forecast, day two brought a thick cloud cover and threat of rain that persisted until the afternoon. We primarily shot interiors on the second day so the spaces were lit with a soft, diffused light and no harsh shadows.
After all the coordination work to gain access into buildings, mobilizing people to help move and model, clearing out the spaces and then putting them back again, it was nice to then sit back and watch Warren work his magic. This was the first photoshoot I participated in, and I enjoyed learning about the process and determining the key views to best tell the story of the project. We often work on projects for years so it can be hard to distill it down to only a handful of photos. But there is something incredibly satisfying about a beautiful image showcasing the building at its very best.