Colin Stephenson is a photographer who is known for his exceptional photography work in a variety of specialised fields. We will be taking a glance at his high-end architectural and real estate photography and explore how he uses creativity and skill to capture the essence of a place. He is based and known for his work in George, Knysna and Cape Town.

Interview with Colin Stephenson

How did you train your eye to photograph unique angles? 

Shoot often and try a combination of testing angles systematically. Keep improving yourself by reading and researching key tips. This helped me to analyse how I shoot and refine a method so that I can approach any job with confidence.

What is the importance of a clean look?

When you read an image your eye processes the composition and the detail very quickly. A still image, however, does not have the luxury of being poorly composed or including clutter in the shot. The image composition must be as simple as possible, show strong lines and use the rule of thirds if possible.

Interview with Colin Stephenson

How do you choose which photo you want to showcase?

I look for images with a strong simple composition, incorporating the key elements of artistic composition and technical proficiency. A timeless image.

What is your golden rule for interior photography? 

  • When you compose your shot, keep it simple. Less is more.
  • Have strong lines in the composition of the image.
  • Use the rule of thirds whenever possible.
  • Keep the camera height low (as a tall guy this sometimes means getting down on your knees). I often use knee pads as I work from low angles all the time. For real!
Interview with Colin Stephenson

Do you have a different approach for photographing hotels and real estate?

Real estate in general is much quicker as the client only needs 25 images and pays a minimal fee. It can be tricky as sometimes the properties are poorly prepared and harder to produce appealing images.

Hotels are generally presented at their best by the client, which allows for a better chance to produce quality images.

To shoot high-end images, take your time where possible and isolate the best aspects of a property.

How do you use light to improve your photographs? 

I love natural light which means working when the weather is at its best, as far as possible, for each situation. A tripod and long exposure cameras outdo the human eye through long exposures. So I also use HDR (High Dynamic Range) through multiple exposures and bracketing regularly to produce a wider range of light in the image to keep the natural look. If necessary I supplement with a bounce flash to fill key areas or highlight features.

Interview with Colin Stephenson

What photography equipment do you use and what is the purpose of each item? 

A good heavy-duty tripod is the best investment for bracketing and long exposures. 

It is also important to have a great quality wide-angle lens and a sharp medium length lens. I work with Nikon’s nested set of gold series lenses. The wide-angle 14-24mm lens is for overview shots with minimal distortion and then a sharp 24-70mm lens for tight shots.

Which tools do you use to edit? 

Adobe Lightroom is the best tool – non-destructive editing is the only way forward. 

HDR is a useful tool but you must use it cautiously to retain some play of the quality of light and dark. 

The client has a duty to present you with a home or property in the best condition. It still blows my mind when clients say: “but can’t you just make it look good in Photoshop”. Photoshop is not there to clean windows and dry up water spills. A good property will offer you the opportunity to create great images. This is actually one of the hardest aspects of property photography: you can’t paint lipstick on a pig and hope it will look good. From my experience, you have to continue until you find a decent home or hotel and then smash it out of the park.

Interview with Colin Stephenson

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Ansel Adams said that “chance favours the prepared mind”. His point was that photographs like Moonrise Hernandez and Clearing Winter Storm weren’t lucky accidents; he was able to capture those moments because he had honed his eye and his photographic technique, and was able to apply those skills when he went out to make images.

I love my work and that is the key – love what you do.

Explore Colin’s work further by visiting his website and Facebook page.

Interview with Colin Stephenson