Felix is a freelance architecture photographer from the UK with a background in graphic design. He has a clear and defined aesthetic and an eye for finding great compositions.
How did you transition between working as a graphic designer to being a freelance photographer?
I was working at a cool studio called Modern Designers in the creative district of Manchester. We were doing a lot of marketing campaigns and exhibitions for galleries and we were using photographers all the time. I ‘d always thought that I’d like to take pictures for a living; but working with great photographers as a designer really made me go for it.
Seeing the images that they were creating out and about, meeting new people, going to cool locations – it just seemed so much more exciting and more appealing to me than a 9-6 job sat at a desk all day.
Don’t get me wrong; I love graphic design and the creativity it allows you to work with - but I just couldn’t see myself working behind a computer screen every day for the rest of my career. I wanted to be on the other end of the exchange. I wanted to be sending my photographs to designers for them to use; not the other way around.
I also think I liked the idea of not being pigeonholed into one creative output. I think there is too much belief in creative industries that you are trained to do one thing and that you’ll just do that for the rest of your life. I don’t think that creativity should be limited to one job role, one output. If you have a passion and (a bit of) skill for other creative outlets - go for it! There’s nothing stopping a designer becoming a photographer, or a photographer becoming a furniture designer.
How does your graphic design background influence your photography?
I think that graphic design hugely influences my photography. Design education taught me to have strong eye for detail and to look for things that other people may not ever notice. I like that.
I think about texture, colour and layering of elements in a design-influenced way that I believe helps me when searching for images to create with my camera.
I think I am maybe less scared than photographers that haven’t been trained as designers when it comes to the framing of a shot. I often enjoy pushing elements right to the edges of the frame where other photographers would maybe feel uncomfortable in doing so.
As a designer I was massively influenced by Swiss design from the 50’s and 60’s. People like Josef-Muller Brockmann, Emil Ruder and Yves Zimmermann really impressed me not just for their minimal aesthetic, but how close they ran typography to the edge of their composition. Maybe this has influenced the way I look at my photographic composition?
A lot of the design work I was doing was about creating rules such as grids and systems - but then breaking them. I like to do this a lot in my photography, too; such as framing something really symmetrically and perfectly - but then having a person or object offset to one side to break the pattern.
Where do you find inspiration?
Mostly in other photographer’s work.
I know it sounds obvious, but I get so inspired looking at the images made by proper professionals at the tops of their games. Some that I always end up going back to are Lee Mawdsley for just honest, clean, photography of just about anything; Lauren Kronental for amazing portraiture mixed with architecture that creates a real sense of story; and Federal for bonkers conceptual photographic ideas.
I’ve also got to give a credit to Casey Neistat as a source of inspiration. I still can’t get over how he made such a great video every day for 500+ days. But the main thing I took from him was that there is no excuse for missing spur-of-the-moment shots because you don’t have your camera on you at the time.
I’ve really enjoyed having my gear on me pretty much all the time now. I hated that feeling of missing some incredible sunlight, or a spontaneous interaction on the street because I didn’t have my camera or the right lens or tripod on me. The way I see it is - the more pictures I take, the more I learn - so its win-win really.
How do you manage to photograph such spaces? And how did you build your portfolio?
Breaking into architectural photography as a self-taught freelancer is kind of tricky. All of the new buildings/spaces that you really want to shoot will often already be covered by someone before it’s even opened. Most architecture practices have photographers that they work with to shoot all of their new projects. I find myself a lot of the time seeing projects on architecture blogs/design sites and thinking “Man, I wish I’d shot that!”.
But I soon realised that in order to one day become one of those photographers; I had to start building my own portfolio and just shoot the spaces that interested me regardless of whether people had seen it before or not.
I email or call ahead and explain that I am at the start of my career and would be really grateful for an opportunity to shoot in their space. I always offer to send the images for use on their social media/marketing if they give me credit. This can be not only a good tool for your own marketing, but a way to get your foot in the door with places that might want to use a photographer down.
Some places don’t reply, some are difficult about you using a tripod (kind of essential for architecture photography), some will only let you come in after hours when the lighting is poor; and some are more than happy to help. You just have to keep grinding at it and try and organise as many shoots as you can.
I still feel like I’m very much in this ‘building’ stage. I want to create a really strong portfolio that I’m proud to send to prospective clients – and if that means shooting a load of stuff for free/off my own back; that’s fine with me. I enjoy the process of being out with my camera photographing new spaces. It’s a great way for me to learn and to explore places I may never have been to before.
What do you enjoy doing when not taking photos?
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t; but honestly - I like to travel. I wish I could do it way more. I love visiting new cities and getting involved in each one’s culture and style. I’ve got a list of places I want to go next as long as my arm, and I’m always researching different trips and destinations. I try to get as many insider tips and speak to as many people from a city that I can before going so that when I’m there I don’t miss a second. You’ll be surprised at how often a complete stranger will email you a huge list of their favourite things to do and see in their hometown.
I like tapping up designers and photographers to get this knowledge as they usually know great little spots that you would never get from a travel book. Then I get all this information together and make these super geeky Google maps for each city with pins of all the bars, cafés, restaurants, galleries and photo spots I want to visit - so that when I’m there I can rent a bike and quickly get around to a load of spots I wanted to see in just a day.
I used to do week long holidays - but now I try to do several more 2 day/long weekend trips across the year. I find it really inspiring to my work.
Apart from that; I like to run and cycle. Exercise really clears my mind. I live an hours drive away from two amazing national parks in the UK (The Lake District and the Peak District); so when the weather’s good enough I like to get out to the hills for a big walk. It’s really therapeutic and I feel like it resets my balance after a few weeks of living and working in the city centre.
Oh - and in the last year, I started designing and building my own furniture. I’ve just been learning from Youtube and getting by with fairly minimal tools but I love the process and the solitude of it. Its nice to look around my apartment and see the bespoke pieces that I’ve made for myself and my own needs. It feels good using something everyday like a coffee table or cabinet and thinking - ‘I made that’.
What advice can you offer on finding your personal style or aesthetic?
I personally don’t think I’ve truly found my own personal style or aesthetic yet. I know that I like to photograph architecture, but in particular try and get a sense of human interaction with the buildings in the frame. I believe that capturing people in the frame helps to connect the viewer with the scene, not only in terms of scale, but also on a human level. It helps people imagine what it would be like to be in the frame themselves.
My only advice would be to take a lot of photos and keep them stored somewhere. You’ll soon realise after a while what it is you naturally like to make images of.