My name is Michael Kelley and I am an architectural and fine art photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. I’m most known for my architectural work, which combines long exposures, light painting, and a measured dose of post processing to extend the decisive moment from a fraction of a second into a few hours or more.
I’ve been photographing architecture for about five years now and in those years have been lucky enough to travel around the world on assignment, see some absolutely breathtaking spaces, and go through every piece of lighting equipment you can possibly imagine in that time frame!
In 2013 I was lucky enough to collaborate with Fstoppers on an 8 hour long tutorial which has opened a ton of new doors for me on the photographic industry side of things, and this year I’ll be teaching at Gulf Photo Plus and the Fstoppers Bahamas workshops which are both shaping up to be pretty killer.
The picture above is the culmination of five years of trial and error with the right gear, and happily I’ve finally settled in on what I think is all I need.
My architectural photography gear list:
1. Gaff Tape
Gaff tape for everything. Pink/yellow/orange tape for visibility. I go through this like water.
2. Bose SoundLink Mini
Great for turning a completely quiet and awkward set into a much more relaxed environment. The sound quality out of this thing is just incredible for the size of it.
3. X-rite Colorchecker
Always great to have a solid reference of correct color when shooting challenging interiors. The notion of perfect color pretty much goes out the window on location but this helps me get close.
4. Eneloop rechargeable AA and AAA batteries
Being a photographer and not owning rechargeables is pretty stupid. These have saved me hundreds, probably thousands of dollars over the years. I buy Eneloops because they last forever and don’t drain on their own, work with speedlights and remote triggers, and hold a lot of charge.
5. Random grip, A-clamps and extension cables, clothespins and splitters
Sometimes I need to get power in weird places. 100-foot extension cables, three-way splitters.
6. Light bulbs in various wattages
To fix color temperatures and brightness issues, I always carry a few spare bulbs. Sometimes the lights on location are burnt out too. Easy and cheap solution. Make sure they are NOT LEDs as sometimes LED color casts can be very funky and impossible to dim. Stick with fluoros and incandescent.
7. Black cloth, 1 and 2-stop white scrim, super clamps
I obviously can’t fit all of my grip equipment here, but there is a giant black filled with black cloth, white cloth, clamps, diffusion panels, light shaping tools, you name it. Shaping, taming and subtracting the natural light is just as important as adding and shaping our artificial light.
8. Telephoto bellows for Sinar F1
Standard bellows for most portrait and telephoto length lenses on large format.
9. ILEX No. 4 w/ Acme Synchro Shutter f6.3/300mm
Actually an 8×10 lens, but works very well on the 4×5 as a long portrait lens.
10. Fuji PA-45 Film Holder for instant film
Instant film back for 4×5. The most breathtaking polaroids I’ve ever seen (granted I’ve never shot 8×10 instant)
11. Sinar F1 4×5 camera with bag bellows and Rodenstock 45mm f/4.5 Apo-Grandagon
Ah, the ‘ol Sinar. Very fun to use, and so interesting in that it takes me a whole day of planning to take a couple pictures. Really makes you slow down and think about what you’re shooting and has taught me a great deal about the intricacies of photography. I only shoot black and white with it, but it’s always fun to take it out for a day. The big problem I have is that I’ve got a drawer full of negs that, while beautiful, I haven’t done anything with. The Rodenstock 45mm is an amazing lens that I got a stupidly good deal on and I just couldn’t pass it up.
12. iPads, big and Mini, Macbook Pro 15”
I’m a geek. iPads are simply the best solution for shooting tethered with the CamRanger, and I often give one to clients while they watch me shoot so they can follow along. I’ve been a Mac guy forever and just love the MBP for traveling. Be sure to max out your RAM or you’ll be hurting from the large file size of composites.
My most-loved piece of gear, for it’s gotten rid of the need for lugging a 17” MacbookPro around on set all day. Instant wireless tethering and sharing. Too good, a steal for $300.
14. Fuji x100s
My travel camera. I bring it everywhere instead of my DSLRs. Picture quality is great and the colors are just PERFECT. Such a relief for me to not have to carry giant SLRs all over the place. It’s also great for tricking people into thinking you aren’t a photographer :)
I use gels on nearly every picture I make. Colors can be all over the place especially on location, and controlling the temperature of light is so important to creating mood. I use the Honl speed system gels for my speedlights and a giant Rosco pack that I cut up for the big guys.
16. Portable USB charger
Because you never know when you’re going to run out of batteries on your phone, iPad, etc. I personally use one I got on Amazon with the brand name ‘Jackery’ but I imagine they all do much the same thing.
17. B+W ND and Polarizers
I don’t know why I own the ND. I never shoot landscapes and it’s useless for architecture because the one I own isn’t strong enough, but the polarizer comes in handy every day. Nearly invaluable, but be prepared to bump your ISO like crazy. It’ll eat a good two stops. Nice for taming harsh sunlight and reflective surfaces.
Used to be a mainstay of my kit, now mostly used as small kicker lights or when I don’t need to light a massive space. Speedlights, while super easy and great if you’re okay with pushing high ISO, just don’t allow me the creative freedom I need when shooting large spaces lately.
19. Canon 50mm f/1.4
Detail lens. Great for walking around quickly and shooting small stuff for vignettes.
20. Canon 1.4 extender
Turns my tilt shifts into longer tilt shifts. The ability to have a 35mm TS is amazing when paired with the 24.
21. Canon 40mm f/2.8 pancake
I will be honest, I only bought this because it was on sale for $100. I think I’ve used it once in my entire life. Useful as an “oh my god something really cool is happening on the side of the road and I need a picture NOW” lens cap, though, so it’s got that going for it.
22a: Canon 17mm f/4TS/e.
One of my favorite lenses. I don’t use it often, but when I use it, it’s mindblowing how good it is. A fickle beast, however, requires some serious practice before serious use.
23. Canon 5d Mark III
My main workhorse camera. 22mp is just enough for the heavy compositing I usually do and the camera is solid as a rock. I’ve never had a problem printing big or with dynamic range, I usually get exactly what I want. Full frame is so perfect with the tilt shifts.
23a: The Canon 24mm f/3.5 tilt shift is my gopher lens (thanks Peter Hurley for the reference) as I break it out for nearly 85% of my pictures. I am of the opinion that it is the single best lens that Canon makes. Sharp everywhere, amazingly useful, tons of creative possibilities.
24. Canon 17-40mm f/4
Mostly relegated to backup use for me. Lots of barrel distortion, which makes it difficult to use for architecture, but sharp at f8 and wide enough when I need it on a second or third camera.
25. Canon 24-70mm f/4 IS
I love this for aerials and details, the 2.8 has comical barrel distortion and the f4 is super sharp. The IS is great for aerials and I never shoot faster than f4 so it’s a great lens at a great price for me. Macro mode is useful for details and surprisingly good.
26. Canon 24-105mm f/4
I paid $200 for this, and anyone who would turn that down is insane. Great multipurpose lens but mostly sits unused in my office since I have this range covered much better by the Canon 24-70mm f/4.
27. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6
I love planes – this is my go-to aviation lens. I use it once a month or so but it’s so, so perfect for that kind of stuff. Dork alert.
28. Canon 70-200mm IS f/2.8 II
What hasn’t been written about this lens? Fantastic, though I only really use it for aerials. Stays at home when I shoot architecture. Sharp, fast, great IS, dependable and solid as a rock.
29. Canon 70-200mm f/4
My travel telephoto. The 2.8 version is way too heavy for me when traveling, so I bring along the f4 version instead. Super sharp and I’m always on a tripod anyway.
30. Sennheiser ew122pg3
Love these suckers for recording audio when shooting BTS or doing little tutorials.
31. Profoto D1 1000 Air Monolight Studio Kit
Ah, the meat-and-potatoes of my lighting setup. Just love this sucker. 1000w of power with wireless triggering built in. I break these out when the B1s can’t cover it with their 500w of power. With the high ISO capabilities that most of today’s cameras have, this is a great light in a compact package that can throw enough to light up most tough situations.
32. Profoto Air Remote
The single best remote triggering device on the planet. Believe me, I’ve tried them all.
33. Lowel GL-1 Hotlight
Pricey, but one of my most useful assets. Amazing little device with perfect color that I use to paint light in smaller areas, especially inside. Again, completely wireless and quick to use, my favorite way of shooting. Fast and light. A little fragile though, so be careful with it.
34. Profoto B1 lights
Have completely changed the way I work. Think of them as giant, super-powerful speedlights that work EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. with no hassles or frustration. Remote power control via the Profoto Air Remote means I can easily adjust light power without fuss, and god, what else can I say. I just love these things. No packs, no cables, no BS. If you have the budget these are a #1 must buy. I was a pretty big skeptic until I tried them for myself, but they’re worth every penny.
35. Profoto Reflectors
Aim the lights. Nothing crazy here, but you need a few since the B1’s built in reflector is kinda spilly.
36. Profoto Umbrellas
My favorite umbrellas. Very efficient with great spread and direction to the light. I use these for covering a wide swath of area in a nice, soft light. I use the large, deep ones. Make sure you get the silver backing for efficiency. Sometimes I’ll use a convertible umbrella as a shoot-thru to fill a room with soft light.
37. Manfrotto 055CX3
Backup tripod. Nice and small. I used this as my primary for years and loved it, but after awhile I wanted something a little more substantial.
38. Arca Swiss C1 Cube
Simply the best tripod head on the market. Precision geared movements, no need for an L-bracket, rock-solid construction and a built-in leveling head make this one of my most valuable tools. I was using the Manfrotto 410 for years and truthfully it just couldn’t cut the mustard. The Cube solves all of the Manfrotto’s problems, namely sag and stiff cranks. The ability to level the head and rotate the camera on a level plane is just amazing and a huge time saver.
39. Really Right Stuff TVC-33
This thing is a beast. I splurged a bit here, but man do I love this guy. Every time I unfold it I fall in love a little more. Paired with the Cube, I don’t think there’s a better setup for architectural photography. Solid as a rock, doesn’t move an inch, super light and just beautiful to look at too.
40. Manfrotto 161mk2b
Heavy as hell, but nearly 12 feet tall when fully extended, this helps me get elevated shots. Be warned though, it’s a pain to lug around! But in a pinch, it’s so necessary for getting height. I need the sturdiness for my compositing work, and the weight really helps with that. Lives in the back of my car due to the weight, but like I said, when you need it, you really need it. I wouldn’t mess with anything flimsier or lighter.