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Meet Darren Bradley of Darren Bradley Photography in Pacific Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Darren Bradley.

Darren, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My two main interests growing up were always photography and architecture. I even wanted to be an architect at one point, but was discouraged from doing so because it required a lot of math (and I was terrible at math).

I learned photography in my freshman year of high school, taking a class. I quickly set up a darkroom in my parents’ laundry room, and it became one of my main hobbies. I was the photographer on my school newspaper and even briefly worked at a darkroom in college. But my photography bug eventually faded and when I moved to France to go finish my schooling in 1995, I didn’t even bring a camera with me.

When I returned to the US in 1998 with my wife, we rented a mid-century modern house in Palm Springs for a few days, and fell in love with it. I immediately started doing research on modernist architecture and noticing and appreciating it more and more. This rekindled my love of architecture, but also my love of photography, as I sought to document the buildings I was finding.

Architectural photography is quite different from other forms of photography. It’s far more technical and precise, and uses special lenses and other tools. There are more rules to follow, as well, to be sure that the camera angle and lenses are not deforming the image of the building. Despite my previous experience with photography, I had never learned about architectural photography, and had none of the techniques or tools. I also had never used digital cameras before. All that meant essentially re-learning photography for me, in an entirely new context.

Initially, my photos were terrible but I didn’t care. All I was concerned about was documenting the projects for posterity, and posting them online. But I began to notice that other people I’d show these photos to were not as excited about the buildings as I was. They weren’t seeing in these photos what I was seeing. So I began to do some research and learned to understand and respect the work of other great architectural photographers, like Ezra Stoller and Julius Shulman.

I eventually taught myself the standard techniques of architectural photography and attended a few workshops, as well. Over time, I developed my eye and figured out how to make my camera see what I was seeing.

Eventually, I started getting enquiries from publications looking to license the photos I was posting online. And once I got published a few times, architects started contacting me asking to shoot their new projects, as commissioned work. I was reluctant to take that on, at first, but my hobby quickly became a second career.

Today, I have a large following in social media, with more than 82,000 followers on Instagram. My work appears in multiple publications every month, and I am doing several book projects with major international publishers. I regularly work with architecture firms – both locally in Southern California and across the country and internationally. I recently did a gallery exhibit in Canberra, Australia of my work, and have also given a TED talk about architecture and photography.

The goal for me has always been to get others – even those who may not notice or care much about architecture – to stop, see, and maybe even appreciate these buildings that I love. After all, it’s not what you look at that matters… it’s what you see.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Honestly, the biggest challenge for me has always been in balancing my passion for architectural photography with the rest of my life, and other priorities that are also important to me, such as my primary career working in defense and aerospace, and especially my family. Being an architectural photographer creates a lots of demands on your time, and often requires travel, because they buildings can’t come to you!

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Darren Bradley Photography – what should we know?
I love architecture. I started photographing buildings largely as a way to reconnect with my love of architecture. I figured it was a lot easier than going to architecture school. I think that, fundamentally, is what sets me apart from many other architectural photographers. Most architectural photographers are photographers, first. They happen to be photographing architecture, yes, but they just as easily may be photographing somebody’s wedding… or a tree. Not to disparage either of those things. I could never be a wedding photographer. It’s hard work, but it requires a different skillset.

But unlike other photographers, I really don’t care much about photo gear, or taking pictures for the sake of taking pictures. To me, the photography is a tool to connect to the architecture. My passion for the architecture comes through in my work, and differentiates it from many other photographers who simply don’t see the buildings the same way I do.

I love all sorts of architecture, and I photograph all sorts of architecture. But I’m primarily known for my love of (and for photographing) Modernist architecture from the 1950s through today. Even most of the new work that I photograph today from new architects is also Modernist or contemporary.

To me, architects are always telling stories and making statements through their work. I generally try to zero in on that story or statement, and find the best possible way to photograph the building to ensure that the message is conveyed properly in my photography. That’s all there is to it, really.

I have been told that my work has a sort of classic, timeless feel to it, and I’m heavily influenced by those who came before me, such as Stoller and Shulman. I don’t like abstract details, so try to keep my work grounded and to remind the viewers that we are looking at a functional building, and not just an abstract artwork – but that can still surprise and give you butterflies.

Trying to convey a multi-dimensional and sensational experience of being in a great work of architecture with a 2-dimensional medium such as photography is always going to be an exercise in frustration, to some extent. It will always fall short. But the challenge of trying to convey even a hint of what that experience is like is what keeps me coming back for me. I want to reproduce the same visceral experience of being there in a simple photograph.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
My love and passion for architecture, above all else.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Darren Bradley

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