An Eye on Architecture (Story by Tamron)

 Derek Rath captures the form and function of Southern California landmarks with the Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 VC Wide-Angle lens

Story Contributed by Tamron

When he was growing up as a boy in England, Derek Rath learned the ins and out of three-dimensional drawing from his father, a civil engineer. “He was in charge of housing and streets and all kinds of related things, and he showed me how to work up 3D plans,” Derek says. “It fascinated me even back then.”

Derek eventually made his way to the US to produce a music album, and he soon settled down in Southern California, which he has called home for more than three decades. It’s proven the ideal locale for a person who has since parlayed his childhood interest in the lines and forms of civil engineering into a career as one of the region’s top architectural photographers. “Southern California is such an interesting place for architecture, because you can find 20 different styles along just one block,” he says. “Builders aren’t afraid to do things here and take chances.”

For architectural photographers, a wide-angle lens that allows for work in tight spaces is a must. Derek recently started shooting with the Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 VC Wide-Angle lens, and he’s been impressed with the results. “First, I can handhold at shutter speeds I never thought possible,” he says. “And of course I appreciate the extra reach on the 15mm end that allows me to capture photos in spaces I wasn’t able to before. Plus, its sharpness is stellar. On many wide-angle lenses, the sharpness tends to drop off in the corners, but that’s not a problem with this lens.”

Derek’s approach when he’s capturing local architecture involves putting the building or structure in context with its surroundings, depending on what he’s been commissioned to turn in. “That comes down to finding an angle, something that illustrates a strength of concept of the design,” he explains. “Other times, I may be looking at textures or how a particular aspect of the building works in relation to the rest of it, or how the entire building works in context with its environment. It very often doesn’t unfold until you’re actually looking at the scene in front of you. And I like to shoot in natural light, or use available light that’s been incorporated into the design of the building.”

One thing Derek does when on a shoot with a client: Bring his laptop. “If they see my images right out of the camera, they may get upset because they’re not seeing what they expect to see,” he says. “And that initial photo is not what I’m going to give them in the end. Ansel Adams is very famous for his prints, not his negatives—he made his magic in the darkroom by pulling all the information out of the negative. Digital is the same for me. I take the photo, then finagle the information, then present the final result to my clients.” 

A recent test-drive with the 15-30 allowed Derek to try it out on some of his favorite LA haunts. For a photo inside one of the city’s most prominent government buildings, Derek was faced with less-than-ideal lighting. “It was almost dungeon dark, as this was fairly early in the morning,” he says. “I was on the third floor of the rotunda, the most elaborately designed of all of the floors. It’s a wonderful period piece of architecture. My goal was to focus on the filigree of the light and show how the light fell so beautifully down onto the Los Angeles plaque below.” 

© Derek Rath
15mm, F/9, 0.4 sec., ISO 640
Derek had previously surveyed this same scene through an iPhone, compact camera, and using a different wide-angle lens, but it wasn’t until he used

the 15-30 that he was able to capture this shot. “I finally was able to get the width I wanted shooting at 15mm,” he says. “And the Vibration Compensation on this lens allowed me to handhold at a ridiculous 0.4 seconds shooting at F/9. I was also going for symmetry. When you’ve got a circle, it will distort a bit with any wide-angle lens, but if I were off-center in capturing it, it would look terrible.”

The wide end of the 15-30 also allowed Derek to capture the Parlor gastropub at LAX during a late-night shoot. “I had to take these pictures at 1 a.m., when no people would be there,” he says. “I still had to shuttle a few people out of the way. I was able to move far enough inside and underneath the entrance so I could capture the seating and the roof and the display of those timbers along the ceiling. If I’d stepped further back and used a longer focal length, it wouldn’t have worked as well. I used a 2.5-second exposure at F/11 and ISO 64 to keep as much of the detail as possible, as well as the dynamic range. There’s extreme contrast here, between the dark wood and the TVs and counter lights.”

© Derek Rath
15mm, F/11, 2.5 sec., ISO 64
In terms of exposure, Derek knew the “Parlor” sign was going to burn out somewhat due to its brightness. “But I was looking to keep the exposures solid on the sandwiches, for example, since if I lost that detail, the image wouldn’t have been as good,” he says. “It was a delicate balance of getting everything as the eye sees it. I had to bring the TV monitors down a bit because they were also tending to blow out.” 

A well-known architectural landmark overlooking Los Angeles and visited by hundreds of thousands of people a year gave Derek the chance to shoot both interiors and exteriors. “I couldn’t have taken this lobby photo with many other lenses besides the 15-30,” he says. “This image was all about getting the shapes and deliberately distorting them a bit. That extra reach on the 15mm end allowed me to capture every bit I needed, and the sharpness carries all the way through.”

© Derek Rath 
15mm, F/11, 1/500th sec., ISO 400
Before the crowds arrived, Derek headed outside to capture the center’s exterior. “I don’t mind having a few people, as they can give the image life, but half an hour after I took this picture of the travertine stones, there were hundreds of people wandering around,” he says. “I wanted to play with texture and light here, as travertine stone changes color depending what kind of light is hitting it at what time of day. It can appear quite white sometimes; other times it can appear pink. I also wanted to take some photos at 30mm. What’s the point of having a zoom if you don’t use it? My only regret for this photo: I couldn’t move the trash receptacle, so I had to live with that in the image.”

© Derek Rath
30mm, F/11, 1/1000th sec., ISO 400
An outdoor pool gave Derek the chance to focus on the texture of the surrounding stones. “You can clearly see how the stone is not a flat plane on the left-hand side of that building in the center,” he says. “The rendition of the stonework was fantastic. And this image shows how well the lens resolves in terms of distortion—those steps coming toward the viewer could very easily have warped, but there’s none of that.”

© Derek Rath
24mm, F/11, 1/800th sec., ISO 400
It was also the perfect time of year to get in some splashes of color, like the red tree, Derek notes. “When I took this, I was shooting for the brightness of the light on the stone,” he says. “So the foreground especially was pretty dark, but I was able to bring the shadows up so the scene is what the eye saw. I also played with the levels and pumped up not the saturation, but the vibrance a bit.”

As for a photo looking down upon one of the center’s outdoor seating area, Rath was able to harness the geometry, patterns, and repetition of the tables, chairs, and their accompanying shadows. “I appreciate this photo because it has lot of depth to it, and the detail in it is stunning,” he says. “It’s also another example of how well that 15-30 performs, if you want to bring things back to a classical way of looking at architectural photography. The lines are straight edge-to-edge, and it’s got a terrific range of contrast.” 

© Derek Rath
15mm, F/11, 1/640th sec., ISO 400 
The 15-30 allowed Derek to capture extreme perspective in one final architectural gem in LA’s Century City district. “It was lunchtime when I took this photo, so all of the workers from inside the building were eating outside,” he says. “So I had this massive, omnipresent piece of architecture, and then the people looking almost like figures in an architect’s model in the shadow of this immense building. The greenery of the park adds a softness to the photo, and there’s an ideal mixture of shade and patches of sunlight. Once again, the 15-30 didn’t disappoint when it comes to sharpness. I’m really impressed with it overall for the type of photography I do.”

© Derek Rath
15mm, F/8, 1/320th sec., ISO 250
To see more of Derek Rath’s work, go to

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