Looking at OH! San Diego Through the Lens of an Architectural Photographer

As OH! San Diego 2021 approaches, we caught up with Jim Brady, the man behind Brady Architectural Photography and a longtime SDAF volunteer. This year, Brady has spearheaded photography for OH! San Diego 2021, and he’s the 2021 OH! photography sponsor. In our interview with him, Brady talks about why he volunteers, some of his favorite OH! 2021 sites, and what makes for a great architectural shot.

You keep coming back to donate your time and talent to SDAF programs. Tell us why giving back is important to you.

Photo courtesy of Brady Architectural Photography

Jim Brady: When I was growing up in North Carolina, both of my parents volunteered for different causes, so I followed their example. I’ve always volunteered for things. Sometimes it’s photography-related, sometimes it’s not. When it’s photography-related , it makes sense. I have a skill that organizations don’t necessarily have funding for, but they need it nonetheless. I work in the architecture field and I like SDAF’s mission of trying to get architecture out to people, encouraging excellence in the built environment. Increasing people’s awareness of the built environment is a worthwhile goal, and it’s one I’m happy to play an active part in.

This year’s OH! San Diego is very different from prior years. Did photographing this year’s sites pose unique challenges?

JB: I haven’t felt its impact in many ways. Some places I haven’t been able to enter to shoot interior photos. And other places would be nice to shoot with people in them, though they’re empty right now. But for the most part, the adjustments have been minor. I love the way that the unique challenges we’re facing and the focus on diversity have caused OH! San Diego to be different this year.

Chula Vista Public Library South. Photo by Brady Architectural Photography.

What excites you about OH! San Diego 2021?

JB:It will be great for people to see projects outside of their own neighborhoods. There are so many wonderful places all around San Diego County. The South Branch of the Chula Vista Library is a magnificent building, and I think most people would be amazed to run across a building like that. It’s an important building for Chula Vista, an impactful community center that brings the community together and provides a setting for so many things. It’s so much more than a library.  It also has wonderful interiors that bring to life unique shapes and light patterns. It’s definitely worth seeing.

What did you discover about San Diego that you didn’t know before photographing the 2021 OH! sites?

MLK Way in Southeastern San Diego. Photo by Jim Brady

JB: Everybody knows there are wonderful hidden gems that we don’t know about, and in 2021, OH! San Diego encourages us to get out and see them. Martin Luther King Way in Southeastern San Diego is a one-block road with no homes. It’s worth going to look at. On both sides of the street is information about civil rights activists such as Rosa Parks, John Lewis and Cesar Chavez. They all did some really wonderful work, and this block is all about showcasing and celebrating them. It’s very inspiring.

Palomar College has a wonderful gymnasium  with a geodesic dome roof, and Cal State San Marcos has this collection of buildings built around a walkway, along with open grassy areas and a collection of native plants. All of them are places people wouldn’t necessarily run across on their own. In the past, one of the things I loved about OH! was gaining access to a building I had been curious about but hadn’t been able to enter. This year, it’s about this far flung exploration and these little gems tucked away in neighborhoods that you wouldn’t normally encounter.

Palomar Dome on the campus of Palomar College in San Marcos. Photo by Brady Architectural Photography

I recommend even if you can’t go see them all, somehow bookmark the participating sites so you can keep them in mind and get out and see them when you’re in a certain neighborhood later on.

What’s one thing people should know about how to take good architectural photos?

JB:  Don’t just get out, snap a picture and walk away. Walk around and look at the building in a big way. Get closer. Look at it in a medium way, then again up close. Try to identify fun compositions that you can extract from a larger facade. There will be a group of elements that come together in an interesting way, and I encourage people to try to spot them. The number one thing is, let yourself explore and don’t settle for the easy shot.

Jim will be sharing more of his top tips for architectural photography with the OH! audience. Follow us on Instagram to see these video tutorials as they are released.

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