Tag Archive for: Architecture Photographer


California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is intended to inform government decision makers and the public about the potential environmental effects of proposed activities and to prevent significant, avoidable environmental damage. Common types of environmental impact include traffic, noise, groundwater contamination, archaeological resources, vegetation, and wildlife. This also includes cultural and historic resources.

The CEQA Guidelines reflect the requirements set forth in the Public Resources Code, as well as court decisions interpreting the statute and practical planning considerations. Among other things, the CEQA Guidelines explain how to determine whether an activity is subject to environmental review, what steps are involved in the environmental review process, and the required content of environmental documents. The CEQA Guidelines apply to public agencies throughout the state, including local governments, special districts, and State agencies.

There is a common misconception that resources of 50 -years and older need to be evaluated, but anything younger cannot be considered significant. The 50-year threshold originally comes from 36 Code of Federal Regulations 60.4, which pertains to the National Register.

Those regulations require a resource to be “exceptionally important” to be considered eligible for listing. On the other hand, the California Register criteria (CCR § 4852) state that in order for a resource  to achieve significance within the past 50-years, sufficient time must have passed to obtain a scholarly perspective on the events or individuals associated with the resource. The language provided in CCR § 4852, is much broader than the National Register eligibility requirement for exceptional significance. Specifically, the California Register statute allows CEQA Lead Agencies a fair amount of flexibility in justifying that a resource is significant, even if that resource is less than 50-years old. This flexibility also puts greater responsibility on Lead Agencies to evaluate resources based on substantial evidence, rather than relying on the age of the resource alone. Finally, many local preservation ordinances do not include an age threshold, and a property listed on a local register is presumed to be a historical resource for the purposes of CEQA.

Historical resource is a CEQA term that includes buildings, sites, structures, objects, or districts, each of which may have historical, prehistoric, architectural, archaeological, cultural, or scientific importance and is eligible for listing or is listed in the California Register of Historical Resources (CRHR). Local governments are required to determine whether a resource is in fact a resource and whether a proposed project would cause a “substantial adverse change” to the resource.

Substantial adverse change includes demolition, destruction, relocation, or alteration such that the significance of an historical resource would be impaired. While demolition and destruction are fairly obvious significant impacts, it is more difficult to assess when change, alteration, or relocation crosses the threshold of substantial adverse change. The CEQA Guidelines provide that a project that demolishes or alters those physical characteristics of an historical resource that convey its historical significance (i.e., its character-defining features) can be considered to materially impair the resource’s significance.

  • CEQA requires mitigation of any significant impacts. Some local agencies use HABS documentation as a mitigation measure but not all jurisdictions agree it is sufficient or proper.
  • CEQA is a complex set of regulations that may require knowledgeable qualified specialists to evaluate a particular resource.

For more information

Office of Historic Preservation

CEQA Guidelines

CEQA for Dummies


Norco Egg Ranch Processing

Scholle Ranch Springville Camarillo

Scholle Farm House

I Photograph Ugly Buildings

As I go about photographing historic buildings and sites, I often hear comments such as “why would they want to save that?” or “what makes that historic?”. I generally tell them “there are standards” and “it’s not arbitrary.”

The Secretary of the Interior has developed four criteria:

  1. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution
    to the broad patterns of our history; or
  2. That are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or
  3. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or
    method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or
    that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and
    distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual
    distinction; or
  4. That have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history

I think the most confusing and least understood criteria by the general public are A and B. Just by looking one cannot know what historic significance is associated with any structure or site. It is the responsibility of architectural historians and cultural resource consultants to make it known. It is my job as a HABS HAER HALS photographer to tell the story visually.

A prime example would be the Harada House and its next-door neighbor the Robinson House. The story is well told in this National Trust of Historic Places article https://savingplaces.org/stories/you-can-throw-me-in-the-sea-and-i-wont-sell-the-story-of-the-harada-house#.YQRT60BlAuU

So, how do you tell a visual story of events that took place many years ago? First and foremost, ‘original fabric’ still has to be present. If the structure or place has been so altered over time that little, if any, original features are still present, the site probably would not be considered historic. Even when a site looks like it may collapse under its own weight at any moment, if enough original defining features are present, the structure can be preserved, rehabilitated, restored or reconstructed. Please see the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards to Rehabilitation. https://www.nps.gov/tps/standards/rehabilitation/rehab/stand.htm

And, to add another layer of confusion, are the alterations made during the period of significance or at another time? For example, only a portion of a building may be considered historic. In a historic district a feature may be contributing or non-contributing. These conclusions would have to be made by the historian through research.

At the Robinson House, for example, upon close examination, you could see the original size of the structure and the added and altered sections. This is done be looking at roof lines, windows and window casements and siding. No interior views were captured as nothing original (original fabric) was still visible.

At the Harada House, on the other hand, it was like walking into a time capsule. By taking a very close look at the interior doors and their hinges, you could determine which were from the original construction and which were from the major remodel in the late 1910’s. During this period the design esthetic changed from very modest Victorian to Craftsmen. Otherwise, the structure has been virtually untouched since the family reoccupied the home after their incarceration during WWII.  Even the inscription that one of the children wrote on the wall regarding the police arriving to arrest them still remains.

It is in these very small but hugely important details along with overall and contextual views that tell the complete story. The story can be short in duration, (a single event) or over many years, even into the present day.

In this view of the southern façade of the Robinson House, note the infill siding (A), different sidings (B) and roof lines (C). It might be construed that the original window at (A) was longer, befitting the Victorian style. The area could have been infilled to accommodate a standard size replacement. The front porch area has been altered as seen in historic photographs.

View of original rear entry and rear porch Harada House which has been enclosed. Note the original siding on the left-hand side (A) and different siding (B) on the portion that was enclosed.

Detail of inscription written on the morning the family was incarcerated during WWII.

Detail of interior door hinge from original Victorian construction period.



Commissioning Architectural Photography

Commissioning Architectural Photography

Here is a great tool for those who are considering commissioning architectural photography for their latest projects. A collaboration between AIA (American Institute of Architects) and ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), this short yet concise explanation has information for both architects and photographers.

One area I found of particular interest was the idea of shared costs. The PDF states, in part, “Inquire whether other parties in your project (such as the owner, contractors, consultants, product suppliers, financing sources, or even public agencies) might be interested in participating in the assignment and sharing the expenses. If so, all of the participants should likewise identify their needs and priorities. It is important that the participants understand which costs are shared and which are not. The total price has three components: creative/production fees, expenses and rights licenses. Expenses (e.g., travel; consumables; equipment or pr op rentals; and fees paid to assistants, models and stylists) and production fees (the photographer’s time, expertise and judgment) can be shared on any basis the participants choose. Rights licenses, in contrast, are based on the use each participant makes of the images and are not shared or transferable among the parties.”

It goes on to talk about when it might be advantageous to participate in such cost sharing and when it might be better to take a ‘wait and see’ posture. It goes on to talk about single or multiple contracts, who collects the payments, how are images distributed, etc.

Because it was written by two leading industry trade groups, it presents a very balanced viewpoint, intended to educate both the photographer as well as the architect. Other areas discussed are Selecting a Professional Photographer, Understanding the Photography Estimate, Controlling the Costs, Licensing and an On-site Check list.

In the licensing section, it talks briefly about copyright, which is a major discussion unto itself. My HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey), HAER (Historic American Engineering Record), HALS (Historic American Landscapes Survey) work, for example, is in the public domain, usable without any copyright restrictions. Remember, when commissioning architectural photography, hire local, hire experienced professionals and hire someone you enjoy working with.

Dennis Hill, Content Creation is a Los Angeles based architectural photography company with digital and film-based capture, specializing in historic buildings and industrial sites throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona.

Commissioning Architectural Photography PDF

Affordable Housing

Commissioning architecture photography for low cost housing is a specialty of Dennis Hill, Los Angeles based photographer

Historic Photography

As a mitigation requirement, the developer was required to commission an architectural photographer to create a HABS documentation of the site prior to its adaptive reuse

Dream Clients

Camera RAW

Historic Preservation & New Development