An Interview With Sebastian Weiss About Architecture & Instagram Success
- By: Tim Kok
Sebastian Weiss is a photographer, graphic designer and civil engineer from Hamburg, Germany. He’s passionate about concrete aesthetics and the beauty of city shapes. His architectural photography celebrates the elegant details of modern buildings, often turning these details into fascinating abstract artworks of their own.
Over the years, Sebastian’s photography has been resonating with an increasingly larger audience. In December 2010, he started sharing his photos on Instagram and three and half years later he had garnered over 105,000 followers of his feed. In September 2013, he became a photo columnist for Architectural Digest Germany, a great honor for an architectural photographer.
We interviewed Sebastian about his views on architecture, photography and success on Instagram.
Although Sebastian’s photography skills haven’t been influenced directly by his background in civil engineering, it did make him aware of the beauty of buildings. “During my studies I realized that architecture in general, and the aesthetics of a building in particular, appeal even more to me than the calculation of a supporting structure.”
His studies also made him more perceptive of the interaction between aesthetics and engineering. He looks more critically at the design and aesthetic aspects of a constructive solution, noting, for example, that “we can see in many modern buildings that the load-bearing elements are shifted to the outside of a construction and thereby constitute a crucial part of the overall appearance.”
When asked about what he looks for in a building, Sebastian said that “of course every building fulfills an intended purpose, as people live, work or study there, they do some sports, make music, relax, or they go shopping in there. The designated purpose of a building determines considerably the design of it.”
“But I in contrast don’t want to emphasize these functional benefits and advantages of a building, like the property developer might expect from an architectural photographer. I try to elaborate the aesthetic beauty and subtleties of constructive details, which often remain hidden to us in everyday life.”
“However, these details significantly define the appearance of our environment and represent a sort of city’s alphabet to me, which I want to explore in my pictures.”
There isn’t a secret recipe behind Sebastian’s approach to architectural photography. A lot of the work goes into preparation: detailed research of the location, anticipation of weather conditions, checking of compass points, visits in advance to take first photographic notes.
It’s important to him to relate to the building, almost like having a relationship. “This requires time and patience, in order to prise the secrets out of the object onto the photo. If there is a tension between us, then it’s a match.”
After shooting, the photos are 99% ready. Besides a few small edits on the iPhone, there’s no need for any digital modification. Sebastian already takes the square Instagram format into account during the shoot.
Finally, Sebastian enjoys the creative freedom he has in his photography. “All pictures, which I release on Instagram, are completely free work, which makes me 100% independent from potential clients’ wishes.”
When asked about the popularity of his photography on Instagram, Sebastian explains that he started using the platform relatively early. “When I opened my Instagram account in December 2010, I was one of less than 1 million Instagram users; nowadays Instagram has more than 200 million users.” It also helped, of course, that for two weeks he was on Instagram’s List of Suggested Users.
Nevertheless, Sebastian has to be credited for his thoughtful use of the app, already from the beginning. “I had experimented a bit with the available filters and the square image format. Quite fast I had found my own optimal set-up and had occupied the topic of architectural photography within Instagram.” And he continued to be deliberate about the presentation of his work. “I try to make an effort for a conceptual, visual and stylistic consistency, as well as for a certain dramaturgy within my feed. I think that viewers perceive and honor this effort.”
In addition to style and composition, Sebastian also considered how to approach Instagram as a way of communicating. “The sharing of pictures on Instagram is more than only publishing photo material à la Flickr or other applications,” he says. “It is a very personal way of communicating your own view of the world, doing this from one smartphone to the other.”
Although his success is probably due to a combination of factors, Sebastian’s thoughts on viewing Instagram as a new type of storytelling is rather convincing. “It feels like Instagram is modern digital storytelling, because every picture transports a story and triggers emotions, which have an impact on the followers. They are excited by the story, their curiosity is created, and by this they are bound to the storyteller.”