Zoning Practice — January 2005

Ask the Author

Here are reader questions answered by Steve Price, author of the December 2004 Zoning Practice article "Visualizing Change: Photo-reimaging America's Built Landscape."

Question from Roger Keren, Senior Planner, Somerset County Planning Division:

During your research, did you find any manuals or books that specifically refer to photo-reimaging?

Answer from author Steve Price:

I'm not sure whether you are asking how common the term "photo-reimaging" is, or whether there are any good how-to books out there. I'll answer both questions.

"Photo-reimaging" as yet is not a widely used term. As far as I know, the Fannie Mae Foundation first coined the term. The foundation used it to describe the technique of revealing the potential worth of degraded places — parks, main streets, older urban neighborhoods — by doing virtual makeovers of photographs of the places in Photoshop — using the tools of Photoshop to fix pot holes, repaint buildings, develop empty lots, put in landscaping, pick up trash, etc. Compared to the terms photo-simulation or photomontage, photo-reimaging emphasizes more than just how new objects will look placed in a photographed landscape — e.g. buildings, bridges, and transportation infrastructure — but how the landscape as a whole can change. In my own work, since I wish to differentiate my visualization work as being about Smart Growth — total landscape improvement — I have adopted the foundation's terminology, but it is terminology that is fairly new.

As to whether there are any good how-to books, as far as I know there are not any specifically on photo-reimaging. As I mentioned in the article, creating a convincing landscape transformation requires several involved technical skills that are not going to be covered in just one book: illustration, graphic design, landscape architecture, photography, Photoshop, and 3D modeling. If the definition of "profession" is a calling requiring mastery of several related skills, then photo-reimaging should properly be called a profession rather than a skill.

As far as I know there are no curricula of classes that provide training in this profession. At this point, mastering this work involves self-directed learning. But university architecture departments do offer classes in Photoshop and 3D modeling. For introductory classes in both Photoshop and Form•Z, check out www.architectstoolbox.com. Third-party software training manuals that target architects and landscape architects are useful; e.g. Learn Form•Z for Architecture published by STEM. I'm more familiar with the Form•Z world, but if you use other 3D modeling software — 3D Studio Max, Autodesk VIZ, Archicad, VectorWorks — those companies may be able to steer you to training resources appropriate to their products. The above resources will help you learn the visualization skills necessary for photo-reimaging, but at this point are unlikely to use the term photo-reimaging.

Anybody who goes to the movies or plays computer games knows that we are living in the age of photo-realistic 3D graphics. There are powerful market forces at work to encourage the development of more and more compelling visualization technologies. Learning to use this technology to help guide urban growth calls for ongoing creative learning.