An eye toward home

Local photographer captures a sense of place for interior designer

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By Lacey Sikora

Oak Park photographer Paul Goyette is quietly making a name for himself as a photographer of interior design and architecture projects in the western suburbs. He started out small, working for family and friends, but as his eye grows more trained and his technical experience grows, a new career is taking shape.

Goyette finds himself building a career around something he never imagined doing when he was in school.

"This is probably my third career," he says. "I studied literature in college and then focused on early childhood issues when getting my master's in public policy from the University of Chicago. Once my wife and I began having kids, I decided to stay home with them and started a little photography business, mostly getting shots of people. My brother-in-law is an architect in Nashville, and he asked me to shoot some of their projects, which led to my interest in shooting architecture."

Self-taught

As he was honing his skills photographing houses designed by his brother-in-law's firm in Tennessee, Goyette was also picking up experience here at home. "A friend was doing architecture photos on the South Side, and I learned a lot about technique from him. Luckily, my brother-in-law's firm is very busy, so I now go down about twice a year to photograph their projects. It's a very different environment, since there's a lot of construction of new homes, so the challenge is finding architecture clients here, where the projects are more likely additions or restorations of older homes."

Goyette says that as he gained experience, his photographs improved. "I've been upping my game as I go. You can always tell if someone has had an experienced photographer come in because they get the lines straight. There are special lenses you can get. Because of my friend, I was aware of all the tools and was really excited to try these techniques out and learn about it."

Friendly connection

Several years ago, as Goyette was fine-tuning his craft as an architecture photographer, he met local interior designer Amanda Miller at their church. Miller was just getting her design business off the ground and asked Goyette to photograph her projects.

Miller believes her collaboration with Goyette has been mutually beneficial.

"Paul really grew his interior photography practice alongside me as I grew my design business," she says. "He learned to do the interior stuff just by doing it. He jumped in and really understood it. He sees through the lens what the picture should look like, and I can't do that. He has the eye, the intuition and patience to make things come alive. He also has great technical skills, and he has been integral in helping me grow my business."

Photography of interiors

Goyette readily admits that photographing exterior architecture in Nashville is a different skill set than capturing interiors in Oak Park.

"The very obvious thing is that the new developments in Nashville don't have a lot of mature trees," he notes, "while everything in Oak Park has trees around it. It's a lot to consider in terms of shadows. It's probably a much easier job in a new development because of the lighting."

In photographing most of Miller's interior projects, Goyette gained an appreciation of illuminating well.

"Amanda is very conscious of lighting. Her projects tend to be well-lit naturally, so they don't require as much professional lighting. Often with other older homes, they tend to be darker, so I'm bringing in lighting and working to create the right atmosphere."

According to Miller, Goyette's skills with interiors also function as art.

"With one of my clients, Paul came in to photograph significant architectural details of their home," she recalls. "He really captured the feel of their home with detailed photos that are almost abstract. The clients hung these photos in their house, and they make meaningful artwork. People in Oak Park rightly have so much house pride in their historic homes, and this is a great way to celebrate that."

Focus on architecture

Goyette has also worked with other local architects to photograph their work in Oak Park and River Forest. Working with an architect, he notes, requires an ability to see the home through their eyes.

"Architects are very particular. These projects are their babies. My job is figuring out how to photograph the part they are most proud of to show it off. When architects work on an older home, they have to respect the vision that is already there plus add to it in a respectful way."

Oak Park architect Rosanne McGrath of Studio M Architects has had Goyette photograph many of her projects.

"Besides being very pleasant to work with," she observes, "Paul brings so much to the process. There is a knack to architecture photos, a bit of a learning curve. It's not just lighting and technical skills; you want someone who will pick the shot that plays up the good aspects of your work. He really plays around to get the shot that tells the story. He brings an artist's eye to looking at the architecture."

On a recent collaboration between McGrath on the architecture side and Miller on the interior side, Goyette worked to photograph the addition to a home of historic significance in Oak Park. According to McGrath, he immediately thought of a way to capture the home's spirit.

"He had the idea to shoot the house at dusk, all lit up, which made the images almost magical. He just found the right shot to tell what I wanted to tell."

Goyette used a stitching technique to capture that twilight shot. "Digital photography offers lots of opportunity to be creative. I can travel light and set up easily. With the twilight shot, I only used one light, and by using a lens that shifts, I could take two or three pictures without moving my camera and stitch them together during the editing process."

While his path to becoming an architecture and interior design photographer may have been circuitous, Goyette wouldn't have it any other way.

"I feel like I'm really blessed to get to do a lot of different things," he explains. "If my life had been any different, I never would have gotten into this."

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