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A Brilliant Beginner's Guide to Architectural Photography

Architecture is serious business. Millions are spent each year on new development projects as architects try to make their artistic vision into reality and create something structural, practical and functional that will be a lasting legacy of their work. However, wherever you are in the world, architecture is present, for living, for working, and for entertainment. Hopefully, these tips will help you capture some of that beauty with your photographs.

Where to begin?

The range of architectural photographic possibilities is almost endless, the chance to capture some of the world's most significant monuments and tourist attractions at one end, whilst at the other end of the scale, the chance to capture someone's humble home or living space. Each will offer their own challenges, difficulties and joys and by no means do we have time here to go into detail on how to shoot every type of building, but this will give you an understanding of what is involved and inspire you to get out and give it a go for yourself.


Photo by Gari.baldi

Location and Approach

The first thing to do is consider the location and type of building that you want to photograph. Would you rather work with something sleek and modern, something historic and grand or possibly something more understated? This decision may well be made for you depending on your location, but consider the actual structure of the buildings and try to understand the building, what it's used for, who uses it, when was it built and any history it may have. This will significantly inform your photographic work and how you represent the building.

Alternatively, you could decide to approach the building as it is, to just see it as walls and glass, purely as a structure. Acting as an architectural purist, you'll represent the building as a construct of materials. For some, this will give them clarity over the visual element of their work and help them to have a clean slate to work with, rather than searching for elements of the building to work with based on its purpose and history.


Photo by Thomas Hawk

Equipment

Depending on the type of architectural project you are undertaking, you will need varying equipment. If you are shooting grand modern buildings for corporate purposes, you will require clean and direct shots with plenty of light and therefore a DSLR will suffice. If you are shooting a historic building you may prefer to employ a film camera to try to match up the medium with the subject matter.

For the more general work, an SLR on a tripod is preferable, as it will be useful to utilise a wide-angle lens, as it can be difficult to get a vantage point, it is useful to get as much in the frame as possible. Depending on the time of day that you are working, you may also like to employ a graduated filter to tone down the sky or a neutral density filter for long exposure work to enhance the colours.


Photo by Vinoth Chandar

Step 4 - Angles

The high end (almost 'modern art') aesthetic of architecture has so much to offer to photographers: amazing lines, angles, details, colours, shapes and materials offer a vast array of photographic opportunities just waiting to be exploited. Consider the angle at which you want to approach the building(s) that you're working with.

Do you want to fill the frame with the structure, or would it be better to put it into a wider context. Would it be suitable to add a sense of scale by including trees or people? Do you want to shoot straight on for a squared composition emphasizing symmetry, or would you achieve a stronger image if you shot from an angle which can bring out strong lines?

There are many decisions to be made when approaching a building and when considering angles and the viewpoint from which you are shooting a building. It's also important to remember that image distortion can come into play, when straight lines appear distorted or warped. If this is the case, you need to reconsider the viewpoint from which you are taking your shots and also the equipment you're using. A tilt-shift lens can correct for diverging lines, but in order correct for distortion, you'll need to choose a lens that's known for low distortion. Cheaper lens typically have more distortion.


Photo by Dhammza

Step 5 - Lines

You can't start thinking about angles, without also incorporating lines. Within architectural work, it is essential that you give the lines within your images some careful considerate. If you are shooting tall buildings, the vertical lines will be the most apparent and can be an extremely good way to add interest to your shot with a variety of verticals lines through the shot.

It's also important to consider horizontal lines, whether the shot lends itself to be divided by the rule of thirds, whether there is a variety in heights of the horizontal lines, or whether you'd rather have strong cross sections of the image. It's also important to consider the depth of the image and whether there are any lines that lead the eye into the shot. Finally, within many modern architectural projects, curved lines are increasingly popular and can be very interesting to work with.


Photo by Guille

Step 6 - Light and Settings

As with all photographic work, utilising the available light correctly is essential. Consider carefully the time of day in which you'd like to shoot depending on your subject. For interior work, I would always recommend working through the day to ensure there is a much light available as possible. However, for external work, bright light can cause problems with reflections and overexposure, so it may be better to work in the golden hours around sunrise and sunset to ensure you have warm swathes of light to work with. It can also be extremely rewarding to work in the evenings, using long exposures to utilise the city lights as the nightlife comes out to play.

As with most landscape type work, you'll need to ensure a high f-number, roughly f/8 or above to ensure that the whole scene is in focus, but this will require a longer exposure, so a tripod will be necessary.


Photo by Kunal Mehta

Step 7 - Detail

Although the main focus within architectural photography is capturing buildings as a whole, it's can also be very interesting to approach a building from a macro level as well. Search for details and intricacies that may otherwise go unnoticed, particularly within older buildings.

When exploring both the exterior and interior of the buildings you're working with, be sure to be thinking on a small scale as well as on a large scale and you may be surprised by what you find. Often architectural details in the more modern buildings lend themselves very well to abstract work. Look for reflections in glass or water that may offer symmetry or an alternative viewpoint and also shadows can work very well as a contrast to bright shiny glass fronted blocks.


Photo by Vit Hassan

Step 8 - Interiors

It's really important that you don't forget about the interior of a building. You can spend hours trying to capture the essence of the building from the outside, but to get a real feel for the buildings purpose, function and of it's daily life, you need to get inside! Now, this doesn't mean you can just go charging into any building you like, you need to ask permission. There may well be restrictions on when and where you can shoot, so be sure to co-operate with whoever is in charge and respect their decisions.

Once inside, you'll soon be able to sense the architectural feel of the space. Is it clean and clinical or loved and lived in? As with exterior work, keep your eyes out for interesting lines, shapes and angles. Once you've found something of interest, spend time with it, observe it from different viewpoints to maximise it's features in your work. Lighting within buildings can be tricky, so be prepared to adjust your exposure settings, adjust the f number down, the shutter speed up and knock up the ISO if needs be, but also keep a look out for any interesting light sources or windows.


Photo by Szeke

Step 9 - Panoramas & Post Production

A technique that you may well want to consider is to use multiple shots to create a panorama. This is employed more often for cityscape and skyline shots, but can be used very effectively when trying to capture a large building or subject. There are many photographic stitching software programmes available online and with a bit of practice can produce some very rewarding results.

After you've got all your shots together, it is essential to leave plenty of time for post processing to maximise your shots. Take time to make decisions. Does the shot need colour? Try converting it to black and white. Is it now more dramatic? Or does it lack something that the colour offered?


Photo by dhunfini

Step 10 - Get Out There

Hopefully these tips have informed you on the various elements of architectural photography and now it's your turn to go and give it a go for yourself! Remember to go out prepared for bad weather, take your tripod, filters, wide-angle lens and capture the amazing architectural work before you.

Be sure to adhere to trespassing regulations, don't enter any prohibited areas or private property without permission and if anyone has issues with you photographic their building, be sure to co-operate. But enough of the boring stuff, grab your diary and plan that next trip to town with your camera!


Photo by DirkJanKraan
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