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Photography

Architectural Composition: Space, Pattern, Line, Abstraction

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This post is part of a series called Architectural Photography.
25 Stupendous Examples of Architecture Photography

Architecture is a varied, plentiful and fascinating subject. It can be quite daunting to get a good, unique photograph. Our temptation is to look at the something as a whole, but with this tutorial I’d like to get you to look closer at the object you’re photographing and its surroundings, to help you compose something that’s visually interesting and, hopefully, branch out a bit from the ‘norm’.

Leading Lines

Leading lines direct your audiences’ gaze in a particular direction. You can use this to guide them to a particular place, like in this picture of a stairway leading to a door:

Leading lines stairway to door
Use leading lines to guide your viewers' gaze [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Or take your viewer off in completely different directions:

Leading lines opposing directions
Or use lines in opposing directions for an entirely different effect [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Leading lines, grids and patterns are found in abundance in urban environments. If you live in a large town or city, you won’t have to look far.

Look Up

Whilst looking for that perfect shot, we can often forget to look up. Sometimes there are great shapes and pockets of sky above you.

Above
Look  up to find interesting shapes and pockets of sky [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Or sometimes you can expect to see rooftops and windows, only to find something special and unexpected:

Tulips and rooftops
These tulips were a complete surprise when I looked up [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Symmetry

Architecture makes great use of symmetry to define its space. There is something really satisfying about symmetry, which some say has is rooted in the shape of our bodies and the symmetry of the human form.

Symmetry
This mausoleum in Monastir, Tunisia makes great use of symmetry [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Grand symmetrical walkways leading to an impressive symmetrical building are really effective from a distance. Go against convention and plonk the building slap bang in the middle if that’s what feels right, your leading lines either side will drag your viewers' eye right to your centrepiece.

Curves and Spirals

Spiral staircases are a delight, and so easy to photograph. Just look up or down!

Spiral staircase
The spiral leads your eye nicely in keeping with the rule of thirds [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Think about where your curve is leading. For example above, the spiral leads to our imaginary rule of thirds intersection and so is more pleasing to the eye. The muted colours with a splash of red help here too.

Where Lines Meet Curves

Reichstag Berlin
The Reichstag's glass dome in Berlin is a great example of modern architecture [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Modern architecture is full of wonderful clashes. Often, modern architects will move away from symmetry and tradition and try a mix of odd shapes and contours that shouldn’t work, but do. Despite the obvious differences, you’ll notice that the picture above also leads your eye to a rule of thirds intersection (top left) just like the spiral staircase did. Adjust your field of view until you see these opportunities or cheat and crop it in later in post-processing!

Negative Space

The concept of negative space is something that is usually considered when the building is designed, so be sure to look for those ‘empty’ spaces that highlight something special:

Negative space
The top of the mausoleum is highlighted by the empty sky above [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Or make your own negative space by zooming into a particular feature surrounded by featureless wall.

Negative space - three doors
The three doors on a featureless wall make great use of negative space [photo: Marie Gardiner]

 And then break it…

Negative space - three doors and person
Rather than ruining the shot, the person wandering past actually adds to the image [photo: Marie Gardiner]

While I was taking shots like the first image, a woman walked into my field of view. Rather than wait until she’d gone, I photographed her between two of the doorways. I actually prefer this picture. Don’t be afraid to break the rules; if something unexpected happens, snap it. You can always discard it later if it doesn’t work, but once the moment has gone you can’t get it back.

Conclusion

Architecture is abundant, timeless and full of character. The things we’ve covered in this tutorial are just the tip of the iceberg, you can also consider silhouettes, scale, and reflections amongst many other things. Try to ‘see’ the building from all sides, look closely at detail and don’t forget to look up (and down) to find new perspectives.

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