Photographing Architecture - Digital Photography School

Photographing Architecture

Whether the subject is a historically significant building or a contemporary architectural masterpiece, here a few tips which may come in handy when shooting architecture.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Lens choices

A telephoto lens allows you to creep into those intricate details that litter the building’s facia and highlight to the viewer why the building is so special. A wide-angle lens can allows you to capture the building in its entirety and perhaps even place it context with its surrounding elements, adding a sense of location or season into the frame. A fish-eye lens can be used to visually express the magnitude of the stature if the wide-angle lens doesn’t quite cover it or adds a bit of extra creative spice to the shot.

Patterns

Geometric patterns, leadings lines, diagonals and grids are all rife within urban environments, and can make for attractive compositional aids to add interest and tension within the capture. The best way to do this is to use a zoom lens and crop in close for frame-filling captures. What is more, the vast majority of buildings incorporate symmetrical elements within their structures and these can be used to strength your composition. Some architectural photographers admit to aligning their hand along the slope their nose to help them create the frame around the symmetrical meeting point.

Working Late

Reflections

Particularly in modern areas of the city, buildings usually have floor to ceiling windows which can make for some fantastic reflective surfaces, which offers up a series of compositional devices such as symmetry and patterns. As well as reflections created on buildings, look for puddles, water features, sunglasses and windows of transport to photograph the building in the reflection.

Twin Spheres – Esferas Gemelas, Campo de las Naciones, Madrid HDR

Contrast

Juxtaposition of colour, texture, content and light can inject tension instantly into an architectural frame. Look for an old building next to an ultra modern one, or a particularly colourful wall against a plain surface, or just look to where the light falls to capture areas of light and shade.

Marina City, Chicago. One-car garage.

Light and shade

Buildings are riddled with areas of high contrast, which can fool the camera’s metering system. This is particularly a problem if you want to capture the details within the shaded and highlighted areas of the building at the same time. The answer is to bracket the shots at different exposure values, and later merge them using HDR software or if your camera has the option to play with the dynamic range of the scene (on Nikon’s for example the feature is called Active D-Lighting) switch this on, start with the lowest setting and move up in increments to find a level of detail you are happy with.

Glass Palace

Scale

Consider expressing the size of your subject by including every day, relatable features, such as street furniture (traffic lights, street lights, cars, people, trees, etc). On the other hand, you could avoid these props altogether to play with the viewers sense of perspective and scale.

Lost in Structuration : Couple Philharmonie

Perspective Correction

A great deal of architectural images will exhibit distorted lines, especially if you are using a wide-angle lens from a close proximity, which can often happen when you are shooting up from the ground. To straighten these lines post shoot there are a number of software programs or plug-ins that allow you to correct the distortion. However distortion can be used to the photographer’s advantage as it adds a sense of drama and sense of scale to the image.

Architectural Interiors

As well as photographing the outside facia, photographers often have the option of photographing inside too. The main problem shooters find here is the lack of available light, especially as many venues restrict the use of flash. To combat this use a lens with a wide aperture, boost the cameras ISO or set the camera or something sturdy and take a longer exposure, using the self timer to trigger the shot. Where flash is permitted try using a diffuser to soften the effect, as direct flash can often rob scenes of texture and distort colour.

BCE

Silhouettes

Just as with human subjects, to get a visually stimulating silhouette shot of a building, move into a position that means the sun is behind the structure and effectively blocks out the main orb of light. Here remember to deactivate the flash and expose for the sky.

Hungarian Parliament Building Silhouette ~ Explored ~

Architecture at Night

Shooting buildings at night can offer up fantastic subjects and creative ways of expressing your message. One of the best ways to do it is to shoot when there is still some light left in the sky, as this carves in extra colour and helps to subtly illuminate part the detail of the building, but wait long enough so that window lights, car lights and street signs are on. Place yourself in a safe spot that offers an interesting angle or perspective. Set the camera on a tripod or something sturdy and dial in a long exposure of several seconds. Fire the shutter using the self timer or a remote shutter release to ensure your image is sharp. Extend the length of the exposure to add a sense of motion, either from the people moving around inside the building, on the street, traffic or clouds.

The Sky Bar in Kuala Lumpur with a view of Petronas

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Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) is the former editor of Digital Photographer magazine, and is now a freelance journalist and photographer who has written for dozens of photography and technology magazines and websites over the last decade. Recent author and tutor too.

  • http://www.photostorys.com PhotoStorys

    Great article on shooting architecture.

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    All the pictures are beautiful. Sometimes knowing the best places to photograph from is also a boon. Also gaining elevation our a city gives interesting pictures.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2012/06/kuala-lumpur-as-seen-from-menara-tower-malaysia.html

  • http://www.wildlifeencounters.eu steve slater

    Before photographing any building I always walk right round it. Sometimes you can discover an interesting view from the side or back:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Scenes-of-Salamanca-Spain/G0000Dx3qs7n43D0/I0000do3kgqLO3Vw

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    Great variety of images in this post. I especially like the photo under the Contrast section. What an unusual looking parking garage, very cool. Where I live now there is not much cool architecture, but when I lived in Tokyo I photographed Roppongi Hills, which at the time was the newest skyscraper in the city:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2009/12/30/roppongi-hills-skyscraper-architecture-at-night.html

  • https://www.facebook.com/sudheendrasphotography Sreenivasa Sudheendra

    Awesome shots and great tips.. :)

  • Scottc

    Great article and amazing photographs, Architecture is one of my favorite subjects.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157625691414758/

  • http://portraitinspiration.com/ Jai Catalano

    It must have been a really slow day. There is only one lonely red truck.

  • http://penelopesoasis.com Penelope

    I’m not a fan in general of architecture photography, but these are terrific.

  • dave

    Naturally Ratcliffe’s photo is the weak link. Are those halos or lights? Hard to tell with this guy and his overcooked HDRs.

  • raghavendra

    wow, light patterns and reflections can make wonders in the picture

    here’s mine
    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.in/2012/08/techology-tower-building-in-vit-college.html

  • GGoodman

    Not a bad article, but I dont know how you could write about architectural photography without at least mentioning the tilt-shift lens.

  • Kees van Rijn

    does someone have experience with Loreo Perspective Control Lens in a Cap ?

  • http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com Jeff E Jensen

    Excellent images, and great tips! I like the tip on silhouettes, that’s one I frequently forget.

    Here’s some images of a building that was a lot of fun to shoot:

    http://blog.jeffejensenphotography.com/2011/10/lou-ruvo-center-for-brain-health.html

  • Nubia

    Love your photos and the article is right on, Natalie. I love architectural photography and any tips and techniques are welcome.
    You inspired me to use my zoom lens more, I use wide angle a lot, to shoot close and upwards at buildings, like the effect.

  • http://www.ramandnisha.co.uk Ram

    Excellent images and great tips.

  • http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro marius2die4
  • John Lambert

    Most of the images are photos of geometric shapes, rather than pictures of buildings.

  • Neilbm

    Never been a huge fan of architecture, but some of these photos are simply awesome. This has inspired me to give it a try. That’s why I love DPS. Great article Natalie, well done.

  • Trina Madrigal

    Great article. Im a newbie to photography. I think I have a decent camera for a beginner, Nikon P90, and I still have so much to learn. I love how the tricks are more about what the photographer can do and dont rely so much on the camera’s features.

  • Kurt

    Outstanding article. One of the things that I find so very useful is the thought provoking ideas in this article. I have just started photographing urban architecture in addition to the other things I shoot and these scenes truly provide some inspiration. What this actually does is help you develop that additional perspective that one might not have considered previously.

  • http://www.susheelchandradhas.com Susheel Chandradhas

    Nice article, beautifully illustrated. Inspiring, to be sure…

  • Carol-Ann

    Love the DPS site. Always interesting articles. This article is particularly inspiring.

  • TerminatahX

    Uh, how about mentioning the value of tilt-shift lenses to correct for perspective? Or the importance of exposure and exposure fusion. BTW, there’s almost no use for telephoto lenses in architecture photography. I wonder if the writer ever photographed a structure, ever….

  • TBH

    Yes terminatah X, there is much more to it, and there is also more to what you said. You won’t attract helping people with that attitude though. There is no easy method of talking about this, in the end this is art and if you have talent, you could take The Photo regardless the lens you use.

  • http://www.hackingphotography.com/ Mike Newton

    @TerminatahX:disqus – One can’t exactly write an entire top-to-bottom architecture photography guide in a small blog post. The purpose is to give newer photographers a starting point, which is exactly what this post does. Think of it as step 1. Tilt-shift lenses (that cost $2000+ and might be out of the reach of newer photographers) and exposure fusion are more like step 3-4. That said, it could be a good follow up post!

  • Luis Treviño

    EXCELLENT ARTICLE…
    I DO LOVE TO TAKE ARQUITETURAL PICTURES… I FOLLOW THE SUGGESTIONS AND GRATE PICTURES CAME

Some older comments

  • Carol-Ann

    May 6, 2013 05:27 am

    Love the DPS site. Always interesting articles. This article is particularly inspiring.

  • Susheel Chandradhas

    April 11, 2013 08:03 pm

    Nice article, beautifully illustrated. Inspiring, to be sure...

  • Kurt

    August 18, 2012 06:54 am

    Outstanding article. One of the things that I find so very useful is the thought provoking ideas in this article. I have just started photographing urban architecture in addition to the other things I shoot and these scenes truly provide some inspiration. What this actually does is help you develop that additional perspective that one might not have considered previously.

  • Trina Madrigal

    August 18, 2012 02:44 am

    Great article. Im a newbie to photography. I think I have a decent camera for a beginner, Nikon P90, and I still have so much to learn. I love how the tricks are more about what the photographer can do and dont rely so much on the camera's features.

  • Neilbm

    August 17, 2012 06:13 pm

    Never been a huge fan of architecture, but some of these photos are simply awesome. This has inspired me to give it a try. That's why I love DPS. Great article Natalie, well done.

  • John Lambert

    August 17, 2012 04:01 am

    Most of the images are photos of geometric shapes, rather than pictures of buildings.

  • marius2die4

    August 17, 2012 02:26 am

    Good pics
    Some from Europe:
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2012/05/spre-lumina.html

  • Ram

    August 9, 2012 10:29 pm

    Excellent images and great tips.

  • Nubia

    August 9, 2012 02:16 am

    Love your photos and the article is right on, Natalie. I love architectural photography and any tips and techniques are welcome.
    You inspired me to use my zoom lens more, I use wide angle a lot, to shoot close and upwards at buildings, like the effect.

  • Jeff E Jensen

    August 7, 2012 10:56 pm

    Excellent images, and great tips! I like the tip on silhouettes, that's one I frequently forget.

    Here's some images of a building that was a lot of fun to shoot:

    http://blog.jeffejensenphotography.com/2011/10/lou-ruvo-center-for-brain-health.html

  • Kees van Rijn

    August 7, 2012 04:51 pm

    does someone have experience with Loreo Perspective Control Lens in a Cap ?

  • GGoodman

    August 7, 2012 04:46 pm

    Not a bad article, but I dont know how you could write about architectural photography without at least mentioning the tilt-shift lens.

  • raghavendra

    August 7, 2012 12:28 pm

    wow, light patterns and reflections can make wonders in the picture

    here's mine
    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.in/2012/08/techology-tower-building-in-vit-college.html

  • dave

    August 7, 2012 12:20 pm

    Naturally Ratcliffe's photo is the weak link. Are those halos or lights? Hard to tell with this guy and his overcooked HDRs.

  • Penelope

    August 7, 2012 11:25 am

    I'm not a fan in general of architecture photography, but these are terrific.

  • Jai Catalano

    August 7, 2012 10:37 am

    It must have been a really slow day. There is only one lonely red truck.

  • Scottc

    August 7, 2012 09:23 am

    Great article and amazing photographs, Architecture is one of my favorite subjects.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/sets/72157625691414758/

  • Sreenivasa Sudheendra

    August 7, 2012 05:06 am

    Awesome shots and great tips.. :)

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    August 7, 2012 04:35 am

    Great variety of images in this post. I especially like the photo under the Contrast section. What an unusual looking parking garage, very cool. Where I live now there is not much cool architecture, but when I lived in Tokyo I photographed Roppongi Hills, which at the time was the newest skyscraper in the city:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2009/12/30/roppongi-hills-skyscraper-architecture-at-night.html

  • steve slater

    August 7, 2012 03:27 am

    Before photographing any building I always walk right round it. Sometimes you can discover an interesting view from the side or back:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Scenes-of-Salamanca-Spain/G0000Dx3qs7n43D0/I0000do3kgqLO3Vw

  • Mridula

    August 7, 2012 02:32 am

    All the pictures are beautiful. Sometimes knowing the best places to photograph from is also a boon. Also gaining elevation our a city gives interesting pictures.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2012/06/kuala-lumpur-as-seen-from-menara-tower-malaysia.html

  • PhotoStorys

    August 7, 2012 01:55 am

    Great article on shooting architecture.

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