Tips for Different Approaches to Architecture Photography

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Architecture is all around us, it is an integral part of our lives. We live in it, we work in it, we eat out in it, and in most towns a lot of money has been spent on it so they stand out to say something. We all know what those buildings are, and have maybe even taken photos of them, but they are often just snaps. There is nothing wrong with getting those, but it could be nice to try and get a lot more with the image, such as the essence of the building, what it says about its placement and where it stands.

So here are some tips for how to photography architecture to help you get started:

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An old home that no one has lived in for a long time. The clouds in the sky look like a long exposure, though they were just like that.

Architectural photography is not a prominent genre, yet so many people take photos of buildings, so why is it a subject that is not discussed a lot? Think about how often there is a building in your images.

Common types of architectural photography

Most people, if you ask them what architectural photography is, are likely to say real estate. It is probably the most common type and you do see it everywhere, but there are many other ways of taking photos of structures.

URBEX Photography

With the rise of URBEX (Urban Exploring) architecture is being photographed in a new way. Photographers are getting into abandoned structures to take photos. The decay and destruction that happens to a building after it has been abandoned, gives a new story to it. This is even more true with the items that are left inside the buildings, and these items help to give us a hint as to what was there before.

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URBEX exploring, an old school that was closed down and vandals have been into.

Long Exposure Photography

Long exposure photography is also very popular now. Neutral density filters (ND Filters) are used to give subjects a timeless feel, and using them on architecture has been as common, pointing the camera straight up to a building and photographing it as the clouds move behind it. Read: Using a 10 Stop Neutral Density Filter to add Drama to the Sky

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The long exposure helps give the image a sense of drama and a better look at the architecture of the bridge.

Alternatively

Those are the most common sorts of architectural photography, but you can do other types as well. You can make the building the subject, and create your image around it. You can do fine art images using the buildings, and create moods or stories around them.

Architecture around you

As stated earlier, architecture is all around, and you don’t have to go far to find buildings to photograph. It isn’t necessary that the building be architecturally important, more that you find it interesting, as that will help you to engage with it. It can be about what the building is or was, and how much it meant to the area it is in.

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An old hut on top of a mountain. Photographing it with the surrounds helps to place it, and the sky helps make it moody.

Different ways of photographing architecture

Most people seem to photograph buildings more as a record rather than as a work of art. Architecture can offer so much more, and you can get some amazing portrait style images.

There is the potential to tell stories. Whether that story is about what the building was used for, or what its function is now, you can use that to help take your images and process it afterwards. Maybe there is a certain part of it that you are very attracted to.

Photograph aspects of it

You don’t have to photograph the whole building. Think about parts of it that might make interesting images. It is so easy to forget that the light fittings are really interesting, or the doors might have wonderful carvings. If you find a building you like, tell the whole story of it and then select the parts that you like – photograph details. You can take more than one image.

I really like corridors, more so if no one is in them, the idea of it going somewhere, or nowhere. It’s interesting to see what mood you can create with the hallway. Use the image to create a story that is there, or not.

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A walkway beside a building with interesting lights.

Look at the surroundings and how they can help tell the story

There can be more to what you see than just the building. Look at where the building is situated, and if other buildings or subjects around it can help place it. For example, a modern tower that is surrounded by buildings from the Victorian Era, or the other way around, provide an interesting context. An elaborate theatre that is in the midst of many shops that have closed down. They all help to provide a sense of place.

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The sun hitting the building, then light being reflected on the front from somewhere else gives the station a great look.

Colour or black and white

It is easy to think that everything should be in black and white. It is the artsy way of thinking, but it really shouldn’t be the only way. It should be a personal choice and what you want with your image.

Maybe ask yourself some questions first. Does removing the colour add to the drama of the image? If you leave the colour in it will it distract from the story you are trying to tell? What time frame do you want to express? Is shape and form more important than what is there? If the answers to those questions are yes, then perhaps black and white is more suitable for that image.

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Looking straight up at a building is very popular, especially in black and white.

You get the idea, don’t just do black and white because you think that is what is expected for architecture. Make it a conscious choice, for a reason.

Processing

When it comes to how you process your images, it’s going to depend on the intention you have for the image. If it is to show the structure as it is, then you need to make sure that you only do basic processing.

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The wet ground was good for showing the reflections and making the most of an abstract view.

If you were commissioned to photograph a building, then you need to consider the goal, and how your client wants the final image. Do they want it to look like images that you already do, or perhaps with a different look? Remember your client is in charge of the final image and you need to be mindful of what they want.

On the other hand, if you have just taken the photo for yourself, then you don’t need to care about what other people want or like. You can process it anyway you like.

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Using the lines in the council chambers to take your eye to the clock.

This is where you get to show your individual style and experiment with your processing. Work out what you like, what you don’t, and create images of architecture that are uniquely yours. In many ways you have a lot more freedom to do what you like to it than other types of photography, like nature for instance.

In the End

With so many different types architecture, it is up to you to find what you like doing. Develop your style and make it yours. There is nothing better than people recognizing your work before they see your name.

Do you have any other ideas or tips for photographing architecture? Please share your thoughts and images in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Leanne Cole is a fine art photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves Melbourne and photographing it, along with other parts of the state. She likes doing architectural and environmental photography. You can find her on her website or on Instagram.

  • Tony Bassman

    I like to do a bit of architectural photography, here I tried to show the height of the cathedral in Leicester UK. I stood quite close to the building and pointed the camera up. I think it works, but that’s just my opinion 🙂

  • BigBee

    Helpful tutorial and impressive images. Especially like the right-to-left leading images which I tend to do but my study group reminds me is wrong — why/why not — would value your opinion 🙂

  • I have to admit, I haven’t heard that before, then again I’m not one for listening to what other people think you should or shouldn’t do in images. Three years at art school and I never heard it either. I do what I think will work best for the image, and what I think works. You should do what you like, and not worry about what others say, do it for you not them. Good luck, and thanks for your thoughts.

  • It is quite a good vantage point, the one you have used and I often use it myself. Good for getting rid of people from the photo as well. Great image and thanks for sharing.

  • BigBee

    Thanks, Leanne! I try not to get bogged down w/’rules’ and do what feels right to me no matter what — might be time to find a new group 🙂

  • I was thinking the same thing, it is good to go with your instincts and what you like, always.
    Good luck.

  • Nicci Carrera

    I saw your image of the bridge in the newsletter today and thought “Leanne Cole!” Love the article. I think I’m going to take a shot that I took in Reno last week and reprocess it for my blog today. It’s of an old church near new buildings. Thanks so much for the brilliant tips. I love your photography and would like to be able to do more with it. By the way, I’m getting ready to purchase a wide angle lens specifically for architecture. Do you think it is a waste if I don’t have a full frame camera? Thanks so much.

  • Thank you Nicci, I’ve been getting that a bit lately. That sounds like a great idea, I look forward to seeing it. The wide angle, I don’t think it is a waste, if it is a wide angle for the cropped sensor you will be fine, don’t buy one for a full frame unless you are planning on getting a full frame in the future. There are some great wide angle lenses for cropped sensors.

  • Nicci Carrera

    Thank you, Leanne!

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