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Architectural photography may seem like an incredibly boring subject, but there is lots of creativity involved with shooting buildings, not to mention it’s a rather lucrative way to make a side income as a photographer. However, the rules of photographing a building versus a person are quite different. Whether you are a relatively seasoned architectural photographer looking to refine your approach, or a budding photographer curious about how to create impactful architectural photos, these tips should help take your photography to another level. This post is written for a photographer approaching an official architectural photography assignment, but the tips also apply to casual shooters.
Most buildings in the world have been photographed at least once thanks to Google. A quick Google Image search of the space you’re looking to shoot should pull up a variety of photos by both professionals and amateurs. Use the work of others to your advantage. Check to see what angles other photographers may have already shot, and which ones they haven’t. Examine the photos for any potential challenges that may arise, such as tall interiors or exteriors, or areas that look better when naturally lit by a sunset. Do what you can to anticipate your needs on site before you arrive.
Speaking of natural light, this can be your friend or your foe. Many modern buildings today are being built with lots of features that offer natural light such as floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights. While these may seem great for the actual building occupant, these features can make or break your architectural photo shoot. More than ever, it is important to know the geographical aspect of the building you are shooting. Is it east-facing or west-facing? Depending on the time of day, it truly matters. Be sure to consider the geographical aspect in relation to the time of day you choose to shoot.
There are a couple reasons why a walk through is essential. First, it is much easier to remove any clutter or unorganized elements. Two things to always look out for are trashcans and wrinkles in fabrics such as curtains or bed spreads. These are two things that are much easier to remove before you shoot rather than in post-production. Second, think of the walk through as your scouting mission. Look for any “special access” places such as nooks and crannies or elevated spaces, that you may be able to squeeze yourself into to get an alternative view of the space. In this day and age where just about everyone has a camera, capturing stand out photos is about finding the angles of a space that aren’t so obvious.
Before you walk through the space, check with your photography coordinator to find out if the space has been staged or styled by a designer. If so, you’re in luck! Staged spaces tend to look like they’re straight out of a magazine with furniture, artwork, and props carefully placed in the area, making your job much easier. If the space hasn’t been staged, you will have to put in more effort to figure out the architectural importance of the space and have these elements shine through in your images. Ask yourself, “without furniture, what is it about this space that makes it special?”. Perhaps it’s the exposed brick and wood beams, or the floor-to-ceiling windows. Whatever it is, make sure these elements become the focal points of your photos.
When shooting architecture, you almost always want to use a wide-angle lens such as a Canon 16-35mm, but these lenses have a tendency to cause converging verticals. This happens when two parallel lines in an image appear as if they are leaning in towards each other. To make your photos appear more professional, and the architectural subject appear more structurally sound, it is important to correct these converging verticals. The easiest way is to simply change your perspective. Take a few steps away from your architectural subject, or elevate yourself until your vertical lines appear more parallel. Other ways to correct for converging verticals is to fix it in Photoshop, or if you have the budget, invest in a perspective control or tilt-shift lens.
There are two main reasons why you want to get to higher ground while shooting a building. The first is to correct for converging verticals as mentioned above. The second reason is to strive for a different photographic perspective. If you’re lucky, the space you’re photographing may come with a balcony, staircase, or natural element that lets you rise several feet for a taller perspective. However, keep in mind that again this is an obvious element that many other photographers will make a beeline for. This is why in 90% of architecture photography situations it pays to have a foldable, portable ladder or step stool and a monopod with you always. Having these two relatively cheap and lightweight items will help you achieve different, elevated perspectives of interiors and exteriors from atypical angles. Keep them in the trunk of your car; you never know when they will come in handy.
Architectural photography at face value may not seem like an interesting subject, but think of it this way: when you travel, how many buildings do you see that you end of taking a photo of? Use these tips not only for approaching a real estate photo job, but whenever you plan to take semi-professional photos of buildings or just for yourself.
Have any other tips you want to share, please do so in the comments below.