6 Tips to Take Your Architecture Photography to the Next Level

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Liams Seattle

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.

1. Do your homework and see if there are any photos of the space online

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.

Puerto Vallarta

2. Know the geographical aspect of your building

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.

3. Always walk through the space first

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.

Hecho Seattle

4. See if the space has been styled

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.

5. As you begin shooting, watch for vertical lines

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.

Fairwinds Seattle

6. Elevate yourself

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.

EMP SFM Seattle

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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Suzi Pratt is an internationally published Seattle event and food photographer. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. She is also a prolific blogger who teaches others how to run a successful photography business.

  • Keith Starkey

    Thanks very much for the article!

  • Cheers, thanks for the feedback, Keith!

  • Your images are very well done. I do a bit of architectural (model home / real estate) photography … and am pretty seasoned with transform, skew, scale, etc. But there’s a new feature in PSCS6 … Adaptive Wide Angle filter … that I’ve been having fun with lately. Takes a bit of patience … here’s a link to my blog that includes a link to a tutorial for it … http://1stangel.co.uk/loisbryan/2014/07/11/bizzy-in-a-good-way/

  • Great tips. Using alternative perspective works great not only with buildings but with different subjects too.

  • Thanks Kevin! I completely agree. In fact, it’s been fun to incorporate angles and perspectives of architecture into my portraiture as well.

  • Geoff Billing

    Some great tips there, thanks!

  • Thanks for the tip, Lois! I actually recently discovered Adaptive Wide Angle this year and it has transformed my real estate photography. I didn’t even think to mention it in this post, so thank you for the link!

  • James Ostrand

    If you’re using a wide-angle lens, like the 16-35mm mentioned, be sure to keep the camera as level as possible to avoid distortion. The greater the angle up or down, the more likely you are to have that “falling away” effect of your buildings as well as distorted corners.

  • Completely agree, James. I use the 16-35mm all the time and keeping it level is crucial. Thanks for the tip!

  • drdroad

    About the time I got my degree, I started a business doing brochures/flyers for Realtors. This was before Macs/Laser printers/Desktop Publishing. Not only did it give me an immediate source of photography income, Architectural Photography sticks to me today, including Indian Ruins, Ghost Towns, Courthouses, Reflections etc. My favorite form of photography.

  • Gregor

    I’ve tried the reverse of getting up high with some success: Get as low to the ground as possible in front of skyscrapers, just back far enough to include as much of the building(s) as you want.

  • Oooh, very pretty! I love the colors and reflections in this shot. Keep up the great work 🙂

  • NICE!!! That is actually a great idea Gregor. Fantastic results.

  • PPL

    Hi Loïs, actually the Adobe tutorial does many manipulations, but doesn’t solve the main problem in the demo image : the big barrel distortion in the center of the image. Lightroom 5 offers a great perspective and image correction tool to get the verticals and horizontals back into shape. I isn’t foolproof but can save you a lot of work. I suppose adaptive wode angle filter probably goes beyond that, but you don’t need it everytime.

    And for those people who are really mad at taking architecture photography to the top level, look at the training being offered here by Mike Kelley. at https://fstoppers.com/product/mike-kelley-where-art-meets-architecture. Not aimed at the average photographer, but if architecture is your job or your passion, have a look.

  • Thank you, PPL … I will definitely take a look at Mike Kelley’s tips. With barrel or pincushion distortion, Camera Raw (CS6) or Topaz’s Lens Effects will get you going in the right direction.

  • Gary S

    One more pitfall to guard against… mirrors! I don’t know how many times I’ve taken the perfect photo of a room only to find my ugly mug staring right back at me, camera in hand with flash accent right in the middle of the frame. The penalty for this transgression is time spent in post cloning out the careless photographer:)

  • John Gauntt

    Look up.

  • Guest

    Poor D3100 with spoilt 18-55mm kit lens…. I shot it with some unintended ghost..

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    D3100, 18-55mm kit lens… with some ghost

  • RadioKWMQ

    It also pays to look out for reflections of hot-spots on the ceiling if you’re using bounced flash. If you can’t avoid catching your reflection, I saw a pretty neat tip in another article recently where the author suggested taking a pic of what is reflected in the mirror (I would assume that means standing in front of the mirror with your back to it and shooting out into the room). You then use that pic to overlay onto the mirror (after flipping it of course) in PS. You’re a bit screwed if there’s another mirror on on the opposite wall though…

  • Oh man, mirrors are the death of me. But that is a really great tip I’ll definitely have to try out sometime soon. Thanks for sharing!

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