Are you looking to take stunning architectural photos, but you’re struggling to find the perfect equipment? You’ve come to the right place.
I’ve been photographing architecture for years, and in this article, I share my top eight essential equipment recommendations, from the basics – such as tripods and lenses – to more advanced tools, such as remote releases, filters, and more.
No, you don’t need to grab all of this architectural photography equipment right away. But it will help you improve your architectural shots, so the more you can get, the better!
So if you’re ready to create the perfect architectural shooting gear bag, then let’s dive right in, starting with:
1. A tripod
Pretty much every serious architectural photographer uses a tripod, and you should, too.
For one, if you’re photographing indoors, or you’re outside but the sky is getting dark, then a tripod will keep your camera steady as you shoot; you’ll capture tack-sharp images even in the pitch-black of night.
A tripod can be useful even when the light is bright. It’ll slow you down and force you to think about your compositions, it’ll let you use low ISOs and ultra-narrow apertures without risking blur, and it’ll keep your frame consistent if you choose to focus stack or capture HDR shots.
So invest in a good tripod – one that’s relatively sturdy, but light and portable enough to carry from location to location when traveling. I’d recommend a carbon fiber model, though if you’re on a budget, you might try checking out lightweight aluminum options. (Make sure you invest in a good tripod head, too; you certainly don’t want to shoot with sturdy legs but a flimsy head!)
By the way, as an architectural photographer, you’ll run into certain locations where tripods aren’t allowed. For those situations, I’d recommend carrying a bracket and clamp, which you can use to secure your camera to a structure, such as a metal railing. No, it won’t be as versatile as a tripod, but it’ll keep your shots sharp in a pinch!
2. A wide-angle lens
Every architectural photographer needs a lens, and good wide-angle glass is generally the way to go, especially when you’re starting out.
A wide-angle lens offers an expansive field of view, which is essential for interior work (and useful for exterior work, too).
For instance, if you’re shooting an entire room – and you want to capture the entire room, not just a section – you’ll need a wide-angle lens of at least 17mm.
To see the power of a wide-angle lens, check out this next image:
My lens’s wide field of view allowed me to capture the entire structure, from the beautiful chandeliers in the foreground to the pillars in the distant background.
But which wide-angle lens should you buy? Personally, I’d encourage you to grab a wide-angle zoom, which will offer lots of flexibility. You can go with a prime lens – and these will often be cheaper – but you can’t always move freely around architectural structures, so you may struggle to capture the shots you’re after.
If you’re just getting into architectural photography, you might look for a 17-40mm f/4 or a 16-35mm f/4 lens. Neither option will be cheap, but you won’t pay too much, either (and you might consider buying used).
More serious architectural shooters should think about investing in an ultra-wide f/2.8 lens, like a 14-24mm f/2.8. The 14mm perspective will let you capture an insane amount of space, while the f/2.8 maximum aperture will be great for night shots that combine architectural structures with starry skies.
3. A bubble level
When shooting architecture, you’re stuck dealing with lots of lines – so if your camera is even slightly crooked, it’ll instantly be obvious to the viewer. And it’ll ruin your shot.
(Yes, you can correct image tilt in post-processing, but you’ll lose pixels that way, so it’s really best to get it right from the start!)
Now, to keep your horizon lines straight, you can use your camera’s electronic level. But my recommendation is to simply invest in a bubble level, which can easily attach to your camera’s hot shoe for quick reference. If you’re lucky, you might have a bubble level built into your tripod head, which also works well!
Strobes – that is, studio strobes or portable flashes – aren’t so great when shooting outdoors…
…but if you’re working at close quarters to capture intricate details or if you’re working in a smaller room, a strobe or two can make a big difference.
Strobes are especially helpful when you’re shooting in dark rooms. You can position the strobes so they light up the entire scene (I recommend bouncing light off the ceilings or walls). That way, you’ll get a shot with very balanced lighting. In fact, with proper use of strobes, you can often get away without bracketing your shots.
One tip: Take care when bouncing the light off a surface that isn’t white. The light reflected off the non-white surface may create a color cast, which will require serious post-processing. If you can, just avoid bouncing light off non-white surfaces completely.
5. A tilt-shift lens
Many architectural photographers use standard wide-angle lenses, and these tend to work well.
However, they come with a problem:
When you shoot upward from a close distance, perspective distortion sets in, and buildings will appear to a) lean backward and b) bow inward. Here’s a shot that includes perspective distortion (note how the minarets seem to point slightly inward):
Now, perspective distortion isn’t always bad (and I actually like it in the photo featured above, as the minarets help lead the eye toward the center of the image). But there are many times where perspective distortion will hurt your images, in which case you’ll need to either correct it in post-processing or use a tilt-shift lens.
Tilt-shift lenses are expensive, but they do a great job of handling perspective distortion. It’s up to you whether a tilt-shift option is worth the investment, but I do recommend you at least consider one, especially as you become a more serious shooter.
(Why shouldn’t you rely on post-processing corrections instead? The problem is that distortion correction requires cropping. If the distortion is significant, you’ll end up losing a huge chunk of your composition, and that’s bad for a whole host of reasons.)
6. A remote release
A remote release is an electronic device that connects to your camera and lets you trigger the shutter without hitting the shutter button.
And this is insanely useful for several photography genres, including cityscape photography, landscape photography, and – you guessed it! – architectural photography.
Because here’s the thing:
Even if you use a tripod, every time you go to press your camera’s shutter button, you’ll subtly shake the camera. And that will introduce blur.
Now, you can use your camera’s self-timer function. But it’s annoying and inconvenient, plus it doesn’t allow you to carefully time your photos.
On the other hand, a remote release will trigger the shutter instantly, and it won’t cause any camera shake in the process.
By the way, if you’re using a DSLR, you’ll also want to make sure that you’re locking up your mirror ahead of exposure, because the slap of the mirror can create camera vibrations, too. (If you use Live View to compose, the mirror will be locked up automatically.)
And one more tip: If your camera offers it, use an electronic front-curtain shutter mode. It’ll trigger your camera’s shutter electronically, which will prevent any additional vibrations caused by the moving shutter.
7. Post-processing software
Post-processing is an important part of architectural photography, and while post-processing software isn’t physical gear, it’s just as important (and it costs a lot, too!).
To get successful architectural photos, you’ll need to learn how to selectively sharpen your files, how to apply noise reduction, and how to adjust exposure, shift colors, and add contrast.
And in my experience, one of the most useful post-processing techniques you can learn is digital exposure blending. A correctly blended image will combine rich shadows and detailed highlights for a professional look.
But which software should you get? Pretty much any basic processing program will work, including Lightroom Classic, ON1 Photo RAW, Capture One, or ACDSee. However, if you want to really dive in and manually process your photos, I’d recommend a comprehensive layer editor such as Photoshop or Affinity Photo. You might also consider investing in architectural-specific plugins, such as Nik Perspective FX.
Thanks to powerful post-processing software, filters are less important than ever – yet a good set of filters will save you a lot of frustration in the editing room, and certain filters can’t be duplicated in post-processing.
I recommend two specific filters:
A circular polarizing filter cuts down on reflections and glare, plus it’ll help make colors pop. A polarizer is especially impressive when used on blue skies and lush green foliage, so if you like to do outdoor or environmental architectural photography, this filter is a must-have.
A graduated neutral density filter balances scenes by reducing brightness at the top (or bottom) of the shot. Graduated ND filters are primarily used by landscape photographers to handle bright skies, and in architectural photography, they can serve the same function. You can also use graduated ND filters to reduce the brightness of interior windows.
(If you don’t want to pay for a GND filter, you can achieve the same effect using HDR techniques, but you’ll need to capture several shots in the field and blend them together later.)
Architectural photography gear: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you should have an idea of the gear you need to add to your architectural photography kit.
Remember, however, that while gear makes a difference, your skills matter even more. So get out with your camera and practice lots. That way, when you get that wide-angle lens or set of beautiful graduated neutral density filters, you’re ready to take some amazing photos!
Now over to you:
Which of these architectural photography items do you already have? Which do you need? Which will you get next? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Table of contents
- 8 Pieces of Architecture Photography Equipment You Need
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES