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8 Quick Tips to Improve Your Photos of Architectural Details

When you’re photographing architecture, it’s easy to get lost in the grandeur of some buildings. That’s not a bad thing. That’s how they were designed, to be a spectacle. Cathedrals, palaces, opera houses, and state buildings are all examples of architecture that’s meant to impress.

That’s the bigger picture. In terms of photography, however, it can be better to pull away from the grand, and look for opportunities in the details. All buildings and structures are sums of smaller parts, and it’s these parts that can often lead to visually interesting photos. Photographing these details comes with its own set of considerations. This article will point out a few things to look out for while you are out and about looking for the smaller picture, and 8 tip on how to improve your photos of architectural details.

#1 – Low contrast lighting

If the weather is poor and the sky is a drab, colorless grey, it may seem like a less than worthwhile opportunity for photography. That may be the case for some subjects, however, overcast days provide incredibly soft light that is quite suited for architectural details. This softness allows you to capture subjects with a lot of fine detail, that would normally be lost in the contrast.

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Overcast days will help to bring out details that would have been lost in contrast.

Likewise, keep an eye out for photo opportunities in areas of shade. You may need a tripod to take advantage here, but the extra effort is worth it.

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Photographing subjects in the shade provides soft, even lighting.

#2 – Side lighting

For bold images, look for scenes with strong light coming from the side. This type of lighting will increase contrast, especially in texture, and it will help to emphasize the shape of your subject.

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Side lighting helps to emphasise texture and shape.

#3 – Patterns in light and shadow

Pay close attention to how light falls on various subjects. When you’re photographing details, shadows and highlights can, themselves, become an important compositional element.

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Shadows and highlight can become graphic elements in their own right.

#4 – Patterns

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Repeating patterns can make for bold imagery.

To me, the best part of photographing architectural details is the wealth of compositional possibilities. Man-made structures are full of patterns and shapes that can be exploited for photos. Take advantage of them by filling the frame for an abstract feel.

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The curve in these stairs made for natural leading lines.

#5 – Reflections

For all of the wonderful architecture in the world, there’s at least as many drab and ugly buildings that appear to have little to offer photographers. They often do have something worth captuing, but it takes work to figure it out. One way to add interest to these subjects is to look for reflections. Reflections can add visual interest and color, to an otherwise lifeless and boring subject.

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Reflections can add a boost to an otherwise lifeless scene.

#6 – Fixtures

It’s not always about the buildings, and only the buildings. Fixtures can often be overlooked, yet they can prove to be as compelling a subject as the architecture. When you’re considering a location, do look out for interesting fixtures like signs, light fittings, and security cameras.

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Keep an eye out for interesting fixtures that other may overlook.

#7 – Statuary and monuments

When you think of architecture, statues are probably the last thing on your mind. However, they are a key element to a lot of buildings and monuments. For example, the Charles Bridge in Prague has 30 large, and very detailed, statues that beg to be photographed.

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Statues are a common architectural features. Don’t neglect them with your camera.

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#8 – Black and white

This last tip is for when you’re back at home. If your images are full of texture or strong patterns, consider a black and conversion. Stripping the color element out of those images will help to emphasize your compositional elements, and can lead to much stronger photos.

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Black and white processing can help to emphasise texture in a scene.

Experiment

These tips are hardly exhaustive, and only scratch the surface of the possibilities available to you when photographing architectural details. If there’s something man-made, there’s a photograph to be had somewhere. Just keep going until you find it.

Do you have a tip of your own? Please share it below!

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John McIntire

John McIntire is a portrait photographer currently living in the UK. He studied commercial photography and is always looking to improve. Admittedly a lighting nerd through and through, John offers lighting workshops and one-to-one tuition to photographers of all skill levels in Yorkshire.