8 Quick Tips to Improve Your Photos of Architectural Details

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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!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

John McIntire is a portrait photographer currently living in the UK. He studied commercial photography at Leeds Metropolitan University. He is obsessive with photography and is always trying to learn something new. You can find him on Instagram and 500px

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    I was intrigued by the curved steps shown under #4 Patterns. The focus point was quite close, and that allowed the background to be indistinct. But then the author suggests they are leading lines – to what? There is an indistinct shape in the background, which draws the eye.
    I wonder whether there could have been an opportunity to have a person, either on the steps themselves, or beyond, to which the steps would become leading lines. But then, it would have been a picture of the person, rather than a picture of an architectural feature. Who knows? Maybe the photographer had to wait ages for everyone to be out of the scene!

  • Dixit Chouhan

    I’m little bit of late but I tried this.

  • Tim Lowe

    Serious architectural photographs gotta have a tilt-shift. I shoot with a bellows camera so I have the movements to square up parallel lines. But with an SLR, this type of lens is an (expensive) “must have.”

  • When photographing architecture I also like to looks for thematic contrasts like old juxtaposed to new, a living natural thing in the foreground and a stony or smooth steel structure in the background. While in Florence, Italy, I looked out of a third story window and thought the tangle of TV antennae scattered across historic medieval architecture with tiled roofs was interesting:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/mharrsch/6866206348

    You mentioned fixtures, especially with historic buildings I look for interesting hardware on doors or windows. Here’s a Tudor-era door latch at Knole House in Seven Oaks, Kent, UK:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/mharrsch/23445722944

    Chimneys and stonework can be particularly interesting, too.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/mharrsch/23965808432

  • pratyush

    Good article ! Definitely helpful in sparking one’s creativity.

  • pete guaron

    Great example of how we all benefit from sharing our knowledge or experience! Thanks, John!

    One tip that might be of some use to someone. When photographing buildings, I like a touch of contre jour, to add strength to the image. So I frequently position my camera at an angle to the sunlight falling on the building, rather than having my back to the sun.

    I recently found that (shock horror!) it can pay to wait a little, till at least some of the light falls on the side of the building nearest the camera – so that instead of a uniform shadow, the light picks up bits that protrude (however slightly), adding more depth and visual interest to a section of the image which would otherwise be a dull dark patch. This takes planning & patience, perhaps, and won’t work for all subjects – but it did for the shot I took the other day.

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