An Introduction to Architectural Photography

An Introduction to Architectural Photography

I am a professional architectural photographer working out of Denver, Colorado. I have photographed over 4500 homes and buildings, and I can claim Colorado’s highest producing Real Estate agents as dedicated customers.

Photographing homes and buildings presents a unique set of challenges for a shooter. There are any number of variables that affect each project, this is an outline on how to make the best photos possible under any circumstance.


First, let’s talk about equipment. This is a basic equipment list, the ‘gotta haves’, if you will.

  • Digital SLR, at least 10mp. I use a Nikon D300 and a Nikon D200 for my daily work.
  • 12mm lens (18mm after sensor accomodations). I use a Sigma 12mm, this lens provides zero barrel distortion.
  • Tripod with geared head. Making fine adjustments is critical for producing top quality images.
  • Hotshoe bubble level. Keeping things nice and level will improve your images greatly.
  • Flash Units. I use six SB-800‘s, but you can get away with just one.
  • Expo Disc. White balance is a huge pain in situations where there are several mixed types of lighting. An Expo Disc will solve this.
Architectural Photography.png


Let’s get into some specifics. The list below is more about the nebulous aspect of architectural photography, technical details will follow.

Taking fantastic photos of homes and buildings is less challenging if you remember these few things:

  1. Let the building/home tell it’s story. Your job is to provide an accurate representation of the unit to your customer. If the home is dark, don’t try to blast it with light. If the home is bright, don’t shutter up the windows. A client will prefer images with dark corners or blown out windows to heavily flashed or shaded areas.
  2. The house IS what it IS. You will inevitably run into a real estate agent or seller that sees the home as something it is not. You simply cannot make a $120k condo look like a $5 million dollar estate. Once again, your job is to provide an accurate representation to the customer. You may find yourself acting as a diplomat trying to explain this to an anxious seller.
  3. Always remember that you are in someone’s home, not a studio or an office. Being formal and cordial is essential. You will be accessing all areas of a home, and you want the occupants to feel comfortable. Always be well groomed, and wear clean white socks every day (you will be removing your shoes in many homes). I have over 100 pairs of socks that look brand new. Clean socks that have discolored soles may as well be dirty.
  4. Nature will always win. If you take pictures on a cloudy day, the images will show it. This is true of interiors and exteriors. There is a myth that cloudy days are better for shooting interiors, I have found this to be demonstrably false. If your client can wait for clear weather, then wait.
  5. Over shoot. Take pictures from any angle you can find, as you gain experience, great shots will present themselves.
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Technical Tips

Here are some technical tips to ensure that you are getting the best shots possible:

  1. Use wide apertures and long shutter times, this will provide warmth and will keep the shots from looking like crime scene photos. Add a touch of flash (1/64th) to combat color shift and to add highlights to the scene. I generally keep my ISO at 400 or 640. Anything faster is too grainy, anything slower shifts the colors too much.
  2. Take advantage of the wide angle. A 12mm lens will allow you to get great shots of even the smallest powder room, and will show large spaces very accurately.
  3. Stand back. Hold the camera to your eye and back up until you have the widest shot you can get, then you can set the tripod down and compose your shot. Don’t be afraid to include doorjambs into the shots, it will give the viewer a natural sense of depth.
  4. Keep the camera below eye level of an average person. I have mine set to around 4.5ft, the lower angle will take the images out of the ‘snapshot’ category.
  5. Keep your sensor clean.
  6. Take light measurements from the darkest part of the scene and adjust your exposure from there. It is always better to underexpose than to overexpose.
  7. When shooting exteriors, think of the building as the center point of a large circle. Walk the entire circle, shooting every time you see an appealing angle.

Workflow Tips

Here are some tips regarding computer processing and data management:

  1. Edit the images as little as possible, get the best shot you can while on site. People are getting very savvy and will be able to pick out a heavily manipulated image in a heart beat. Limit your edits to color correction and resizing, if possible.
  2. Develop a data management strategy. Shooting is only half of the job, you will need to keep your images organized and safe. I get calls several times a week from agents asking for images from last week, last year, or the year before. Being able to find them quickly will make you look more professional. I have 1 TB of space that holds my images in Aperture libraries, finding an image is as simple as doing a search for the home’s address.
  3. Develop an efficient workflow. The last thing you want is to be spending more time at the computer than you did actually shooting. Use an application like Aperture 2 or Adobe LightRoom to manage your files, you will not be sorry.

That’s pretty much all there is to it. Just like all types of professional photography, you will need experience to define your style, and it’s your style that will bring in the $$$. So my advice is to shoot shoot shoot. One last note, be passionate about your images. People ask me all of the time if I get bored shooting houses everyday. They don’t understand the satisfaction I receive from the work, and that’s the way it should be.

Good luck shooters!

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Stephanie April 14, 2013 12:44 pm

    As a fledgling photographer I appreciate the article, but some of the tips don't make much sense and need to be edited or explained. Why is underexposing better than overexposing? Up until now, I've learned from a number of sources that overexposing (without blowing highlights) is better because you capture more details in the camera's sensor. Later on while postprocessing, as you adjust the exposure those details will still be there. You can't underexpose an image and then expect the details to magically appear during postprocessing.

    Secondly, how does a wide aperture add "warmth"? Wouldn't a smaller aperture be ideal with an increased depth of field?

  • Faye Rose May 14, 2012 01:39 pm

    Hi Darren! I like what you wrote under 'Workflow Tips - data management strategy'. This is a good tip because sometimes after a month we don't care of some photographs we got, sad to say. We need to organize, store and save the images for future use and client's needs(for businesses).

  • james gonzales April 20, 2012 01:52 am

    Thanks for sharing great tips. I have a question? Are you bouncing your sb's and do you use any type of difusion on your strobes.

    Thanks James G.

  • Alison April 18, 2012 04:32 am

    I'm involved with Fine Art photography now, but have always wanted to go into arch. photography. This has been helpful and settling advice. Thank you.

  • ChrisFACE March 16, 2012 01:36 pm

    The advice seems sound but the quality of the work is so not impressive. which makes me question the advice. The interiors seem under exposed and the exteriors leave more to be desired. I know the camera doesnt see the same way our eyes do so proper lighting doesnt make the space seem fake or better to the viewer than what it really is, it simply helps it look more realistic. There is an obvious lack of knowledge on lighting in this article.

  • Jamie Knop February 28, 2011 12:30 am

    Good tips, a ts-e lens I would suggest as a must have for professional architectural photography.

    If an amateur this is not as much of a deal as you can still adjust perspective in Photoshop.

  • Frank Donnino February 1, 2011 06:40 pm

    Hi Darren

    I was wondering how to price architectural photography. I want do this for realtors but have no idea what to charge. Is it per view? 1/2 day rate? Can you help? Thanks

    Frank Donnino

  • Curb Appeal Photo (Rudy) October 31, 2010 03:12 pm

    Hello Zinchuk, thanks for the great questions.

    1. Sometimes I use a diffuser domes on the slaves, but not on the hand held. I find that firing the slaves into the walls or ceiling in adjacent rooms gives nice even lighting without needing a diffuser. You can get great results from either method.
    2. I operate my speedlights in remote mode (manual), I keep the angle as wide as possible to provide the widest spread.
    3. I only rely on the camera meter setting to get the exposure close enough to fine tune with test shots. I use center weighted matrix metering, with the maximum measuring area (13mm i think).
    4. To keep from blowing out windows I find the exposure combo that has the windows exposed the way I want them, then add the speedlights to fill the scene. Using a high ISO with this technique will allow you get the most from your aperture and flash units. Generally, a bright scene (maybe direct sunlight coming into a room through a window) will get a setting combo something like this: ISO 1000, shutter speed 1/320(or whatever the max sync speed is for your flash units), an aperture between 7.1 and 9, and a flash power of 1/4. This is enough to keep from blowing out the windows while keeping a bright, natural interior lighting. The photo of the bedroom above is a good example of this.
    5. I no longer concern myself with white balance while shooting. I use Lightroom 3 for processing and the white balance tool combined with multi-image editing convenience means no more on location hassles. As a back up, I keep a gray card with me that I will hide in a scene if necessary. I can then use the eyedropper in Lightroom to pick that gray card as my neutral point.
    6. Get the widest lens you can afford. I LOVE my Sigma 12mm. If you go with the 24mm, you can still get great shots, but you will definitely be limited.

    And to be clear, I definitely use a tighter aperture since I first wrote the piece. My skills have evolved away from the wide aperture technique.

    Good luck and happy shooting!

  • Zinchuk October 28, 2010 03:28 pm

    I'm making my first foray into real estate photography tomorrow, and am studying like mad to be ready. This was very informative, I must say.

    I have a Nikon D700 with an 18-35 mm f3.5-4.5. That should give me a similar picture angle to your 12 mm on a D300. I also picked up another SB-600 today to give me three flashes for fill.

    Do you use difuser domes on all your speedlights? Unfortunately, the SB-600 doesn't have one.

    Do you generally use a wide angle of flash, i.e. setting of 24 mm, as opposed to 50 or 70 mm?

    Are you letting the matrix metering/CLS handle all the exposures. Do you use balanced lighting mode to ensure the windows are not blasted out?

    Do you do a colour callibration for every room, and every angle? I have a reflector style callibration tool, as opposed to an exposedisk.

    If this works out for me, I was seriously considering the 24 mm PC-E lens. However, it is not as wide as my 18-35. Is the ability to do perspective control worth the loss of addtional wide angle?

    I, too, thought you would want f11 if at all possible, as opposed to f3.5 or f2.8.

    Thanks in advance.

  • Curb Appeal Photo (Rudy) September 25, 2010 02:44 pm

    I am the author. Barb, since I wrote this article I have refined my process to address the very issues you mention. The softness and narrow depth of field at wide apertures will produce natural looking images but not very sharp ones. Here is a new method: ISO: 1000, Shutter speed: 1/320 (or whatever the max sync speed is for your speedlights), and a variable aperture. Even in bright situations using a high ISO allows the flexibility to fine tune within a wide depth of field. Plus, the high ISO allows you to maximize the power of your speedlights. The noise generated at a high ISO is easily reduced with Lightroom or Aperture. Here is an example of a bright scene photographed using this technique.

    [eimg link='' title='_DSC5827.jpg' url='']

    EXIF: ISO1000, 1/320 @ 7.1. Nikon D300 with Sigma 12mm.

    This will let you your your wide angle with a lot more flexibility, I think you will like this technique a lot.


  • Barb September 20, 2010 12:29 pm

    Thanks for this informative article, I have to shoot some houses this week and this will help me no end. However, I have just put my canon 40D on a tripod, with remote cable and bounced external flash and done some test shots inside my house. Unfortunately I could only use my Sigma 17-70 today (but will be using a canon 10-22 for my shoot) and looking at my results, found that F2.8 produced just too soft an image. I tried shooting at F8 and F11, these gave me much better sharpness throughout the images. Of course this may be because of the lens I am using. When I use the wide angle, will I be able to use F2.8 and still have a sharp shot from back to front?? Or should I stick to F8 or F11?
    Thanks, barb
    ps I was shooting with all manual settings, changing for each shot.

  • conrad February 5, 2010 07:24 pm

    a good start for beginners but wide apertures? I never heard of an architectural photographer who didn't want more depth of field, and usually selected F11 or F16 only because F22 made diffraction a problem.


  • rudy December 1, 2009 03:00 am

    Author here. Use wide aperture (small f number) and long shutter times. Many houses are very dark and having as much light as possible on the sensor without increasing ISO is what I recommend.

  • josh November 28, 2009 02:02 pm

    "Use wide apertures and long shutter times"

    do you mean small apertures and long shutter times, or wide apertures and fast shutter times??

  • Cathee November 23, 2009 03:25 pm

    Thank you for sharing your information and techniques. I'm just starting to shoot real estate, and you have given the best tips I've found so far. Like several of the others, I would like your tips on making the view through the windows so perfect. Mine sure didn't look like yours. I loved the photos on your website.

  • Sean October 27, 2009 10:55 pm

    I have a nikon d300 and the 12-24 its not the 2.8 model though just wondering would this lense be a good one to start with thanks.

  • Embassy Pro Books August 13, 2008 03:35 am

    Great tips, I'm going to give shooting with the camera below eye level a try.

  • fernando guerra August 12, 2008 11:02 pm

    Hi all

    If you want to take ao look at mt work:

    I'm an architect and a architectural photographer working with the leading portuguese architets.

    More than 250 projects on line.
    fernando guerra


  • Bev August 11, 2008 10:47 pm

    Thank you for this article. I am in real estate and welcome the suggestions of improving my shots. I appreciate the simple suggestions of having clean white socks. This makes a statement to the home owners that I care about their home as much as they do. Also, to respect the character of the home is important. I have seen agents misrepresent properties. To present property in their purest form is wise. I use a Canon 17-55mm, 2.8. I had a 10-22mm but the pictures looked curved. How does the Sigma 12mm work without distortion?

  • picherthis August 9, 2008 10:18 am

    GEli, the 10mp requirement isnt about prints as much as it is about data. Fewer pixels mean less data, and achieving high level digital shots is all about data. The quality of the image is much better at 10mp+ compared to a low resolution camera, plain and simple. I think once you shoot with all of those extra pixels, you will change your mind right away, the difference is remarkable.

  • GEli August 9, 2008 09:45 am

    I'm curious as to why a MP count of 10 or more was specified in the minimum equipment list. Unless you need to do large prints that number of pixels is completely unnecessary, and even then a 1D can produce very large, sharp prints with only 4MP worth of data.

  • picherthis August 9, 2008 09:24 am

    Claggy, I suppose there is a chance that Sigma stopped making the 12-24mm to make the 10mm. That would be a huge bummer, especially if the 10mm is distorted. If you zoom to 12mm, is it still distorted? Also, I bought the first generation ExpoDisc, I assume it is the 'standard' model.

    Ryan, also make sure all vertical lines are straight. Combined with a lower POV, you will get the results you are looking for.

    Saju, you can see more at!

    Brandon, I am putting together a guide on 'bringing the outside in' , I will ask if they will post it here, if not it will be on my blog.

    Bruce, the way I eliminate distortion is the use of a great lens (Sigma 12-24mm), a geared head tripod, and a bubble level. All three of those components used in concert will minimize distortion.

    Paul, awesome tip! Good way to save $150!

    Thanks again for all of the great comments, especially Rolograaf.

  • Suzanne August 9, 2008 02:56 am

    Great tips in this article - tips which could apply to anyone photographing any building for any reason. My only complaint comes from not saying a more general "digital camera" and limiting it to DSLRs only.

  • Rolograaf August 9, 2008 12:35 am

    After visiting I take back my previous negative comment! Nice sharp and clear pictures of interiors.
    Shooting a lot in low-light situations with higher ISO I prefer the expose to the right method, less noise after postprocessing.

  • Claggy August 9, 2008 12:06 am

    This is great.. thank you. And do you use the standard or 'warm' Expodisc?

    Also, could you maybe link the Sigma 12mm you say you're using? I can't seem to find it for some reason. I have the Sigma 10-20mm but for indoor scenes it wouldn't work very well because of distortion, so to be able to find a lens that wouldn't give me distortion would be great for these types of shots.

  • Ryan August 8, 2008 11:51 pm

    This is a very interesting article about photographing architecture. I've been interested in doing that for some time now, and all my shots seemed weird for me. Then your line about shooting below eye-level made perfect sense, and helped me figure out what was fundamentally wrong with my approach, and therefore my photos. All my photos had that snapshot feel to them, and it just didn't work for me. I will definitely try shooting from below eye-level next time around.

    Thank you so much for that advice, and therefore this article.

  • Chip August 8, 2008 11:43 pm

    "I generally keep my ISO at 400 or 640. Anything faster is too grainy, anything slower shifts the colors too much."

    I'm new and don't understand the connection between slow ISO and color shift. If someone could explain, I'd appreciate it.


  • Saju Joseph August 8, 2008 06:55 pm

    Really interesting article ..... i wanted to see some more pictures ...

  • Brandon August 8, 2008 07:51 am

    Hi Picherthis,

    I'm glad you jumped on and gave us a link to your website. I'm like Jason and really would like to know how you shoot an interior without blowing out the windows or the view out the windows. Do you care to share?

  • bruce August 8, 2008 07:09 am

    Interesting article. I would have liked to see more about how you address the problem of lighting. Also, a bit about perspective distortion and how you correct it.

    Maybe it wouldn't hurt to at least mention PC lenses for those who might want to make this a career.

  • paul saulnier August 8, 2008 06:51 am

    ive been using an expo disc for the past year it ...but just using a coffee filter ....only white ones will work ..does the same thing ...dont waist 100$ on the disc unless you have the money...take the coffee filter and place it over the lens ...take your picture has to be on manual to do it .....then go in your white balance setting and ajust ...just like you would do with a heat card can see the video on you tube ...i think ...its kinda complicated to explain ...and go to expo disc for the manual ....just use a coffee filter instead....good luck realy works ....tell me how you guys and gals did

  • Rosh August 8, 2008 06:09 am

    Don't forget photoshop on the list of tools. Shooting in RAW will allow for those final light adjustments and line corrects. Often you will need additional lighting for clients like designers and architects, It all depends on your clients needs.


  • picherthis August 8, 2008 06:06 am

    Hello everyone, I am the author. Thank you so much for the comments, Steven - good call on the the histogram info. And yes, I intended the opposite of my statement. I can't be bothered with minor details like what order words should go. Seriously, nice catch, thanks. I did not consider your method of pulling the histogram down during editing when I wrote the article, but I will use the tip!

    Regarding the SB-800's. The Nikon AWL is awesome. The units can be placed wherever you need light, as long as there is a line of sight between the master unit and the remote units. All iTTL info is transmitted to the the remotes. Placing the lights can be tricky, but it is amazing how creative you can get. I also have a pair of PocketWizard radio units if I need to put the light out of sight, but it's strictly manual for the radio remotes. Depending on the volume of space you need to light, choose the widest aperture and only add enough light to add highlights where needed. For me, an overall natural feeling is better than a heavily staged and lighted scene. So, admittedly, I don't blast a scene if I have a choice. But there will be occasions when it will be necessary, you can see examples at, it's my main site with lots of fancy lighting and stuff.
    I have other tips at

    Thanks again!

  • Bob August 8, 2008 05:45 am

    Here's a very techie article that explains the point made by Steven:


  • Dave Whitson August 8, 2008 04:36 am

    Another method to take interior photos with dark shadows and bright highlights (high dynamic range) is to use a tripod, expose 3, 5, 7, or 9 exposures - one as the camera meter sees it and the rest * / - EV settings (Exposure Value) of varying degrees (i.e.: -3EV, -2EV, -1EV, 0EV, +1EV, +2EV, +3EV). Then use HDR software (Photoshop C2, PS C3 or Photomatix Pro) to get one image with a high dynamic range just like you see with your eyes.

  • Rolograaf August 8, 2008 04:04 am

    Sorry for sounding negative, but with the expensive equipment you advise, I find the pictures not very impressive. Could be bad conversion to webformat.

  • Raymond Chan August 8, 2008 03:27 am

    Looks like 12-24mm ultra wide angle lens may just be the next lens for me to go for :)

  • Kris August 8, 2008 02:48 am

    This was very interesting, I am no where near being a pro at shooting photos, but all the advice in this article is priceless. It's great to read up on different techniques and solutions for getting the perfect shot.

  • Steven Erat August 8, 2008 02:23 am

    "Take light measurements from the darkest part of the scene and adjust your exposure from there. It is always better to underexpose than to overexpose."

    With digital photography there is much more information in the right side of the histogram than the left. With RAW images you can nicely pull back detail from an overexposed image within a stop or maybe two, but in an underexposed image you cannot increase the exposure without introducing noise. Better to overexpose with digital than underexpose.

    Metering the dark part of the scene and exposing for that WILL overexpose the remainder of the scene, not underexpose it, so I would recommend that, although it think the author intended to say the opposite based on the overexposure caveat.

  • Lori Osterberg August 8, 2008 02:10 am

    Great article for the person looking to get into the real estate business with their photography.

    Photographers are always interested in learning more about photography, but I especially liked your tips on the business side. Professional dress and the white socks are a definite must. It doesn't matter how great your photographs are - it's the first impression that will help grow your business.

  • Hugh August 8, 2008 01:42 am

    Wide aperture and long shutter time? I think you made a mistake there.

  • Jason Imani August 8, 2008 01:29 am

    Hi Darren,

    I'm a beginner architectural photographer in Seattle and I was curious how you expose or manipulate photos to have the outside show through windows and doors, as well as have the photo exposed for the inside as well?

  • Pete Langlois August 8, 2008 01:27 am

    Well written article. I'm not sure the need for 10mp is a minimum though. You're using a 12mm lens so you're not cropping. Are your prints larger than 20x30 or even 30x40? I can print 30x40 with a 6mp Nikon D50.

    I'd like to know where you had 6 SB-800's setup in the large sitting area shot or how you had your lights setup. The shot is great.

  • Brandon August 8, 2008 01:21 am

    What a great article! Thanks. As an architect my self I have been getting more into architectural photography. I have my first house shoot coming up and this article has given me some great tips to practice beforehand.

    Thanks again!

  • G. Chai August 8, 2008 01:14 am

    Thanks for sharing the insights. It is always good to hear from real pros. I am not a professional photographer but I think "They don’t understand the satisfaction I receive from the work, and that’s the way it should be." applies to everyone, even amateurs.

    @Tim Harris: It is ExpoDisc. There is ExpoCap as well.

  • Tim Harris August 8, 2008 12:26 am

    Interesting article, thanks!

    I hadn't come across the Expo Disc before, looks like a neat tool.