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Classical or contemporary; architectural photography can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Here are some pointers to help you get started…
1. Be sensitive to the direction of light as this can increase contrast, shadows, textures and reflections. High levels of contrast can fool cameras into exposing the scene incorrectly, but shooters can easily overcome this by applying exposure compensation. Another trick is to bracket shots at different exposure values (exposing one for the highlights, one for the midtones and one for the shadows) and later merge them in a dedicated HDR program (such as Photomatix).
2. A fish eye or wide-angle lens (and focal length) is ideal for this genre as it enables photographers to frame the entire building within its environment. However sometimes your glass may not be able to encompass the whole scene, which is where the helpful panoramic format can come in handy. Many compacts now offer a specific Scene mode for stitching together several shots in camera, but the same effect can be achieved post-shoot with dedicated panoramic software such as; as Hugin or PTgui if you are shooting with a DSLR.
3. We are told it’s what’s on the inside that counts and sure enough architecture photography isn’t restricted to the facia of a building. It can be difficult to correctly white balance an interior setting, especially ones that are reliant on various forms of artificial lighting, so remember to compensate accordingly in the White Balance menu or take a reading from a grey card. Interior shots in older buildings tend to be more irksome because they traditionally feature small windows and doors – thus lack natural light. Try using a tripod and executing a long-exposure and remember you could always utilise an ND filter to stop highlights being blown out when shooting in the day. Alternatively you could use supplementary lighting, such as a diffused flash but be careful as this may rob the scene of its atmosphere and detail.
4. When the sun goes down a new form of architectural photographer can surface. To shoot a structure as a silhouette during sunset, position the architecture between yourself and the sun. Make sure the flash is deactivated and expose for the sky. If the foreground is too light set the exposure compensation to a negative value to darken it. This effect can produce particularly enigmatic results. Night shots can be very dramatic and atmospheric too, but remember to take them when there is still some light and colour left in the sky as this adds tone to the backdrop and help to illuminate details. As before get into a good position and set your camera on a tripod and wait for the dazzling display of urban lights from windows, street lights, signs – all of these in their rainbow of neon colours will add to the ambience. Use a wide aperture and long exposure, and if your camera is supported you’ll be able to employ a low ISO to ensure details aren’t depreciated by noise.
5. Unlike other forms of photography, exciting architectural images can be produced in all weathers. A church on a clear day may strike the viewer as pleasant but maybe a bit bland, revisit it when there’s a storm brewing overhead or a mist rising from the damp earth and the results can be altogether more intriguing. By revisiting and shooting the same building in these various weather conditions, photographer’s can produce a neat portfolio of shots – maybe select the best three and you’ll have yourself an interest triptych.
6. Reflections add an extra dimension to architectural images and allow the photographer to create a canvas on which the building can be playfully distorted. Urban environments are littered with a multitude of reflective surfaces, so you’ll never have to look too far to practice, for example: windows, water features, puddles and wet streets, sunglasses, rivers and modern art.
7. Research the reason why the architecture exists – you’ll be surprised how a little bit of background information can fuel a great deal of inspiration. Ask a guide to point out small yet interesting aspects that perhaps go unnoticed by the general public. Buildings of architectural merit usually include focal points so try cropping in close on these for frame-filling abstracts. Furthermore you may want to include repeated artefacts that are littered across the exterior, for example; intricate brickwork or chequer board windows. Use a telephoto lens to zoom in close and don’t forget a tripod to support those longer focal lengths.
8. The average building is far taller than the tallest photographer so there will inevitably be some element of distortion in an architectural photo, but this can be employed to create a source of tension within the frame. Simply position yourself as near to the base of the building as possible and shoot straight up. If playing with perspective isn’t for you then stand further back and add a sense of scale to your image by incorporating everyday objects such as people, trees, transport and benches, etc. To retain detail throughout the scene plump for a small aperture (large f stop) such as f14, alternatively try throwing out the sharpness of either the foreground or background by choosing a large aperture (small f stop).
9. Architectural images shouldn’t just be aesthetic and graphic; they should also provide dynamism and movement – so play with the lines, the light and the shadows to provide interest and consider the hierarchy of levels and areas. Architecture is built on the principle of symmetry, so capturing this symmetry will ultimately reinforce the subject matter and hopefully strengthen the composition. Discover the centre of the symmetry by placing your hand between your eye-line and construct your frame around this centre. Alternatively break free of the cold and sterile straight lines and rectilinear angles and follow the principles of nature by including curves and circles in the form of shadows or reflections can help to soften the structure.