9 Architectural Photography Tips

9 Architectural Photography Tips


Classical or contemporary; architectural photography can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Here are some pointers to help you get started…

Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center - by Stuck in Customs

Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center – by Stuck in Customs

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.

The Neo Monoliths of Chicago - by Stuck in Customs

The Neo Monoliths of Chicago – by Stuck in Customs


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.

Tervuren, Belgium - by fatboyke (Luc)

Tervuren, Belgium – by fatboyke (Luc)

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).

Finance Central - by HKmPUA

Finance Central – by HKmPUA

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.

Well - by telmo32

Well – by telmo32

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) is the former editor of Digital Photographer magazine, and is now a freelance journalist and photographer who has written for dozens of photography and technology magazines and websites over the last decade. Recent author and tutor too.

Some Older Comments

  • Mititelu Dumitru August 9, 2013 03:02 pm

    I just got a new contract - architectural photography, thanks for the advice.

  • Tom March 13, 2013 07:46 am

    Rockefeller Center is spectacular

  • Simon January 3, 2013 07:04 am

    Excellent article and awesome images...

  • Dan S December 30, 2012 09:11 am

    Ummmm... beautiful photos really but would like to see a plumb vertical or two. these are wonderful magnificent even I envy the work as cityscapes but not the kind of thing an architect would use at all. Democratization of photography has been a wonderful thing but throwing out the rules has lead to some problems as well. I see portraits taken with short lenses and the same for products and though they are "cool' they distort the look of the person or thing. Check out the work by the venerable firm Hedrick Blessing then let me know what you think. By the way the buzz in our community was you were there five years before they let you touch a camera. Again the work is awesome but not the kind of thing you would see in AD

  • Asher December 29, 2012 07:13 pm

    Nizar, I'm a hobbyist with an n4 I would recommend an n8 if your looking for relatively long exposures. To give you and idea on a normal sunny day with my n4 I can get relatively well (not under or over) exposed images with a 30 second shutter speed and a medium aperture size. So and n8 will give you nice versatility. If you can afford it they do make ND filters that transition usually from 8 up to I've seen 400 but they are CRAZY expensive. Hope this helps

  • Bob Simmons December 16, 2012 03:59 am

    Great article. Great comments and pics. Here's some I took at Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in DC. http://www.flickr.com/photos/tuaussi/sets/72157607411264233/

  • marius2die4 December 12, 2012 04:57 pm

    Excellent tips.Thanks!

  • Nizar August 5, 2012 12:38 am

    Thanks for the tips.
    I started looking up ND filters, but I wonder what is the best range to be in (ND8, 16, 64, ...) ?
    I'm looking for a blurred effect on moving people.

    Suggestions are welcome !

  • PaulB April 7, 2012 12:39 am

    Nice article thanks, this is possibly my weakest area and so need to practice! I'm even new this year to playing with HDR!

  • Bimbo April 1, 2012 08:49 pm

    Great info! I can use this to take photos on my projects...

  • E J Haas March 30, 2012 02:31 pm

    Super photos and information, but I must make one minor correction to the text:
    "small aperture (large f stop) such as f14"
    This should be: "small aperture (small f/ stop) such as f/14".
    I once had problems getting my head around this until I realized that they were fractions. That's the reason for the slash after the letter 'f', which is a constant. So substituting the same number in f/2 and f/14 means 1/2 & 1/14. Which is larger, one half or one fourteenth? Or substitute 200 for 'f', 200/2 & 200/14. 200 divided by 2 is 100 and 200 divided by 14 is… well smaller. You can do the math.
    My apologies for being pedantic but couldn't help making this correction.

    All the Best ej

  • john j March 30, 2012 11:28 am

    Oops, the link didn't post.


  • john j March 30, 2012 11:25 am

    This is one of my best architecture shots. I took it with my Android without any thought for composition. I just held the phone up above my head as I walked under the dome of the South Carolina State House and clicked the shutter. Kind of disappointing when your best shot of a type of photography is from a random shot.

  • Scottc March 30, 2012 09:55 am

    Great tips, architetcture is one my favorites.


  • luke March 30, 2012 09:41 am

    OK article, but why is there no EXIF data? For us wannabes, there's nothing like getting some numbers we can think about and hgo out and try.

  • DonBurch Photography March 30, 2012 06:33 am

    Amazing. You have captured the heart of what an architect wants us to feel. I enjoy taking pictures of old art deco building in the mid-west. it's a lot of fun!!! I love your work. Thank you!

  • Richard Klein March 30, 2012 03:36 am

    My $.02 on shooting buildings: A good portion of my work consists of shooting high rise structures undergoing a rehab or renovation. Most of these buildings are in tight quarters without too much room to go back far enough to use a PC lens' shifts and tilts as there is not enough covering power to get the entire building in one shot. Since many of my shots are used to document both construction techniques and damage caused by weather, shoddy construction, etc. these images have to be true and unaltered if legal action is contemplated. The use of Photoshop is prohibited under these circumstances. Stitching together a pano is not allowed. Since most of this work is not of the "pretty" variety seen in magazines like Architectural Digest, they are down and dirty and would never win awards. I would suggest that using a 4 x 5 film camera with a bag bellows, 90mm lens, and rock solid tripod will allow one to obtain extremely high quality architectural shots. I know this flies in the face of today's digital imaging, but there are times that film needs to be shot to get the results one is after. PC lenses do have a great place in shooting structures and interiors. But it is pretty tough to beat the use of 4 x 5 for these subjects.

  • William March 29, 2012 10:53 pm

    Good basic tips. If you don't have a good wide angle lens but have a nifty fifty then you can use tip #2 to take several shots of a building or cityscape. Changing the camera orientation is helpful also. Turn the camera to a portrait position and take multiple shots of a scene. Change the camera to landscape mode to take several photos of tall buildings or mountains. Don't skimp here take lots of photos to help give a smoother transition.
    Tripods are good. I tend to carry a large Gorilla pod fitted with a ball head with me than a regular one. Some places you aren't allowed to use a tripod and in crowded areas they are just to big a trip hazard. You have to get creative where you can use the tripod. I like to use parking structures to get different perspectives of buildings both during the day and at night. I can set the Gorilla pod on the wall and take photos that way.
    Rule #9 I sort of follow along the teaching of Ansel Adams and use a 4x6 mat frame to help me compose my photos before I take them. I carry the card in my bag always so it is handy. I find that by using the card to explore my composure options I tend to get better photos when I do bring the camera up to take the photo.
    If we are taking photos during a vacation then we have to adapt to the conditions at hand. If the weather or general conditions aren't award winning photo conditions it shouldn't stop you from taking the best photo you can. After all you are capturing memories of your vacation.
    The worst photo ever is the one not taken.

  • bycostello March 29, 2012 07:12 pm

    great tips.. thanks...

  • raghavendra March 29, 2012 06:30 pm

    from great angles comes a great photography

    here is mine

  • Eric Magnuson March 29, 2012 01:10 pm

    Great article! It was actually shooting architecture while on a trip in France that got me into photography in the first place.

    You make a great point on #2 about the usefulness of wide-angle lenses in shooting architecture. However, I'd argue that, alongside fish-eye lenses, tilt-shift lenses definitely need a mention here.

    Fish-eye lenses are great as they have such a wide field of view. However, one compromise to such a wide field of view is the amount of perspective distortion they cause (e.g., buildings may look like they're curved, they may look like they are tilting in one direction, they may get abnormally narrower the closer they are to the edge of the frame, etc.). In fact, all wide-angle lenses suffer from this, some more than others with fish-eyes being the worst. (This distortion, which can warp a model's face, is why many portrait photographers stray away from wide-angle.)

    Tilt-shift lenses are the solution to this. As many may not realize, tilt-shift lenses aren't just for shooting shots that make landscapes look miniature – they are used to control perspective, which is often distorted with normal lenses. In fact, in the Nikon world, tilt-shift lenses are called perspective control lenses, which makes sense. By moving the barrel of the lens left & right and up & down – in the same fashion as the bellows of a large-format camera – you can avoid nearly all lens distortion.

    Now, if you don't have a tilt-shift lens, all is well still. Photoshop has a built-in "Lens Correction" feature (in CS5, it's under the "Filter" menu). However, the quality of the resulting image won't be as good as if it had been shot with a tilt-shift lens in the first place.

  • Jeff E Jensen March 29, 2012 04:58 am

    Excellent pointers. I find it so relaxing to wander a big city and look for images to be made. There is a lot of beauty to be found, that is for sure.

    Here are some recent shots of a very unique building in Las Vegas:


  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer March 29, 2012 02:37 am

    I wrote a recent photography tip about how I like to make one edge of a building parallel to the edge of the frame when composing:


  • Greg nelson March 29, 2012 02:31 am

    Some of these tips work for smaller buildings as well as skyscrapers.


  • jim March 29, 2012 01:21 am

    Pretty good tips. I've been shooting a lot of architecture lately.


  • steve slater March 29, 2012 01:19 am

    Symmetry and color. Plenty of that and some bizarre architecture on the Costas in Spain


  • r4 April 19, 2011 01:40 am

    #8 is my favorite. Though the Ice Skaking at Rockerfeller Center is quite a sight to behold too!

  • Architecture Photographers February 27, 2011 10:56 pm

    Some sound advice for people starting out in the architectural photography field.

  • Erik Fossum February 20, 2011 04:44 am

    What do you all think about my architectural shots? Feedback would be great!

  • CW December 22, 2010 09:42 am

    I was asked recently, upon applying for a job in a local real estate dealer, did i have any knowledge about multi level exposure, in property/interior photography? i have never heard of this and to be honest just starting out. can any one shed any light on this subject? excuse the pun.

  • Devansh February 14, 2010 11:41 pm

    A very good article, with some excellent tips. However, I would have loved to read and learn more about photographing old ruins and "urban decay"-ing buildings. In my part of world there a plenty of abandoned decaying structures, and I personally prefer these old structures rather than new modern buildings, for photography purposes.

    Here is my set of old ruins, on Flickr, although there are no recent additions


  • Aimee Greeblemonkey February 14, 2010 04:25 am

    Since I usually do people or macros, posts like these are super helpful. Thanks!

  • Don Hornick February 13, 2010 01:21 pm

    Have question about (9) The Architectural Photography Tips. On Tip #1, you suggest to bracket shots at different exposure values (exposing one for HIGHLIGHTS....what setting? One for the MIDTONES...what setting? and one for SHADOWS....what setting? Explain, Thanks, Don

  • dblayn February 13, 2010 06:29 am

    Thanks -- great article -- gets the photog juices going. I know there is already an Intro to Architecture Interiors article here, but I wonder if the continuation of that subject might make a nice pairing with this article . . . (hint hint.) Ha ha -- thank you again.

  • BUCK NELSON February 13, 2010 02:30 am

    I appreciate other photographers insight and sharing. This is a wonderful gift thank you for the craft enhancing tips

  • Amir Paz February 12, 2010 11:32 pm

    great article, good tips.

    i was in france last summer, it was a great opportunity for architectural photography.

    Paris, the chateaus....

    here are some of my favorites:

    tip 4, atmospheric photographs:


    tip 6, one of my all time favorites, reflections:





  • Just John February 12, 2010 05:56 pm

    Great article, thank you. I'm doing an Architectural meet-up tomorrow morning in the centre of Cape Town and your tips as well as the comments will definately help me.

  • Hans February 12, 2010 05:50 pm

    Tip #9 quote "Discover the centre of the symmetry by placing your hand between your eye-line and construct your frame around this centre."

    Kind of riddles me. Is there anybody who can help me with some clarification?

    Read more: https://digital-photography-school.com/architectural-photography#ixzz0fJ0OWeRH

  • Bob February 12, 2010 04:49 pm

    Especially liked tips #4 and #8.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/40142450@N00/2460645600/' title='Sears Tower_May 2' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3039/2460645600_f0aa2b9043.jpg']

  • Bob February 12, 2010 04:47 pm

    Good tips, especially like #4 and #8.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/40142450@N00/2460645600/' title='Sears Tower_May 2' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3039/2460645600_f0aa2b9043.jpg']

  • kate February 12, 2010 09:26 am

    I enjoyed this article very much. I am just beginning to explore architectural photography after a visit to Hong Kong and there are some very useful tips in this article. I always appreciate other photographers who generously share their insights with us. I don't , however, appreciate the trivial nit-picking of some other people. There really is no need to be rude.

  • ykj58 February 12, 2010 05:36 am

    I really enjoyed this tutorial, as I do most everything on DPS. The photos are so awesome! I really look forward to getting my newsletter every week. Thank you Darren, and to those who submit their tips and work. I also enjoy reading the follow up posts, as long as they are given with respect and kindness.

  • Pappy February 12, 2010 05:03 am

    Great advice. Extremely poor writing. Makes me question the author's credentials. No one who has ever been an editor could possibly write so poorly.

    I have a long list of photography websites that I check on a weekly basis. Sometimes, as I click through the list, I forget which site I'm viewing. However, this site is always remarkable because of it's great advice expressed very poorly. It makes photographers appear bright but uneducated. Would it hurt to have someone proofread the articles?

  • Larry Lohrman February 12, 2010 04:17 am

    I am a big fan of Trey Radcliff (stuckincustoms.com) and these are great images but I think it is a mistake to categorize them as architectural photography. Architectural photography is more than a photograph with a building in it. Photographic categories are useful when they indicate how the photographer intended to be used. I doubt that Trey intended that these photos be used by architects and designers.

  • Magoony February 12, 2010 03:53 am

    Wonderful insights and a brilliant variety or tips.
    Need I say that I thoroughly enjoyed this tutorial? Well, I surely did.

  • Bill February 12, 2010 03:40 am

    Great tips and great photos included, but I go to Natalie Johnson's website and all I see are portraits and wedding photos. What's up with that?

  • Max February 11, 2010 05:26 pm

    Great tips! It seems as if DPS always has what I plan on shooting about a week before I do that type of shooting.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/42d/3887228304/' title='Cliff House' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3421/3887228304_fa2e0b284c.jpg'][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/42d/3886454451/' title='Alley' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2546/3886454451_7ba048bc24.jpg']

  • r4 nintendo ds February 11, 2010 03:20 pm

    I really like architectural photography but I am just a beginner in it.You have given nice architectural photography tips and this is very useful for me.Those third and last photographs are awesome.Thank you very much for giving such helpful post.

  • William Bullimore February 11, 2010 12:03 pm

    Lots of excellent advice here. Instead of using a grey card, I use an Expodisc which gives excellent and accurate white balance readings. It's an invaluable part of my kit, particularly for shooting interiors.

  • Douglas Tanner February 11, 2010 05:32 am

    It would seem my HTML got stripped out of my last comment, this is the link I was trying to embed:


  • Douglas Tanner February 11, 2010 05:29 am

    Thanks for the tips, I've been doing a lot of architectural photography this year:

  • Killian February 11, 2010 03:37 am

    Trey's work (Stuck In Customs) is always so breathtaking. Normally, I despise the overdone, fake looking HDR, but his is so perfectly done that it's beautiful. Thank you for including it!

    I love architeture and have traipsed around DC, Chicago, and NY to see some really amazing ones. But what I've also found is that going to a big city really idn't necessary. Some small towns have some great stone work in their town halls, or even old state capitols can be just gorgeous.

    Great way to learn a bit more about the history of the building and the area. Kudos!

  • Linda Capra February 11, 2010 03:12 am

    Great article! love the image examples.

  • David Gillespie, AIA February 10, 2010 10:41 pm

    Nice collection of thoughts and tips. I would also encourage shooters to work with architects. Often a well captured image from an artistic perspective does not represent the original designers intent, or reveals something they were not away of. Shooting a structure with an architect as the client may produce very different results that shooting for editorial, or artistic projects. When I am shooting for an award submission I have to be extremely careful that I am representing what a visitor to the building would experience. Post production has to be with a very light touch. When I am shooting for myself - all bets are off. There is always another way to look at things. I also agree with a few of the others who ask for a few technical details on the example images.

  • panoramic photo stitching February 10, 2010 04:05 pm

    Good photography tips. Very useful and thanks for sharing....

  • Robin Ryan February 10, 2010 02:54 pm

    Stuck in Customs always blows my mind. Good article.

    A few tips I'd add:

    Watch for ways to focus the viewer's attention, such as in this framed shot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinryan/3835239552/in/set-72157603329594706/ (quito, ecuador)

    try to match your subject with the manner in which you shoot the shot. I shot this catholic cathedral to emphasis the drama and history behind it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinryan/3827543366/in/set-72157603329594706/ (quito, ecuador)

    don't forget to include the environment to contextualize the image! http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinryan/3642401332/in/set-72157603329594706/ (boston, usa)

  • Guitar Builder February 10, 2010 10:01 am

    I just got an assignment to photograph a local church, I hadn't thought of shooting it right before a storm. I am definitely going to do that . - Thanks for the tip!

  • Neel | Learn Food Photogaphy February 10, 2010 09:57 am

    Great tutorial. Love the detail you have provided and Stuck in Customs... well I am a big fan of his HDR. Awesome. Thank you very much..

  • Kimberly February 10, 2010 07:52 am

    These photographs are amazing. I can't believe I didn't realize this earlier. My photographs aren't what I want, because of the lens I'm using. Putting a wide angle and fisheye on my Amazon wish list today.


  • Jeff February 10, 2010 07:30 am

    Really enjoyed this article. Some lately have been a little light on info -this one provided lots of suggestions and tips mixed in with the 9 concepts. It felt like a good mix between basic information and moderate information - not much that should stop someone new to photography and make it uninteresting, but also enough to make it a worthwhile read for someone like me who devours information on our hobby. Also really enjoyed the great example shots.

  • Rumatamx February 10, 2010 07:30 am

    Great article, has opened my eyes, hope I can find some nice different angles for my architecture shots in the future.

  • Antonio Rodriguez February 10, 2010 06:52 am

    Great Tips. Thanks =)

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonyarrj/4167333527/' title='Reflejos de una Ciudad' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2529/4167333527_693e83dd3d.jpg']

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonyarrj/4167333687/' title='Reflejos de una Ciudad' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2714/4167333687_92dd640331.jpg']

  • Greg Taylor February 10, 2010 06:47 am

    I am a huge fan of symmetry - which is why I love great architectural photographs. I am fortunate to live near Arizona State University where there is some amazing architecture and even two Frank Lloyd Wright buildings.

    I tend to mix it up between pure architectural photos and photos that display imagery in the foreground. I am a big fan of long exposures when it comes to urban landscape photography but I stay away from the HDR monser.

    Great topic and great supporting imagery.