Architecture Photographers On Holiday (Part 1)

Architecture Photographers On Holiday (Part 1)


Hands up guilty ones! Who here gets itchy feet after about 2 months and needs to travel? Worse still, do you need to have a holiday reserved as if you are trapped without this planned escape? My hand is most definitely reaching for the skies but I did just get back from Italy. I travel a lot.

In the past I have been less than prepared and, all too late on my return, it was obvious in the quality of my images. For this article, I will highlight some of my tips and tricks to make the most from a photo trip away. In addition, I have restricted the images in this article to my recent destination, Florence, to further illustrate a little planning ahead can yield great results.

I am principally interested in architecture and landscape so my planning revolves around the light and the aversion of as many tourists as I can reasonably manage. People are good for scale but a 2 storey high statue of an intensely staring God, Neptune, surrounded by balloons and a massive throng of blue shirted people will not make an impressive image.

Not having visited Florence previously, I go straight to Flickr, Wikipedia and Google. Searching Flickr, ordering by ‘most interesting’ does seem a little like cheating, but I only had 3 dawns and 4 sun sets to play with. I doubt I would have found any undiscovered Florence in such a small time scale!

Utilizing image sites like Flickr, Google and Wikipedia will net you interesting buildings and scenes to photograph. It will be obvious where the good light is coming from and , on checking the timestamps in the EXIFs, what time of day too.

A slight digression on the importance of not losing images. I always take a laptop, 2 portable hard drives and spare Compact Flash cards. A drive that will directly take a CF/SD card, if your laptop fails, is also a good precaution. Also remember large capacity cards are very useful, but how many images are you prepared to lose in one go?

Dawn and dusk are the obvious times to be outside however I will use the time in between to venture inside buildings. If Europe is anything to go by each place of interest is closed on at least one day in the week and when they are open, access is potentially restricted to specific times. There may also be the requirement to book ahead. Did you notice all these lovely Italian scenes are outside? Guess who forgot to book tickets to indoor attractions?! Ahem. Many sites, open to the public, will have a policy on bags and tripods. You can pretty much always get away with a monopod, but I do get a little stressed when I find out I have to check in my back pack.

I encourage photographers to get somewhat lost in new places; there’s no quicker way to find and get a real sense of the local ‘scene’, but do take a guide book. My partner gets excited about trips and buys several. Lonely Planet and Rough Guide are great examples. Check they are recent editions.

As soon as you get to your destination scout your locations ahead of Sun up and Sun down. The internet got you to this point and you know the buildings and scenes to capture, but this is an opportunity to cultivate your own shooting style so take the time to look around each scene. There are some useful compositional tips in my previous post, Photographing Buildings.

The light will dictate the main aspects of your compositions, but there are many factors you can influence.

Balance your positive and negative space. Do the surroundings complement or weaken the main subject or building? Don’t be afraid to get closer – in Namibia, I spent hours literally 8 feet from a tall tree to get a ‘solitary imposing tree in a desert’ shot.

Do you need to emphasize the depth of field or the sheer scale of the scene. Setting your tripod low for a wide angle will help. You can force perspective by shooting a multiple shot panorama with a longer focal length.

When you prepare to go out ensure you can cover focal lengths to at least 100mm. I don’t use filters, but you might. Take a spare card or 2 – they do corrupt. Spare batteries, especially if cold outside and/or using live view. Does your remote trigger use batteries also? I actually use a wired shutter release, for this very reason. Take cleaning cloths, times two, lens wipes – the ones that come soaked in lens cleaner. Also take water, food, a torch and several plastic bags in case of heavy rain. Finally, in the field, who else has forgotten the tripod adapter was not already screwed to the base of the camera body?!

On location, and for each composition, I will shoot close focus images in addition to the main exposures. Not entirely trusting of histograms, I will pretty much always shoot a set of bracketed shots.

Be the humble photographer and don’t assume you have captured the best scene. Here’s the test when you think you’re done – ask yourself, “Am I coming back to shoot this scene properly?”.

Make best use of the light. Use your feet and shoot from somewhere else. Countless times I have berated myself for not taking an additional set of images 30 feet to the left or right, or closer. And for such simple mistakes too, like clutter I simply didn’t see or vertices that are obscured or just look weird with my chosen perspective.

Don’t forget you’re on holiday! After the dawn shoot is the perfect time for a local breakfast. Camera straps were also invented to solve the problem of free hands to hold pizza and ice cream whilst walking!

Use the busy and touristy day times to walk light with a camera and lens and capture the faces and details on the street. I confess I am a bit ‘old school’ and will just attach my 50mm f/1.2. Walk, shoot and eat. It is your holiday, after all!

You’ll notice this is a Part 1. As you head home, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be keen to process and publish those images. My camera settings are perpetually in a neutral state, so I definitely have work to do in front of the monitor. In Part 2, along with some sample Photoshop files, I will reveal my image editing workflow; how I process my images for screen and print.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Michael Walker-Toye is a professional Photographer, based in Essex and just outside of London. You can follow his photo blog, The Stormtroopers Are Coming!, on Facebook, on Twitter as @RealMichaelToye and 'michaeltoye' on Instagram.

Some Older Comments

  • Inahans October 29, 2012 09:04 pm

    Michael, I had a question. Just how did you manage to shoot these places without any tourists? I returned from Italy (and Florence too) and I shot the same square - but you won't believe just how crowded the square was. I faced that issue in most much so that landscape photography was pretty much out of the door and I was forced to settle for clicking people instead...

    Most of the times when you visit a place, you go for tours and stuff. I'm guessing thats not ideal for photography? Taking time out to simply walk around is not always an option - most of the times you're running around as part of tour groups and are forced to use your SLR as a point n shoot. :(

  • amir paz October 27, 2012 03:16 am

    for my last trip to germany and austria i bought me a wide angle lens just for this kind of photography :)

    i am proud to say it did the job !

    here is one of my favorite from my last trip:

    the HDR affect also gives it that little extra boost :)


  • KenP October 26, 2012 11:15 am

    Like the photos ... nice, rich colours.

    I often like to zoom in to pick the detail in architecture, like here:

  • Lianna October 26, 2012 10:22 am

    Amazing to re-iterte! Faves are the first and 6th... Cones make me want ice-cream now in a sugar waffle cone.

  • Bob Sibson October 26, 2012 07:32 am

    Thanks for this post! Having just been to Florence myself I really appreciated your perspective on things. The time we were there was problematic since the weather didn't really cooperate with partially cloudy or clear skies in the early morning or late evening. Having complete cloud cover restricted my opportunities for better shots, at least at my skill level.
    Your reflective photos are very nice, and the colours have been beautifully recreated.

  • Michael Toye October 26, 2012 07:03 am

    Thanks Blaize. The images are indeed all from Florence and this is intentional to show a little planning will gain you a nice set of images from a single trip.


  • Blaize October 26, 2012 06:58 am

    Nice set of images... looks like they're all from Florence...

    In any case, I like architectural photography. Thanks for the tips!

  • Scottc October 24, 2012 09:09 am

    Great photos in this article.

    Architecture is one my favorite subjects.

  • Regan October 24, 2012 04:47 am

    Where's the Christmas lights? Oh, international English, holiday! Impressive pix and excellent ideas. It's a good post as I learned something. Thanks!

  • Badflea October 24, 2012 02:28 am

    Nice shots of Firenze!

    Here my interior architecture from Melbourne....

  • Mridula October 23, 2012 11:57 pm

    Two months? I get itchy feet within a month!

  • Zain Abdullah October 23, 2012 08:41 pm

    Amazing shots of architecture of Florence

    In Malaysia, Penang state has the most historic building dating back to early 19th century and they have now obtained UNESCO Heritage Site status...

    Check out some historical buildings of Penang:

    The Campbell Street Market with Victorian architecture dating back to 1900

    Memorial Clock Tower to celebrate Queen Victoria's 60-year reign

    The Town Hall, completed in 1880

    This majestic mosque boasts of 200-year history and located within the UNESCO Heritage Site


  • Steve October 23, 2012 07:41 pm

    If I see a building with a reflection I always get the camera out whereever I am
    With so many historic buildings in the UK there si plenty of fascinating architecture to photograph.
    I always try to get a different angle otherwise it has probably been done before

  • rich October 23, 2012 07:33 pm

    Don't forget to check out the postcards at your destination. While you shouldn't look to simply copy their shot, it does help give you ideas on how to approach some well known pieces of architecture:

    Also, try capturing some building with the context of their busy environments:

  • Mei Teng October 23, 2012 11:59 am

    Agree. Amazing shots. My favourite is the first one.

  • Jai Catalano October 23, 2012 10:50 am

    Those are some fantastic shots. Amazing with a capital A.

  • Scottc October 23, 2012 10:26 am

    Architecture is difficult, yet so much fun.

  • Frank Form October 23, 2012 07:51 am

    Can I just say what amazing shoots!!!