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Photographing Architecture

Whether the subject is a historically significant building or a contemporary architectural masterpiece, here a few tips which may come in handy when shooting architecture.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Lens choices

A telephoto lens allows you to creep into those intricate details that litter the building’s facia and highlight to the viewer why the building is so special. A wide-angle lens can allows you to capture the building in its entirety and perhaps even place it context with its surrounding elements, adding a sense of location or season into the frame. A fish-eye lens can be used to visually express the magnitude of the stature if the wide-angle lens doesn’t quite cover it or adds a bit of extra creative spice to the shot.


Geometric patterns, leadings lines, diagonals and grids are all rife within urban environments, and can make for attractive compositional aids to add interest and tension within the capture. The best way to do this is to use a zoom lens and crop in close for frame-filling captures. What is more, the vast majority of buildings incorporate symmetrical elements within their structures and these can be used to strength your composition. Some architectural photographers admit to aligning their hand along the slope their nose to help them create the frame around the symmetrical meeting point.

Working Late


Particularly in modern areas of the city, buildings usually have floor to ceiling windows which can make for some fantastic reflective surfaces, which offers up a series of compositional devices such as symmetry and patterns. As well as reflections created on buildings, look for puddles, water features, sunglasses and windows of transport to photograph the building in the reflection.

Twin Spheres – Esferas Gemelas, Campo de las Naciones, Madrid HDR


Juxtaposition of colour, texture, content and light can inject tension instantly into an architectural frame. Look for an old building next to an ultra modern one, or a particularly colourful wall against a plain surface, or just look to where the light falls to capture areas of light and shade.

Marina City, Chicago. One-car garage.

Light and shade

Buildings are riddled with areas of high contrast, which can fool the camera’s metering system. This is particularly a problem if you want to capture the details within the shaded and highlighted areas of the building at the same time. The answer is to bracket the shots at different exposure values, and later merge them using HDR software or if your camera has the option to play with the dynamic range of the scene (on Nikon’s for example the feature is called Active D-Lighting) switch this on, start with the lowest setting and move up in increments to find a level of detail you are happy with.

Glass Palace


Consider expressing the size of your subject by including every day, relatable features, such as street furniture (traffic lights, street lights, cars, people, trees, etc). On the other hand, you could avoid these props altogether to play with the viewers sense of perspective and scale.

Lost in Structuration : Couple Philharmonie

Perspective Correction

A great deal of architectural images will exhibit distorted lines, especially if you are using a wide-angle lens from a close proximity, which can often happen when you are shooting up from the ground. To straighten these lines post shoot there are a number of software programs or plug-ins that allow you to correct the distortion. However distortion can be used to the photographer’s advantage as it adds a sense of drama and sense of scale to the image.

Architectural Interiors

As well as photographing the outside facia, photographers often have the option of photographing inside too. The main problem shooters find here is the lack of available light, especially as many venues restrict the use of flash. To combat this use a lens with a wide aperture, boost the cameras ISO or set the camera or something sturdy and take a longer exposure, using the self timer to trigger the shot. Where flash is permitted try using a diffuser to soften the effect, as direct flash can often rob scenes of texture and distort colour.


Just as with human subjects, to get a visually stimulating silhouette shot of a building, move into a position that means the sun is behind the structure and effectively blocks out the main orb of light. Here remember to deactivate the flash and expose for the sky.

Hungarian Parliament Building Silhouette ~ Explored ~

Architecture at Night

Shooting buildings at night can offer up fantastic subjects and creative ways of expressing your message. One of the best ways to do it is to shoot when there is still some light left in the sky, as this carves in extra colour and helps to subtly illuminate part the detail of the building, but wait long enough so that window lights, car lights and street signs are on. Place yourself in a safe spot that offers an interesting angle or perspective. Set the camera on a tripod or something sturdy and dial in a long exposure of several seconds. Fire the shutter using the self timer or a remote shutter release to ensure your image is sharp. Extend the length of the exposure to add a sense of motion, either from the people moving around inside the building, on the street, traffic or clouds.

The Sky Bar in Kuala Lumpur with a view of Petronas

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Natalie Denton (nee Johnson)
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.

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