Five Tips for How to Photograph Architecture

Architectural photography is really all about capturing a piece of art that human kind has already created. If you have ever been on the Chicago architectural tour you’ll get a sense of the huge range of styles and the vast artistic skill and energy that goes into producing many of the incredible buildings that we see around us.

Five Tips for How to Photograph Architecture

Chicago Skyline with may of it’s Architectural Wonders

Our purpose as photographers is to capture these structures in interesting ways and show them to our viewers who may have never looked as these structures the way we can see them.

There was a time when architectural photography was all about perfectly straight lines both vertically and horizontally.  Where everything looked completely real and normal. I think those times have changed quite a bit both because of the style of architecture that is now available and also because of the more artistic view of architectural photography.

Five Tips for How to Photograph Architecture
Marjorie Mcneely Como Conservatory St Paul Minnesota 

Today we’re going to talk about how to photograph architecture in this more artistic free flowing style.bringing your own lights to light up the facility in the manner that is under your complete control.

1 Be an Architecture Adventurer

One of the best things about photography in general is that it causes you to become an explorer. And for architectural photography that is probably even more true. First of all you need to explore your locations in your city and find buildings that are even interesting to look at in the first place. Then you have to see if you can get into them for photographic expeditions. Then finally you have to see if you can get interesting views of them at all either inside or outside.

There was one day several years ago where I was leading photography outing. We actually spent the whole day going from location to location just trying to get access to different buildings. We joke that we had been thrown out of every decent building in the city and finally by the end of the day we were able to get some great shots.

Five Tips for How to Photograph Architecture

Hennepin Country Court House ~ Found on a full day Architectural Adventure Trip after several “failures” 

So that adventure taught us another powerful lesson. We learned where can we freely photograph buildings, where do we have to be extra sneaky and where do we have to purposely break the rules to get the great shot. Needless to say it was a very enjoyable day.

Five Tips for How to Photograph Architecture

Weisman Art Museum University of Minnesota Example of interesting architecture  and great lighting

 

2 Be an Architectural Light Painter

Just like any type of photography photographers are painters of light. In architectural photography that is also true again. So whether you’re photographing an interior or an exterior you need to be extra aware of capturing light that’s interesting.

Interior:

For capturing Interiors what that may mean is using light that’s coming in the windows and using lights that are on in the building and also you might have to bring in some of your own lights to light up the building appropriately. You’ll have to experiment with the time of day that’s most ideal for your particular building that you’re photographing. We’ll have to figure out what side of the building is the Sun streaming through the windows and if you want to have that son coming in direct flight or if you don’t want to wait till the light is indirect or if you want to be there at a time where there is almost no light coming in those windows. I have found for churches and grand structures that late afternoon is often a great time so that but the Sun is low and might be screaming in the window but the lights are coming on in the church also so you get to both sources of light.
If you’re really getting serious about your architectural photography that is when you will be bringing your own lights to light up the facility in the manner that is under your complete control. This is obviously very complex but it is certainly an avenue to explore.

Exterior:

For exterior photography obviously you have to consider the light again but you will be considering it in a different way. Light will not be streaming in the window but the lights will be covering the facility. You still need to consider the direction and the contrast between the sky or clouds and the building that you’re photographing.

Five Tips for How to Photograph Architecture

Walker Art Center ~ Example of Exterior Daytime Architectural Photography

I have noticed that it is common for me to photograph the buildings in the evening or the blue hour so that the Skatalites are coming down but the building lights are coming up and that makes for a much more dramatic interest in your photographs.

3 Select the Right Equipment

In the older way of photographing architecture photographers would use longer lenses to make sure that your lines were perfectly straight and there was no distortion. Or they would use a large format camera and they would actually change the plane of the film so that the plane was perfectly straight or or perpendicular to the building that is being photographed.
In the newer more modern style distortion can be used to great effect.

Five Tips for How to Photograph Architecture

Minneapolis Public Library ~ An example of creating distortion with a wide lens

So to get that distortion you use a wide lens. With wide lens as you get much more detail and you get to see so much more of the building, but you also get distortion we’re towards the top of the building the walls start bending in. This is not offensive to the modern I and it is used to give a more grandiose feel to the structure. I love capturing incredibly large churches using a very wide lens and I get this distortion but in my opinion it helps us to see the huge scale of these facilities and it is very appealing.  What do I mean by a wide lens?  You need to be wider than 24mm on a full frame camera.  That way you can capture so much more and you also get great distortion.  I use a 14mm lens for much of my architectural photography.  You can even play with what is called a fisheye lens that is even wider yet.

4 Architectural Composition

Composition is critical in architecture. You have to decide if you’re going to be shooting a structure symmetrically or completely asymmetrically with leading lines pointing to the main subject. Both methods can be used very powerfully but you have to use your your mind to make that decision while you’re shooting.

Five Tips for How to Photograph Architecture

Minneapolis Stone Arch Bridge Example of asymetrical photography and use of leading lines

It’s perfectly okay to experiment with this capture building in both ways and then in the final result to see what moves you more which will give you an idea of what my love to your audience more also.

5 Emotionally Move Your Viewers

Just like with all photography on purpose with photography is to move our audience. The two attributes that I have found a moves my audience the most our first capturing the grandiose scale of a piece of of architecture and secondly to light it in such a way that it comes alive to the viewer.

Five Tips for How to Photograph Architecture

Cathedral of St Paul ~ Example of capturing the wonder in grandiose scale 

Using these two tools you will regularly be able to make your viewers sit back and the same wow.

Conclusion:

Now it is time to get out and practice what you have learned. At noticing buildings that make you turn your head and look a second or third or fourth time. Then noticed what time of day those buildings really look amazing. Then finally go out to those locations at those times and start your work of capturing incredible beauty.

Other Resources:

Check out this video “How to Use My Camera, Shooting in Aperture Priority Mode“.  That will help you dramatically improve your a architecture photography.

Remember your first 1 million pictures are your worst so get out and shoot so that you can learn by experimenting. There is no way to make mistakes or do it wrong, this is all learning by experimenting so have fun and shot.

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Until next time, get out and capture the adventure!!

 

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Written by Wayne Moran - Visit Website
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