Architecture images grace the pages of magazines and fill travel albums all over the world. If architects do their job right, it only fits that their work would catch the eye of creative photographers. Whether you are a hobbyist strolling a new city, a travel blogger looking to share spectacular sights with your readers, or a professional photographer looking for a new niche, the architecture around us all the time is an exciting and varied subject.
What is Architecture Photography?
Architecture is the design of buildings and living spaces; it's an art to itself that many people enjoy and appreciate. To photograph buildings, you are taking pictures of someone else's work. But in doing so, you capture how the building exists in the real world after it has been built, something that the architects only dream of.
Camera Equipment for Architecture
Nearly any camera can do a good job taking architecture photos. You can do it with your smartphone, but a camera with premium features will make your life easier. As is usually the case in different types of photography, yes, you can take amazing photos on any camera. But a professional camera will help you do it consistently, and it has more options to help your creativity.
Your camera should be able to mount on a tripod, have a remote shutter release, and have a bubble level. These help you take long-exposure and nighttime images. Do read our Guide on Night Photography, with tips and techniques to take awesome night-time photos. An interchangeable lens camera, like a DSLR or mirrorless body, is recommended. These cameras will enable you to select between high-quality lenses to use, including tilt-shift lenses that can help you control perspective. They usually accept filters, some of which can be a great help in taking photos of buildings. A set of ND (neutral density) filters and a circular polarizer will come in handy. Finally, your camera should be able to record RAW format images, since this file format gives you the most powerful editing tools available.
From time to time, you may want to use an off-camera strobe to fill in an image's dark areas. Most of the time, you will want to capitalize on natural light, so the strobe is not a must-have item.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
If you follow the tips below, you will avoid many of the most common mistakes while taking architecture photos. The biggest things to keep in mind are avoiding getting bogged down in technicalities and instead worry more about the basics of good photography like composition, lighting, and creating a connection with the viewer. When choosing lenses, think about the distortion that some of your lenses will cause and work to avoid it. Finally, be sure to spend some time considering how you want to present the building by thinking about the best time of day for the best light.
The biggest mistake you can make in architecture photos is to snap and go, with little planning or forethought. Take your time and exercise your creative grey cells.
15 Tips to Perfect Architecture Photography
Always Use a Tripod
Using a tripod is one of the best architecture photography tips for several reasons. Sharpness is always paramount in this type of photography, and using a tripod ensures crystal clear results. It also allows you to use long-exposure techniques to maximize the light available and allow you to shoot at any time of day. Keep reading for more tips about using long exposures and ND filters to capture movement and time-lapses. You must understand the basics of Exposure Triangle and learn how to leverage shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to your advantage.
Tripods also force you to take your time composing the image. You can't just snap the photo and keep going. You're going to have to think about where you want to set it up, and why you want to set it up there. Once you've got the placement, you'll have to frame the image carefully. Not only does a tripod help you make technically better photos, but it also helps you creatively if you let it.
A few accessories that you'll want to go with your tripod include a remote shutter release. This gadget will allow you to trigger your camera without bumping it, which is invaluable for long exposures. You'll also want to pick up a hot shoe-mounted bubble level, which will help you set up your tripod evenly.
Composition for Building Photography
Architecture photographers can't do very much to pose their subjects, which puts some severe limits on your ability to control what goes on inside your picture's frame. Or does it?
There are many tools in a photographer's compositional toolbox. Only some of them require moving the subject around. The rest involves moving the photographer around, and that's precisely what you've got to do. If you're ever compositing an image and it just isn't working, it's time to try a different shooting position or even just change the angle at which you're taking the picture.
None of this isn't to say that the photographer doesn't have some control. Especially on interior architecture photography, furniture and decor can be moved around, if you have permission. Clutter should always be reduced to the point that everything in the photograph helps the photograph. If you can't move or change things, then it's time to zoom in for details or move around until distracting elements are out of the frame. Don't accept ugly signs or cars parked in just the wrong spot; see what you can do to rearrange your composition to keep it tidy.
Composition encompasses much more than the simple framing of the photo. It also speaks to when you should take a photo. Some buildings might seem mundane and uninteresting, but when you start thinking about ways to frame it in a standalone image, they suddenly become exciting and captivating.
Think of architectural details that most people miss, like beautiful sconces set against textured stucco walls, or ornate brass knockers on rustic wooden doors. These are things you can make stand out in a photograph that will draw in viewers.
Lines and shapes are natural draws to get people attracted. Lead lines and symmetry are a few other useful tricks to use when you want to point the viewer in the direction of something special. Think about how you can use them to create interest.
The Rule of Thirds and the Golden Spiral apply to this sort of photography too. Just because you are taking an image of someone else's art doesn't release you from making your image artistic and well-composed.
Finally, give black and white architecture photography a try. Black and white photos are compositionally different. By removing the color from a scene, you force the viewer's eye to experience the fundamental elements like lines, shapes, tones, and textures more profoundly.
Most top architecture photography tips revolve around perspective issues. It's such a significant factor in architectural image composition that its importance cannot be overstated.
When buildings and cameras mix, the main issue is the distortion caused by your lens and camera. If you're trying to capture a building that towers above you, then your only option is to tilt the camera back to capture it all. But if the image sensor's plane is not parallel with the face of the building, the perspective will be created as the straight lines of the building get farther away from the sensor. Lines that should be parallel now appear to converge, changing the visual impact of the building.
It happens all the time with building photography, and it's a tough problem to address. You have a few options. You can use it to your advantage and embrace the distortion. Realize that, while it's not optimal for photography, it is actually how the building appears in real life. If you go this route and decide to use it in your composition, you must be careful to understand how it will impact the final image. You will want to minimize the effects to avoid distractions to the viewer.
You can also address perspective problems in post-production. High-end editing software packages, like Adobe Photoshop or Affinity Photo, have powerful perspective tools. They allow you to correct the problem by stretching and rotating your photo frame. In doing so, you will lose some of the image on the edges, and you will need to crop it smaller. You will lose clarity and resolution in the process, but the results can be very pleasing.
The final thing you can do is invest in a tilt-shift lens. These lenses tilt on the camera body, allowing you to have the camera at the angle needed to capture the photo but to capture the image without perspective. Lines remain perfectly parallel. If you're serious about this kind of photography, you can't go wrong with a tilt-shift lens. Try renting one if you are uncertain about its value for your projects.
Include People…or Don’t
Classically, it has been frowned upon to include people in your architecture images. It's certainly not a rule–it's a style choice. As a traveling photographer, you might not have a choice anyway. Imagine visiting New York City to photograph buildings from the street, only to discover the thousands of pedestrians walking past every hour of the day. What will you do? Wait until they're all out of the frame? Block off the sidewalk?
The easier path is just to embrace the crowd and make it part of the composition. Why can't the people in the shot be used to show how the building is in real life? How do traffic and life occur in and around the building? The final product can still be aesthetically pleasing. The biggest problem will be in the randomness of the crowd that is beyond your control.
A neat trick that you could employ is to blur the pedestrians. Since they are moving, if you leave the shutter open long enough, they will be blurred. Two beautiful things will then happen in your photograph. It will make the pedestrians indistinct, which will be easier to deal with in your composition. Secondly, it will add a sense of movement to the photo. That blur adds a sense of time passing to the photograph, making the viewer feel like they are seeing a picture of a whole day instead of only a millisecond-long snapshot.
Control the Light
When you're told to control the light in other types of photography, you reach for your best strobes. But when taking images of the exterior of buildings, strobes don't usually help much. Instead, you need to research what time the light falls on the building in the most pleasing way. The same is true when doing interior architecture photography. You can control the light by just the time of day you show up, and how much light comes through the windows.
An excellent tool for helping you figure this out is The Photographer's Ephemeris. TPE is a web-based tool that can be used to determine the exact time certain lighting conditions happen at any location. It figures out shadows and angles, so you can see when the best light will hit your subject. It's available on the web or in apps for your smartphone. https://www.photoephemeris.com combined with TPE, online satellite photos can help you by showing how buildings are oriented. You can also use Google Streetview in some areas to pre-scout the location and get an idea of where to set up.
Remember that the light falling on your building isn't just about the time of day, it's about the time of year. The sun is higher overhead in the summer and much lower in the winter.
Maximize Natural Light
Good architects spend a lot of time considering how the light will fall on the building and into the rooms. Don't come into a new building and start changing everything; start by appreciating what's there. In short, don't reach for your flashes and strobes until it's the last resort. Let the building choose its light, as the designer intended.
Once you've considered the light, both natural light and artificial, you can decide if you need to add any. Remote flashes and portable lights are handy to add accent lighting to certain elements. You can also create effects in the background that accent the building or its features, like lighting outdoor landscaping or ponds.
Use the Weather
Buildings stand proud through all seasons, day and night, storm and calm. The weather can be your best friend because it's a natural backdrop to the building and it's always changing. Clouds can be fluffy and bright white, tempting the viewer with warm summer days. Or they can be dark and foreboding, warning of trouble to come.
Whatever the weather is the day you arrive, it's easy to capture. But if it's a favorite spot, come back throughout the year and see how it changes. How does the weather affect the light hitting the building? How does the mood change?
Take as Long as You Need
This type of photography shouldn't be approached as a quick and easy snapshot. It takes time to set up and compose your shots carefully. And since you already have the tripod with you, long-exposure images should be in your repertoire. They aren't always needed, but there are few times when a long exposure would be less impactful than a shorter one. Practicing black and white architecture photography is a great way to help you slow down and consider the composition more.
Another great way to slow down is to take more long-exposure shots. This offers several advantages, including shooting with an optimal combination of low ISO, long shutter speeds, and deep depth of fields. Low ISO means that images will be sharp and clear, with little grain. Most digital cameras perform their best at ISO 100.
Long-exposure shutter speeds will help you capture more light and movement in the building. With exposures between 15 and 30 seconds long, vehicles driving by and pedestrians on the street will blur. Even clouds moving overhead will blur a bit, giving images the feeling of more abstract architecture photography. Remember, slow shutter speeds blur everything, including flags flapping in the breeze and water flowing out of fountains. It may or may not be a good thing for your composition.
Finally, deep depths of field are achieved by using small apertures, also known as high f-stop numbers. At f/18 and above, every part of the image, from the foreground to the background, will be sharply focused. Unfortunately, most lenses begin performing less than optimally at these f-stops, so be sure to take some sample shots and carefully inspect them for distortion, especially around the edges.
Long exposures help you take stunning pictures after dark. But what about in the middle of the day? The secret is an ND (neutral density) filter set. These filters go on your lens and evenly reduce the amount of light entering the camera. Depending on your set, you can combine the filters to get many stops of reduction, allowing you to shoot in the middle of a sunny day as if it were the middle of the night.
Shift Shooting Angles Often
We've talked about the perspective of the building, and how it's parallel lines appear to divert or converge when captured on camera. But what about your perspective or the way you put your vision on camera?
Yes, it's closely related to the composition. But composition deals with technical how-tos, like how to frame and object and how to divide up the image frame. Your perspective is your take on the scene. How do you see it, and what do you see that makes it unique to you? Spend some time asking yourself these questions as you approach your subject building.
One of the best ways you change your perspective is to move around and explore. Over time, buildings, especially famous ones, get known by the photos taken of them. They become two dimensional instead of three as more and more people recognize the one photo taken from the one direction. They visit the building to see the view from the same place as the photographer did, making it recognizable.
How can you, as a photographer, change this situation? For one thing, don't retake the same photographs! Find new angles and new locations from which to shoot. Bring a fresh perspective each time and try not to repeat what has already been done. Bring a new look to the building by taking some abstract architecture photography.
A good photographer can use perspective to create emotional reactions. For example, images shot from very low looking up give the impression of being imposing or dominating. Images that include landscaping or the environment around the building will make the viewer feel more present, like seeing the entire thing. Images of shapes and details in the building can make the viewer appreciate the design more. How can you apply these ideas to your next shoot? We have listed photography tips for beginners that will help you become better at your craft and take those stunning pictures that you always wanted.
Don't Always Reach For Your Super-Wide Angle Lens
A common mistake with these types of photos is shooting too wide and trying to capture it all. Remember, the widest lens you've got isn't always the best option. Wide lenses cause several problems, not the least of which is crazy distortion. Lens below about 24 mm will cause severe warping and distortion to objects near the edges. There are few times when this makes an attractive photograph.
Distortion problems are especially challenging to deal with in architecture. As we've discussed with perspective issues, lens distortion is another layer of problems that will make what should be a perfect photo look incredibly dull. Anybody can pick up a wide lens and walk into a room, but few photographers realize the problems it causes and work to correct them.
With interior photos, another problem with shooting too wide is that it captures too much clutter. With too many elements in the composition, the viewers' eyes have a difficult time figuring out where to go. The wider the frame, the more work the photographer has to do to carefully compose the image and make sure clutter and useless elements are eliminated.
But don't list your super wide angles on eBay just yet. There are plenty of times when there just isn't another way to capture the space. Small, narrow rooms are especially hard. Most of the time, moving up to a 35mm or longer lens will fix most problems. But if that's too long for the space, use your super-wides and fix as much distortion as you can later in post-production.
High Dynamic Range Photography
HDR is a technique often used by landscape photographers when there are very bright highlights or very dark shadows. If it's beyond the camera's limits to capture it, HDR is the way to go.
The basic process is to take a set of bracketed images, be it three, five, or seven frames, and then stack them in post-production. With the camera exposure adjusted in stops between each frame, there should be a correctly exposed image from each area of the photograph. One photo will have correctly exposed shadows, but everything else is overexposed. And that's fine because another photo will have perfectly exposed highlights but underexposed everything else. Your job is simply to take the best parts of each one.
There are several great programs and apps out there to help you stack photos for HDR, but the process is also written into Photoshop and the other major editing software packages. The art of HDR is really in the stacking and the final editing. There are bad HDR compositions–the process can easily be taken too far. A good HDR looks like a real-life photograph. A bad one is supersaturated, with flat light and all sorts of digital tom-foolery.
HDR is especially useful in architecture. You can use it with interior shots where the views out of windows are just blown-out highlights. You can use it on exteriors to even out highlights and shadows. It's a great tool to grab what most pictures cannot.
Circular polarizing filters are beneficial when shooting outdoors. For one thing, they reduce the light a stop or so, which helps you use a slightly slower shutter speed just like an ND filter would. But the polarizer works by letting you control the direction of the light waves entering the lens. The first most noticeable thing they do is make the sky more or less contrasty. A polarizer can make the blues pop and clouds more defined.
But they can be used to control reflections too. If your building has reflective windows, the polarizer can adjust the amount of reflection. The same goes for ponds and reflection pools, which are great elements to include in architectural photos.
Masks aren't just for use during pandemics. Masks are tools in Photoshop that allow you to make changes to certain parts of the photo. Imagine you were making a painting, and you wanted to spray paint or airbrush the background sky without affecting other areas. That's how masks work in your editing program. So you can use masks in Photoshop to edit specific areas, like the sky or dark shadows.
Protect Yourself Legally
Make sure to get releases for people and property that appear in your photography. For privacy reasons, you can't go onto private property and start shooting. Likewise, any images you plan to use commercially need to sign releases for both models appearing in them and identifiable property. The owners of the property need to give their consent for it to be photographed, and consent for what you want to do with those images. If they hired you, this is easily included in your contract. If you're working on building portfolio material, it might be a tough sell.
Put Your Soul Into It
The biggest thing you can do to make your architecture photos stand out is to strive to make visually compelling images. The priority is always making the composition attractive and exciting to the viewer–to connect with them somehow. Don't focus on only the technical aspects of the photo. Here are 10 great tips on how to take aesthetic photos.
A technically perfect photograph does not make a compelling photograph. Use your artistic eye and put your spin on things by adding your style. What can you add that other photographers have not?
Getting started with a career in architecture images isn't easy. Real estate agents are always looking for great photos of buildings, but the images used to sell and the images used to appreciate the architecture are not precisely the same. Great architecture photographers know that their work is pivoting on the backs of the work of the architect. They put their spin on it, but they wouldn't even be there if it weren't for another artist having already done an excellent job.
Your architecture portfolio website is key to gaining new clients and growing your business. The role of an effective architecture portfolio website is to first and foremost showcase your range of work through past and ongoing projects. Also, it should also present your vision for the future work you want to do, your profile, philosophy, and client list in a well-rounded manner. Check out the tips below if you are looking at how to make an architecture portfolio.
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We have put together a list of some of the best architecture portfolio examples that will inspire you to create yours. These photographers have made excellent use of Pixpa, to showcase their photos. You can draw inspiration from these creative professionals and study their portfolios, to get a clearer idea of how you want to showcase your repertoire of work.
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