Whether you’ve made plans to photograph a specific architectural structure or unexpectedly find an interesting building in front of you, be prepared to spend some time simply viewing the building from various angles and distances and under different lighting and even weather conditions. Professional architectural photographers will tell you that successfully recording the beauty, uniqueness or story of a structure require that you slow the photographic process considerably compared to fast-action subjects or even casual pictures of family and friends.
When you're traveling it’s often difficult to have the time to investigate an architectural subject thoroughly before photographing it. The time of day you plan to visit a famous building or public square may not provide the best light to show it well. As with many photographic subjects, architecture is often best captured during the early morning and late evening hours. In fact, some buildings are just plain ugly during daylight, but become something magical at night.
When you choose a structure to study for a possible photo shoot, examine the building not just in its totality, but also its details. Walk around the structure and determine what materials were used and how they are joined. You also want to look for signs of how the building was constructed. Move close to the structure and investigate the details, such as exterior stairs or steps, entryways, doors, windows, arches, lighting, hardware, signs, etc. Note any interesting textures or signs of deterioration if the structure is old. Once you’ve thoroughly studied the structure, you should have a plan for where, when and what you want to photograph.
Recognizing how the light illuminates the building and creates shadows is critically important. The bright, direct light of midday seldom produces the best lighting for architecture. Then again, if your subject is a skyscraper or other modern structure with many windows and other reflective surfaces, then the harsh light of midday or mid-afternoon may be best suited for the vision you have in mind.
Low-angled light is more likely to create strong shadows that may help to give your architectural photos more depth, especially if the building includes various sections at different heights, which will cast shadows on the sections to the rear. Interesting shadows will appear when the building has columns or low stonewalls or other exterior appurtenances.
As you’ve read, serious architectural photography requires a great deal of planning and a willingness to do your homework before you put your hands on your camera. Once you are ready, you’ll want to use a tripod whenever possible and the best aperture to produce enough depth of field to make the entire structure in sharp focus. A good tripod will have a spirit level, so you can accurately level your camera for the correct perspective.
A good place to start architectural photography of a building is to find a position with a ¾ view. You want to include both the front of the structure and one side, so its depth and dimension is clearly revealed.
For your first (and subsequent) serious architectural photography sessions, consider renting a perspective control (PC) lens, which are often known as shift/tilt or shift lenses. A PC, or shift, lens is designed to move up and down or left and right in relation to the sensor. In other words, you can shift your view of the scene or subject matter while the camera remains in one position.
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As you gain more experience as a digital photographer, you may discover that you are attracted to certain types of subject matter more than others. Some like the fast-paced, exciting world of sports or adventure photography, while other photographers prefer the slower, contemplative challenge of capturing the beauty of flowers or the architectural design and utilitarian uses of buildings and structures.
If you’re attracted to architecture and would like to learn how to take better pictures of this particular subject matter, then the following 8 tips are sure to help you improve your photographer’s eye, skills and portfolio.
A better strategy for improving your architectural photography is to pick a building or structure where you live, so you have the opportunity to study it during the light of the day and night and even the seasons of the year. By honing your skills on a building you can visit often, you’ll be able to capture much more interesting images of architecture during your travels, when you have far less picture-taking time.
Photograph by Photography Talk user Martin F
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