We are always looking to improve our architectural photography skills to get the best architecture photos possible. Here are a few ideas and tips based on my experience and research to keep in mind the next time you are visiting your favorite modern and contemporary architecture.
1. Closeup vs. Far Away
When photographing buildings from closeup they can sometimes appear to be sloping backwards – sometimes this can be corrected in Photoshop however if possible try moving farther away from the building and use a telephone lens this will correct the distortion and result in much straighter lines. Notice the difference in the two Chicago skyscrapers above, the photo to the left is taken from a much closer with a wide angle lens and the photo to the left from a boat with a telephoto lens – the end result is dramatically different.
2. Foreground and Background
Including an interesting foreground such as plants, people, or cars can help contrast the building lines and form. A background such as trees, clouds, other buildings can do the same. Be sure to keep the focus on the architecture by adjusting your depth of field. The photo of 21-21 Design Sight in Tokyo by Tadao Ando is framed by textured vegetation which contrasts the strong straight lines of the building roof and glazing.
At dusk or dawn you can try having fun with silhouettes. Some buildings have wonderful and distinct forms which can be understood even without all the details. In Istanbul the beautiful mosques have minuets and domes that can be clearly read even as a silhouette, photo above.
4. The Essence
Capture the essence of the space. This old and wonderful elevator in Prague was an accidental find – a photo without displaying its movement would not be the same. Experiment with shutter speeds to get the amount of blur you are happy with. A few other ideas is intentionally overexposing or underexposing these can be great effects if done in the right space to capture the mood of the architecture.
Architectural photography is often about lines, angles, details, colors, shapes and materials and textures, exploit what you believe the most important element of the building. To keep your lines straight be sure to turn on your camera grids on this is also helpful for following the Rule of Thirds. Straightening out your lines can also be done in the post production phase (I frequently rotate and crop photos in Photoshop).
A big blue sky is great but it can be boring. On my trip to Machu Picchu I was disappointed when I awoke to a rainy overcast day however I realized this fog and rain added a lot of mystery and drama to my photo, above.
Clouds / Overcast / Fog / Sun – use light and its qualities to your advantage no matter what it is.
7. Location and Approach
There are so many buildings where the approach and procession to it is worth documenting.
Build the suspense – don’t give it all away.
8. Night and Light
Don’t be afraid to capture architecture at night, you will likely need a tripod but a building can completely transform from day to night and that night shot may be amazing. Architects spend a lot of time planning what a building will look like at night. These photos are more challenging my suggestion is turn off your flash and increase your ISO and aperture, also I also try to get these photos just after sunset when the lights are on but it is not complete darkness – again a tripod is crucial for a perfect night photo!
You don’t need to get the whole building, editing can result in an abstract photo emphasizing architectural elements and strong features. The ROM by Daniel Libeskind, above, is made of sloping jagged forms – I tried to focus on that aspect of the architecture only and cutting out all the other elements on the building.
10. Unexpected & Dramatic
Many times the most interesting architecture photos are when they are taken from an angle you would not expect or think of. On the left is Frank Gehry’s ‘Fred & Ginger’ building in Prague when was looking at this building I was more interested in understanding how the glass was being supported but I soon noticed I was in fact looking up Ginger’s ‘skirt’ so i took advantage of the unexpected photo opportunity. The photo on the left is the John Hancock Building in Chicago, I love the form of this building and the drama of standing at its base.
Here are two photography resources I have found very helpful: