Architecture photography has a long history. In fact, the world’s oldest surviving photo, View from the Window at Le Gras, is an example of architectural photography—and it was taken in the 1820s!
The medium has remained popular for all these years, and that’s no surprise when you consider the significance of architecture. Buildings do much more than provide us with shelter. They are also works of art and long-lasting cultural symbols.
Building photography may have first taken off as a way to document buildings, but along the way, it has evolved into its own diverse art form. This guide will teach you about the basics of and give you some architecture photography tips to help you excel.
What Is Architectural photography?
Architecture photography (also referred to as building photography or structure photography) generally means photography that focuses on buildings. It can include shooting building exteriors and interiors, as well as bridges, other structures, and cityscapes.
There are many photographers who capture stunning architecture photography. Some of them do it as a purely artistic pursuit, while others make a career of it by shooting for clients such as architecture firms, advertising firms, and magazines.
But no matter if you are planning on pursuing a career in the field or just looking to expand your portfolio with some architecture photography, a good place to start is making sure you have the right equipment.
Architecture Photography Gear
Best Camera for Architectural photography
One good thing about building photography is your subject does an excellent job at staying still. So if you’re looking for a camera specifically for shooting structures, that means you don’t have to worry about features aimed at action or portrait photographers. That includes things like fast continuous shooting modes or face-tracking autofocus systems.
Instead, just look for a decent DSLR or another interchangeable-lens camera. DSLRs with full frame sensors have long been the standard for architecture photography as they can provide high-quality images and strong perspective control.
Best Lens for Architectural photography
It’s best to have a variety of architecture photography lenses at your disposal. Prime lenses offer sharp images with less distortion while zoom lenses make it easier to capture close views of some architectural features that would otherwise be hard to reach (such as a gargoyle on a building ledge).
Tilt-shift lenses are a popular type of architecture photography lens. These lenses allow you to adjust the angle of the lens independently of the camera. This is especially useful for avoiding the perspective distortion that causes vertical lines to seem to converge when you’re shooting a tall building.
Tilt-shift lenses can also be used to create a miniaturization effect which can add some extra oomph to your architecture photography portfolio.
Wide angle lenses are also useful for structure photography. They can be a big help when you’re trying to fit a huge structure into the frame. They do have a downside: very wide angled lenses cause more distortion around the edges (which makes a building’s straight lines look curved). However, you’ll also have more space to play with when it comes to cropping, and the distortion can easily be fixed in editing software.
For more details on choosing the right equipment, check out our upcoming guide to architecture photography gear!
How to Capture Great Architecture Photography
You shouldn’t have trouble finding possible subjects for building photography in any city. You can start with buildings or structures that grab your attention or have some meaning to you. But if you’re looking for ideas, here are a few architecture photography tips for finding locations.
Often, architecture photographers focus on shooting things like government buildings, museums, and historic landmarks. These types of structures are usually able to offer interesting or impressive architecture. For some inspiration, check out these examples of architecture photography from around the world.
Also, old building photography makes for captivating images. That includes well-maintained historic sites that offer examples of classic architecture, as well as run-down or abandoned buildings that show their age in different ways.
To help you find good locations for building photography near you, there is a variety of mobile apps and web-based tools that make it easy. One good example is Shot Hot Spot. This website uses geo-tagging information from sites like Flickr to figure out popular photo locations. Once you enter your town or city, you can filter the results to show only architecture photography hot spots, and it can help you find an interesting building or structure you may have missed.
Get to Know Your Subject
Once you choose a building or structure to shoot, you should spend some time to get to know it. Start by simply walking around the outside of the building and exploring the inside (if possible). Also, consider doing some research on the building and its history. Learn about how it was built and how it’s been used.
All of this information can give direction to your architecture photos and help you decide what kind of style you want to achieve. For instance, if the building has a long and storied history, you might want to experiment with black and white architecture photography. It can lend a timeless feeling to your shots and bring the history of the structure to the viewer’s mind.
During your research, you may also discover a unique or interesting architectural feature that you can showcase in your photos.
Try Shooting at Various Times
To capture some different looks when shooting structure photography, try revisiting the site to shoot at different times of the day and in different weather conditions.
For example, try shooting at sunrise or sunset to capture some golden hues, window reflections, and long shadows. Or visit at night to capture the structure in its artificial lighting.
Cloudy skies, snowfall, or some rain-soaked surfaces can add interest and dramatically change the mood of your photos, so don’t limit yourself to shooting on sunny days. Lastly, if you plan on including any people in your building photography, you might find the way people use the building and its surroundings changes depending on the day and time. So just by revisiting the site, you can find new photo opportunities.
Look at it from a New Perspective
When it comes to building photography, your first instinct might be to try to capture exterior shots of the building in its entirety. But to start taking better building photography, you should strive to find a unique perspective.
So try getting close and focusing on a single detail to create some abstract architecture photography. Or try filling the entire frame with a large building so the viewer can’t tell where it begins or ends. Also, make sure you try going inside the building and shooting some interiors.
While you’re experimenting with different perspectives, keep in mind some of the basic rules of photo composition to create interesting images. For example, find an archway or opening you can use to frame a shot. Or use the architecture to create leading lines, symmetry, and repetition of shapes.
Once you break free of trying to capture a standard shot of the whole building, you’ll have a lot more freedom to get creative.
Include Some People
Although building photography usually focuses on buildings, you should consider including people in some of your shots. After all, architecture only exists because of humans.
By including people, your architecture photography can bring to mind the relationship between humans and architecture, and illuminate how people use it. Including people in the composition can also breathe life into an otherwise sterile scene.
If you find people in the scene are a distraction from the architecture, try shooting with a long exposure so they become a blur. These types of shots tend to emphasize the timelessness of buildings, as you can see the structure sitting still while the blurred people convey the movement of the crowds.
Overcoming Challenges in Architecture photography
HDR is the Architecture Photographer’s Friend
High dynamic range (HDR) images are well suited to artistic building photography. When used correctly, HDR photography can add drama and creative flair to your exterior shots. But besides making for some stunning images, HDR photography can also help you overcome some challenges with shooting architecture.
With architecture photography, you’ll typically be relying on existing lighting at the location, and that can cause problems. For example, let’s say you are shooting the interior of a building but also want to capture some of the details you can see outside through a window. The interior lighting contrasting with conditions outside might make it difficult. But creating an HDR image allows you to make sure everything is exposed properly.
Dealing with Distortion
Lens distortion can ruin a great architecture photo. It can create unnatural warping that puts things out of proportion or makes the straight lines of a building seem to curve.
Thankfully, with editing software, you can solve this problem at the click of a button. Programs like Photoshop and Lightroom include lens profiles that will compensate for distortion and let you tweak your images until they look just as they did with the naked eye.
How to Remove People
If you’re trying to shoot a building that’s a popular landmark, you may find there’s always someone walking through your shot. And if you’re trying to get a clear view of the structure without people, it can be a real challenge. However, there is a way to do it in editing and it takes advantage of the fact the structure isn’t going to move.
Start by taking a series of photos without moving your camera or tripod. As people move through the scene, you should be able to capture an unobstructed view of your subject in bits and pieces. Then you can layer all of the shots in Photoshop and erase the people from each layer, revealing the layers underneath with a clear view.
Know When to Use Photoshop
As with any type of photography, post-production is an important step in creating high-quality images. So having an understanding of how to edit images in Photoshop or other editing software is essential for any architecture photographer.
It’s also important to understand when it’s ok to use these photo editing tools. If you are planning on creating abstract architecture photography as an artistic project, then you can manipulate your photos as much as you want. But structure photography is often used for the documentation of structures, and in those cases, people will expect your images to represent reality as much as possible.
For example, let’s say you’re shooting building photography that will be used by the building’s designer as a submission for an award. Removing an unsightly design element from those photos would probably be a no-no.
But there’s some grey area, as in most cases it’s an accepted practice to make minor changes (such as removing a distracting electrical socket). So if you’re shooting architecture photography for a client, it’s a good idea to talk to them about what kinds of photo edits are acceptable.
Pursuing a Career in Architecture photography
Now that you know some of the basics of building photography, you may have decided it’s a career path you’d like to explore. Well, getting started on that path may be easier than you think.
If you’re looking for a way to develop your skills, it’s worth looking into architecture photography courses, whether online or through a school. There are also many free resources for architecture photography tutorials.
Finally, the most important thing you can do is start building an online portfolio that includes a variety of structure photography. Once you have a website that shows potential clients your skills, you can start seeking out gigs.
Want to learn more about architecture photography? Check out these features!
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Michael Wolf’s 5 Tips for Shooting Urban Landscapes
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