The funny thing with architecture photography is that its biggest benefit – your subjects don’t move – can also be its biggest drawback – you can’t move your subjects! Never fear. We’ve compiled a list of our 16 best architectural photography tips to help you start thinking more abstractly and taking more creative pictures of buildings.
Tip 1: Think different
Look for intriguing and unusual viewpoints, or try to pick out surprising and interesting details to avoid getting a collection of samey ‘chocolate box’-style pictures of buildings.
Tip 2: After dark
Some buildings really come to life after darkness falls, when they’re lit up with dramatic floodlights or specialist lighting displays (see our 7 night photography tips for the architectural photographer).
Tip 3: Set a narrow aperture
When shooting architecture, it pays to use a narrow aperture to ensure that everything is sharp. Architects love line and detail, and architectural photos should reflect this.
An aperture of f/13 or f/16 provides the perfect compromise between depth of field on the one hand, and image quality on the other (most lenses have a ‘sweet spot’ in the middle of their aperture range, and aren’t quite as sharp at the high end of this range – (learn How to find your lens’ sweet spot)). An ISO of 200 or lower is also essential to ensure grain-free shots.
Tip 4: Look for shape and detail
Use your viewfinder to frame – and photograph – different shot options; it’s often hard to tell whether a composition will work simply by looking through your camera’s viewfinder (find out How to use your camera’s viewfinder). Look out for repetitive shapes and details and zoom in and out to isolate them.
Strong diagonal lines can also help to make your shots look more dynamic. For more abstract images, try tilting your camera, taking care to eliminate any elements that may provide too much in the way of context, as this will reduce the abstract feel of your shots.
Tip 5: Handheld or tripod?
Architectural photos tend to be shot using a tripod, but if you’re shooting abstracts, shooting handheld makes it easier to move around and try out different angles. If your lens has image stabilisation, be sure to turn it on.
When you press your shutter release, adopt a wide stance, tuck your arms in to support your camera, and take a few deep breaths to steady yourself to ensure sharp shots. If you are using a tripod, a ball head, such as the Manfrotto 352, offers more freedom of movement than a traditional pan-and-tilt head (see our 4 tips for sharper shots when using a tripod).
Tip 6: Wait for it…
The great thing about architecture is that your subject won’t move, which means you have time to get the shot you want.
If the light is changing or your shot includes some clouds, it pays to be patient: for our finished image we waited until the large cloud in the middle of the frame was lined up with the lamppost on top of the building. This added another compositional element, as the cloud now leads the viewer’s eye into the frame and towards the central cylinder of the car park.
Tip 7: Use a polarising filter
If you only ever own one filter, make sure it’s a circular polariser. You never know when you’re going to find yourself shooting white clouds against a blue sky, and a circular polariser will really deepen the blues and brighten the whites.
The effect is at its most dramatic when shooting at right angles to the sun – if you’re shooting with the sun right behind or in front of you, you’ll hardly notice the difference between unpolarised and polarised images.
Tip 8: Carry some ID!
When you’re shooting in public places, it’s only a matter of time before somebody in a hi-vis jacket – or worse, a police uniform – wanders over to ask you what you’re doing. More often than not they’re just seeking reassurance, so if possible, it’s a good idea to carry some ID with you – this could be a business card or even a photography club membership card!
There’s no guarantee that you won’t get moved on, but it least it’ll give you the chance to convince them that your intentions are honourable. For more information on photographing in public places, check out our Ultimate guide to Photographers’ Rights.
Tip 9: Keep your distance
Shooting buildings from close up with a wide-angle lens makes them look like the sides are leaning in towards the top, and you also run the risk of barrel distortion. Try moving back and shoot with a more moderate focal length (find out How to correct leaning buildings in Photoshop).
Tip 10: On the up
Shooting from ground level, you can still get perspective errors if the camera is angled upwards. Look for higher ground or for something to climb on, to keep the camera as level as possible.
Tip 11: Level best
A tripod can be particularly helpful for shooting architecture, as you can fine-tune positioning with a spirit level to avoid making buildings look like they’re leaning over (unless, of course, you’re photographing the Leaning Tower of Pisa!). You can also use a narrower aperture without worrying about camera-shake caused by slow shutter speeds (learn how to Fake a slow shutter speed in Photoshop).
Tip 12: Time is of the essence
Bear in mind that the sun moves from east to west across the sky throughout the day, so pick the ideal time when sunlight is angled nicely on the building you want to shoot.
Tip 13: Golden hour
For a short while before sunset, the low sun in the sky gives a magical, golden light and long shadows that can make for especially beautiful architectural shooting.
Tip 14: Set the scene
A building’s surroundings are often just as important as the building itself, so use these to best effect for a grander composition as well as to give a sense of scale (see our 10 rules for photo composition – and why they work).
Tip 15: Perfect day
A dramatic sky can make an enormous difference to architectural shots, so try to avoid uniform blue skies as well as dull, overcast days.
Tip 16: RAW advantage
Shooting in RAW pays dividends at the editing stage, where you can fine-tune white balance, exposure settings, sharpness and other parameters to bring out the best in the shot.