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The Ultimate Guide to Architecture Photography

National Museum of Qatar

Iwan Baan + Finbarr Fallon

Architecture is all around us every day, and it is a very popular subject. It also covers a wide range of subjects, from skyscrapers to small huts. Every day, no matter where we go, we are surrounded by architecture, and it is no surprise that it is such a popular trend in photography. Today we’re going to give you a guide that you can follow to take great photos of architecture. If you want to find more guides and tips, go to Skylum’s blog, there’s a lot of interesting stuff there, even about how to take a good selfie.

Old and Modern Architecture

There are two different approaches to photographing old and modern architecture:

  • When a straight and simple composition is used when photographing old architecture, good photos are usually obtained showing the natural beauty and elegance of the buildings. It’s usually a good idea to incorporate some of the surrounding landscape into the shot to make the photo of the building more free-flowing.
  • When shooting new architecture, a more modern, abstract style is welcome. Experiment by using a wide-angle lens to get an unusual perspective or by shooting buildings from unusual angles. Also, because modern buildings are often pressed up against each other, framing a narrow frame is acceptable because it doesn’t make the shot unnatural.

Practice will allow you to adjust your eyes to take pictures of architecture. This will allow you to shoot subjects more interestingly, avoiding trite compositional techniques and putting more personality into each shot.

Using the Landscape

The answer to the question of whether to include the landscape surrounding the subject depends on the situation and the content you want to convey to the viewer. Ask yourself if the surrounding landscape will complement or detract from the subject in the photo. If the landscape complements the building, take a wider shot, and if it doesn’t, crop it.

For example, there is a beautiful old building in the middle of a modern city. If you wanted to convey a sense of contradiction, you should have included modern buildings in the shot. However, if we want to focus on the beauty of the old architecture, then the adjacent modern buildings become a distraction and should be cropped.

 Green oasis of CapitaSpring tower in Singapore

Long Focal Lengths and Details

If you shoot a building at too close a distance, the walls in the photo may appear distorted, as if the entire building is tumbling backward. Although this effect can be quite interesting in itself, we usually try to reduce its appearance so that it doesn’t distract viewers. 

Using telephoto lenses and photographing architecture from afar, you can get straight lines of the building walls. Also, by using a telephoto lens, you can achieve a unique abstract effect. By shooting from a long distance with a long lens, you will get a building with a leveled perspective and parallel lines.

Most architecture contains small details, such as ornate windows with beautiful mounts and decorative cornices, which are interesting to photograph on their own. Focus your attention on such details and compose your shot to emphasize these architectural features.

Lighting Features

Lighting is the key to shooting architecture. Of course, we cannot choose the location and orientation of the building in space, so the question of lighting often automatically falls away, and we have to make do with the conditions that nature provides:

  • Side lighting generally enables you to get the best architectural shots. It provides sufficient light, but also casts long, interesting shadows on the façade of the building, highlighting surface details and giving volume.
  • Backlighting is the worst way to shoot architecture because it makes the surfaces of objects look shapeless and dark. One of the best ways to do this is to take the sky out of the picture and use a slow shutter speed to get at least some detail out of the building. You can also shoot the building just as a silhouette or wait until it gets a little darker.

Another important point is that even the most boring architecture can come to life at night. Many modern buildings were originally designed for the night. When darkness falls, these buildings are illuminated by dozens of lamps, decorating the facades with colorful lights and casting bizarre shadows on the surface of the building. When shooting architecture at night, be sure to use a tripod and set the ISO to the lowest possible value to reduce digital noise.

More Than Just Buildings

When shooting architecture, it’s easy to get hung up on the idea that architecture is just about buildings. While this is not far from the truth, in reality, most man-made structures fall under the category of architectural photography: bridges, towers, windmills, monuments, and even lampposts. Look at shooting differently to take interesting photos that most people will just miss.

In addition to photographing the outside of a building, photographers often take pictures inside the building as well. The main problem here is the low level of light, in addition, with the large size of the room it is useless to use a flash (and sometimes it is simply forbidden). In this type of photography, you need to use a fast lens, increase the ISO value or set the camera on something solid and stationary, using the shutter timer to take the picture.

Remember that you can always use a photo editor to take away some of the imperfections. We recommend you use Luminar Neo because its AI-powered tools allow you to do even the most complex tasks in just a couple of clicks. It makes post-processing much easier and more enjoyable for the photographer.