Getting started in Architectural Photography

Wanting to try your hand and eye at architectural photography? Buildings are a huge part of our lives, and have been for centuries.

The majority of us spend most of their time in buildings, without really stepping outside and considering the potential art of the structure that surrounds them. Architectural photography highlights the beauty of the buildings that we live in, work in, and spend our time in.

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There’s a lot more to photography than meets the eye, no matter what the subject of the photo is, or the equipment used is. Photography is an art that a lot of thought goes into. If you study some of the most famous works of photography, you will notice a similar pattern, regardless of the subject. A great photo of anything is taken with many criteria in mind. A lot of factors go into a photo of a building that will make it a visually appealing work of art. You want the photo not to distract the viewer with gaudy over processing and unnecessary detail, but simultaneously to not be boring. Many of the best photos of a building have an air of simplicity to them, while highlighting the best features of the building.

Remember that in a good photo, composition is key. You don’t want to take a photo of a building that contains too many other subjects. While a few people or extra subjects here and there are okay, it is best to make sure the building you are photographing takes up the most space in the picture. Your viewer is looking at your photo because they want to see a picture of a building that they already know is beautiful – your job is simply to highlight the beauty of the photo. You are the messenger, so to speak. The photographer doesn’t usually create the art – they just document it. That being said, make sure your photo does not contain too many distractions from the building.

A composition term that a new photographer will hear a lot in the world of photography and visual art is “the rule of thirds”. The rule of thirds is a handy rule of thumb, a guide to visual composition that never fails to make a photo appealing on a base level. The rule of thirds essentially states that a good photo has good proportions. The subject of the photo will not be dead-centre, but rather placed on the dividing lines of an imaginary nine square grid that is visualised over the area. This adds visual interest and balance to a photo. An example of this rule in action in architectural photography would be a photo of a farmhouse closer to the left or right frame of a photo, and a cornfield or forest taking up the rest of the space. The subject, as opposed to being dead centre, is off to the side instead of being dead centre. The forest or cornfield provides a pattern, some added visual interest.

If your building has a lot of detail and interesting patterns (for example, a house with latticed windows or beautiful stained glass), make sure that the photo has a good balance of visual detail and empty space. While a picture of stained glass windows in a cathedral can be good, you need contrast for the human eye to properly appreciate the detail (also known as “white space“). So next time you are photographing something detailed, try to compose the photo in a way that highlights the detail, but does not overwhelm the viewer. While some photographers will buy very expensive equipment to take photos, it isn’t always necessary.

The equipment doesn’t make the photo – the photographer’s talent does.

This is especially true in this day and age, where you can edit any photo you take with a computer, regardless of your equipment. That being said, there are some useful tools that you can supplement your work with. A tripod can be a good tool, regardless of the camera you have. A tripod will make your shot very steady and blur-free. This is great for a straight-on shot of a building that highlights not only the building, but the space around it. It is also a great idea to pick up some different types of lenses. A popular lens in the architectural photography community is a telephoto lens. This is essentially a lens that gives your camera an added zoom feature, without compromising the quality of your photo. It is great for capturing those inaccessible parts of a large or tall building that you want to photograph.

While many excellent architectural photos are taken in colour, black and white can be a great way to showcase a building’s structure without distracting the viewer. If you think a building is interesting not for its colours, but for its shape and silhouette, try taking a high-contrast black and white photo. This will showcase the important parts of the building without looking gaudy.

Architectural photography is not only a beautiful form of art, but an important work of documentation. In hundreds of years, some of our beloved buildings might not be standing. With a good photo, the building will remain in our memories for a lifetime. Just make sure to consider basic guidelines, so your photo looks the best it can.


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