Tips for architectural photography

Have you ever studied your surroundings admiring the creativity and beauty in the urban landscapes of our cities? It takes some skill and technique to get these shots just right and capture cityscapes in the best light and angle. SmugMug have teamed up with Julia Anna Gospodarou to inspire you to take out your camera and shoot your city.

  1. Think about composition first.
    Composition is the first thing one will notice in your image. It is the skeleton of your image and it is what can make or break a photograph. Composition is what can give you an award winning image or a so-so one. There are a few things that, if you do them, they can help your image becomes more interesting.  First, stay out of the centre of the image with your subject; unless you are shooting symmetrical objects where centring them will give your image more power. Going off centre will give more dynamism to your photo, while creating a story. Have in mind the rule of thirds and know that the best spot to place your subject is the lower right third of the image. Remember that disposing your subjects on a diagonal in the frame is a very good way of drawing the attention to them. Use leading lines, play with patterns, break the patterns, play with shadows and light as main subject, think of the relation you create between positive and negative space in your image (positive space is your buildings, negative space is, for instance, the sky).
  2. Look at the volumes when you shoot architecture.
    In architecture volumes is what it is all about. Volumes and light, or rather seeing how light falls on the volumes and showing it in your images. The light falling on the volumes will emphasise their shape, colour, texture and materials. This will give you ideas and help you compose your shot. Look for interesting intersections of lines and surfaces, look for overlapping volumes, for volumes that complete one another or that contrast with one another. Try to see your subjects as being composed of simple volumes and search for the angle from which the dominant lines of their structure can create a harmonious composition. It’s all about how to translate the three-dimensional world you see into a two-dimensional image while still showing the depth; seeing the volumes is what will help you with that.
  3. Learn to understand how the light helps your architectural photograph.
    Light is not always the same, there are different types of light that will create different looks in your images, showing different aspects of a building. A soft light, as when the sky is overcast, will show all the details clearly, without much contrast but without much drama either; the sweet light of early morning or late afternoon will give you golden colour, beautiful long shadows, and will also be good to show the details in a three-dimensional way, due to the shadows created by the position of the sun at these hours. The midday light is a harsh light that can give you interesting contrasty images, with a play of light and shadows, but it can also make the details less obvious since the light is too bright and it can make them fade. A difficult kind of light for architecture is back-light, what happens when the sun is behind the building and it makes difficult keeping an exposure balance between the building and the sky. To overcome this situation you can either shoot the building as a silhouette, shoot a portion of the building and keep out the sky, or take 2 shots, one exposing for the building, one for the sky and blend them in post-processing. What you have to keep in mind in all these cases is that there is no such a thing as bad light – each kind of light is an occasion to be creative.
  4. Use a polarising filter to make your image pop.
    One of the best tools in architectural photography, the polariser, enhances colours, contrasts, removes haze and unwanted reflections from glass and metal surfaces and most of all, it intensifies the colour of the sky, making it bluer and bringing out the clouds that will be more visible and have more depth. In addition, if you work in black and white, your backs and your grey tones will be richer when you convert an image shot with a polarizing filter.
  5. Instead of taking a photo of the whole building, go abstract.
    In abstract architectural photography, the attention is centered on details, on portions of the structure with aesthetic interest and not on the whole structure. Modern architecture offers far more subjects for abstract interpretations than classical and traditional architectural subjects do. This happens because the shapes in modern architecture are more clean, simple, minimalistic, the textures and materials more evident and the volumes are more unexpected and original so they can offer unique images by capturing surprising points of view and combinations of structural elements.  To create that original look that will make a good abstract architectural photograph, look for unusual and interesting angles, captivating details taken out of the context, repetitions, patterns, alternating light and shadow, graphical elements. In two words, in abstract architectural photography you’re free to interpret the building in any way you want, just don’t limit yourself to the traditional interpretation of a building. My best tip for creating interesting compositions and surprising abstract architectural images: tilt your camera and play with volumes, you will surely find an original view of the object you shoot.
  6. Try architectural street photography.
    What it this? It is when you not only shoot the built environment but you also add people as a presence to it. It gives the image and the architectural object scale, it adds movement, it helps the eye focus on something familiar, the people. No need for the people to be recognisable, actually it’s preferable to have them in the image just as a presence and not as individuals, so they can complete the architectural background and not compete with it.
  7. Shoot architecture at night.
    Night Architectural Photography can give you magical images either in color or black and white. When you shoot at night, besides the volumes of the buildings and the sky there is one more element that will add interest to your photos: the light, either the light inside the buildings or the light the buildings are lit with. A classical and very good subject to shoot at night are cityscapes, and that is because then you can see the play of light in a more impressive way than if you shot only one building. One of the best times to shoot night architectural photography is at dusk. The sky then has a cobalt blue color that will look great and will complement the orange color of the lights, and it will give you a beautiful gray too, if you convert to B&W. One thing to keep in mind is to scout the location to shoot by daylight before going there at night so you find the best spots to shoot, the best compositions and you get to know the place. Another important detail is to use a tripod when you shoot at night since you will need longer than usual exposures and to also use a remote control to activate your  shutter so you don’t cause vibrations to the camera.
  8. Focus on details.
    After the object shots and the cityscapes, another good subject for architectural photography are details.  Architectural details are not there accidentally. They are placed in the place you found them for a reason. A well-chosen architectural detail can tell you the whole story of the building. This is why choosing the right architectural detail is so important for how the final image will communicate to the viewer. Always try to show the details that reveal the character of the building, the ones that tell you their story. If you look well and for long enough at a building before starting to shoot, you will find them. A great lens for shooting details is the long lens because it helps you isolate the detail from the surroundings and it can “crop” it out from the larger building. Using shallow depth of field can also help to focus on the detail and emphasise it.
  9. Convert your architectural images to black and white.
    A good black and white architectural image can be much more impressive than a  colour one and it can show much more of the essence of a building, which is the volumes it is composed from and the light that brings them to life. In a black and white image you can see easier the shapes, the depth of the scene, the interactions between volumes and the way the image is composed. By removing the colour you move towards showing the shape and the structure of the image. You can see more clearly the light, you can enhance it to bring out the elements you consider more important, you can even change the light and implicitly the relationship between volumes. Creating a good B&W architectural photograph is not only about capturing it in the camera, but mostly about processing it, especially in the case of fine art photography, so you will need to spend more in the digital darkroom to create it than in the case of a colour photograph, but the results will be more impressive. You can use to process it software like Photoshop and B&W conversion plugins like Topaz B&W Effects 2. Always keep in mind when you work in B&W that you work with light and that enhancing/changing is what will create your image.
  10. Shoot long exposure architectural photography.
    Besides converting your architectural photographs to B&W, another way to make your images stand out and to create a very special fine art look is to shoot architecture with the technique of daylight long exposure. Daylight long exposure, as opposed to night long exposure is an intentional type of long exposure meant to create some effects and not needed for the image to be captured in a correct way. To create this type of photography you will need to use ND (neutral density) filters applied to the lens to slow your shutter speed down to 4-5 minutes per exposure, or more. The goal is to capture the moving elements in the scene (as clouds or water) in a way that will show them very smooth as if they wouldn’t have details, in order for them to make a contrast with the immobile architectural subject, creating a surreal and unexpected effect. To shoot long exposure you will need to use a tripod and a remote release, just like when shooting at night. Also, combining long exposure with B&W and doing the right processing can transform your images from simple photography to art.

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