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How to Create Breathtaking Architectural Photographs

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You don’t have to be a career photographer to create dramatic and breathtaking architectural photographs. With a little practice the weekend photographer can learn to create eye-popping images that look as though they had been captured by a professional. You needn’t have the latest, greatest or most expensive equipment. The most important aspect of photography – what sets the great photographs apart from the good photographs – is how the subject matter is seen and captured onto film or onto the page.

I will share with you some some tips and suggestions to get you started. This guide will apply to other aspects of photography as well. Photography is a skill that can be developed and improved without much difficulty. Practice makes perfect, so get out there and click away!

Shoot from many angles.

Walk around the building that you want to photograph and take pictures from all around. The facade, sides and backs are all worth individual attention. Architects often create their edifices so that no two sides are alike. A favorite photograph may not be the recognizable front, but rather an off-center shot taken from behind. If you are at the base of a tall building, point your lens to the sky and shoot from the bottom up. Likewise, if you are in a large city and happen to be on top of a tall building such as the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower, if you can stand it, look down with your camera and shoot the building from a bird’s eye view.

Play around and have fun. With today’s digital photography we do not have the cost-prohibitive expense of developing roll upon roll of film which allows us now to have the freedom to experiment and try new things with our cameras and our lenses. In the end, if we don’t like the way our pictures have turned out we simply delete them. The more pictures you take of a subject, the better your chances of ending up with photographs that you will like.

Why are you taking pictures?

Photographs can serve many things to many people. Most importantly they capture a moment, a memory in your life. Do you want your picture to look like a post card, or do you want it to be more creative, like a work of art? Your photograph will serve as a memory in your visual journal – it will tell the story not only of your journey, but it will capture a special moment forever. It is up to you to figure out how you best want to record that moment.  Are you visiting a new city? Maybe the building you are shooting is a small part of the backdrop.

In a bustling city, the people, taxis and traffic can help to create the overall mood. In the country perhaps trees, a farm or a fence completes the scene. The addition of these other elements contributes to the overall telling of your story. The old saying is true, a picture does indeed tell a thousand words!

Consider your light source.

A building’s overall look and feel will change throughout the day. Think of the sun and the importance she plays. When she’s rising or setting she will cast dramatic shadows that will enhance and play off the natural architectural lines and details. Perhaps her light will bounce and reflect off the many windows to create a feeling of fluidity and movement.

Buildings shot at night, lit up by artificial light from within and from the streets below often seem softer and more regal. If you can, try to shoot the same building at different times throughout the day while focusing in on different areas. You will be amazed at how dramatically different the same structure will appear.

Get ready for your close-up.

Don’t be afraid to zoom in. Take a close look at all the individual detail that the naked eye misses. Pay attention to lines, curves and movement. Zone in on textural details such as brick, stone, wood, metal, and glass. Is the building old? Is the trim ornate? Are there gargoyles or other decorative creatures and elements?

These details are beautiful and often unseen by the naked eye. Most importantly they tell a story and your camera is there to tell the story through your eye – your point of view.  Here we are looking at not one building but two. In the photo above a simple keyhole is captured and enlarged and what is revealed is color and history and a wealth of textures.

Think outside the box, or in this case inside the lens.

Walk around the building with your eye in the lens. Zoom in to capture images and views that are overlooked by many. Capture elements like windows and doors. Try shooting into an open window or door. Zoom out to capture a scene.  Look around the building to see what else is relevant. Is there a magnificent sunrise? Are there people walking in and out of the building?

What are these people doing? Are they strolling leisurely or are they in a rush? Often you will want to focus solely on the buildings but there will be times when you need characters, setting and scenery to help tell your story. This happens to be one of my favorite photographs taken in New York City on Fifth Avenue. The building is iconic. The brand is legendary. This small snippet creates, perhaps, an even more dramatic effect than had the famous store been shot in her entirety.

Black and white.

Black and white photographs are powerful and dramatic. They set a mood and set a scene. They evoke feeling and emotion that are often missing from a color photograph. A black and white photograph can create an additional sense of color and movement. The focus is fully on the subject and therefore creating less noise and distraction that often accompany colored photographs.

There are many free online sites such as Picasa or PicMonkey that allow you to play with the color and do minor edits to your own pictures. As you change your picture from color to black and white look closely at the two. You will be amazed at how vastly different the two photographs will appear. In color, this was a busy and distracted photograph.

Shoot off center.

Many photographers believe in following a popular rule in photography known as the “Rule of Thirds.” This simple rule can make an ordinary photograph extraordinary. Using your eyes, scan the scene and divide it into three sections both horizontally and vertically. When composing your shot, simply place your important elements either along these lines, or where the lines intersect as opposed to the center of the frame. This works best when trying to shoot the building in its landscape, but do try this method when you are shooting close-ups as well. You will be amazed at how different the composition appears.

Equipment and tools; what you need to take great photographs.

If you’re serious about wanting to take some professional looking photographs I would steer clear of the point and shoot cameras. There are some wonderful DSLRs (digital single lens reflect) on the market that are priced to accommodate any bank account. Technological advances are so great that the simplest, most basic camera can yield the most spectacular results. A kit lens is a good lens to begin with. It will capture most scenic shots and allow for some detailed images within a fairly close range.

An average kit lens is an 18-55 millimeter lens and most professionals would advise to start here. Play around with the camera and the lens. You’ll notice that you may favor a wider angle, more scenic shot, or you tend to zero in on the more minute detail. When you have a sense of preference you may want to opt for a telephoto or zoom lens or a wide angle lens. More often than not it’s the lens that will have the greatest effect on your photography – more so than your camera. For a novice I might suggest going with the least expensive camera and spend your money on the lens. A good camera is an investment few regret.

Other accessories you may want might include a tripod or a flash for nighttime shooting. When traveling you’ll most likely do a lot of walking and you won’t want to be bogged down by heavy equipment. If you have a small point and shoot or an iPhone, you can always supplement with those. I continue to be amazed by the quality of the photographs that my iPhone produces. When traveling I make sure to bring a back up battery as well as a charger. There’s nothing more disappointing than having your camera die as you are about to shoot your best picture ever!

Take as many pictures as you can, from as many angles as you can from as many points of view. Let your camera click away. Play with the light. Play with the composition and look at the overall picture as well as the most intimate of details. Practice makes perfect and soon you will find a style that’s all your own.

If you have 25 pictures of the Taj Mahal you are more apt to have a couple of really great picture than you would have had you just taken 1 or 2 in passing. Photography is a skill that can be cultivated and perfected. You’ll be amazed at by how much your photography will improve in a relatively short period of time.

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