Architectural photography, whether classic or contemporary, can be both rewarding and challenging. Figuring out how to get the ultimate shot isn’t always easy, even though you try, try, and try again.
There are a lot of factors that play into getting the ultimate shot — some controllable and some not — so here a few tips you should know before you even begin.
While some of these may seem like common sense, they may not be what you think about each time you ‘point and shoot’ your camera at a building. However, taking all these tips into consideration will surely help you get a frame-worthy photo.
1) Always Have Your Camera and Location Ready
If you really crave the best photograph, then perhaps you should consider carrying your camera with you everywhere— you never know when inspiration will strike. If your location is already chosen beforehand, then be sure you are prepared for that particular location. If the building is a business, check to see what hours they are opened.
You should also check with the owners of the building or property, or possibly the city to see if you need a permit to take photos. Not knowing could get you into trouble, impeding the opportunity to get your dream photo.
Lastly, take a look at the weather report for the location you are heading to. Depending on the type of shot you want —sunny, cloudy, rainy, stormy, clear – the weather could ruin your day.
2) Invest in the Right Photography Equipment
It is most important that you have the right gear with you for the job you’re going to do. When it comes to architectural photography, a wide angle, fish eye or ultra-wide angle lens is the best option.
These types of lenses allow you to get a dramatic composition, and provides you with the ability to fit the entire frame of the building into one shot. However, not all buildings will fit into every shot.
This is where a camera with panoramic format can be beneficial. While some cameras offer in-shot stitching of panoramic views, you might want to consider the use of Hugin or PTgui, which are two types of software that allow you to stitch panoramic shots together after the shoot. This is also beneficial if you are shooting with a Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera or DSLR.
3) Don’t Rush Perfection
One of the biggest tips for shooting amazing architectural subjects is to take your time. Make sure you have a large block of time set aside in your schedule for the shoot, possibly days.
Not only does this give you enough time to get the shots you want, but it allows you the opportunity to explore the building.
You want to give yourself enough time to walk around and look at all sides of the building to discover which area will give you the best —and most unique — shot of the architectural structure.
4) Shoot in Different Weather Conditions
As we mentioned earlier, paying attention to the weather report is a great way to ensure the perfect shot. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can only shoot when the sun is shining.
In fact, you may be surprised to find that the best photos are taken when a storm is brewing overhead, and the sky is overcast. The swirling clouds, rain misting down, and possibility of a rainbow can really intensify the atmosphere and increase the quality of the photo.
It’s a great idea to return to a location several times during different weather conditions to give yourself enough shots of the building to figure out just which one results in the ultimate shot.
5) Pay Attention to the Light
You might be surprised at how different a building and its surroundings can look when the sun goes down at night, or disappears behind a cloud. Take shots during the day from different angles of the building to see how they look.
Then, return at night and see what has changed about the building and it’s environment. You will find that as the sun sets, different shadows appear and the building may even look a different color or take on a new appearance or facade.
Furthermore, the direction of the sun compared to you and the building can make a difference. It can create shadows and reflections, and increase textural elements, as well as contrast. For instance, if you want to create a silhouette as the sunsets, you want to make sure the building is between you and the sun.
You can also use a High Dynamic Range or HDR program, such as Photomatix to merge different exposure values together, so keep that in mind as your camera clicks away.
6) Photograph from a Different Perspective— A Bugs-Eye View
Just like the light can have an effect on the way the building looks, so can your position while taking the shot. Again, here is where time comes into play as an important factor.
You want to make sure you have the opportunity to move around the building, shooting as you go. You also want to get as close to the building as possible, shooting straight up, for a different perspective. Pretend you are a bug or ant crawling on the ground—No one really looks up at a building from this angle, but it just might make the most amazing photograph you’ve ever seen.
On the other hand, getting as far away or as high up from the building as possible, to include the entire structure in one shot, could also create a unique shot. Play around with the perspective at which you shoot to really allow yourself to create amazingly unique photography.
7) Embrace Photography Software
Once the shot is completed, there are some things you can do to really enhance the photos to make them even more spectacular (and it’s not cheating—lots of professional photographers use these tools). This can be done through the use of photography software programs.
For instance, you can use software, such as Perfect Photo Suite, which encompasses a variety of different programs to make changes to a shot after it has been taken. This includes features, such as Perfect Effects 9, Perfect Enhance 9, and Perfect Black &White 9.
Other software you can use includes DxO and Adobe Photoshop. If you are not familiar with these types of software, you may want to consider something a little easier to use, such as Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom. There are so many technical ways to enhance your photography, so take advantage!
8) Black & White or Color?
Another thing to think about—deciding between a color photo and a black and white photo. Although the decision is purely up to the photographer, there are some points you should take into consideration.
When it comes to architectural photography, color is often the most important feature of the structure that you would want to highlight. Therefore, shooting the building in color might just be the best option.
Conversely, if you are merely after a very graphical shot or one that highlights the structural lines of a building, you might be better shooting in black and white only. It allows the contrast to be much more present in the finished product.
9) Don’t Forget Post Processing
Post processing normally consists of color correction, sharpness, and increasing the contrast. However, to get the ultimate shot, you will want to do a little extra post processing.
Mostly, you will want to think about lens distortion that may have occurred while you were taking the photos. This can be easily removed with photo software, such as DxO, which has already been mentioned.
10) Look For A Unique Location
Aside from all of the other tips that we have provided you, there is one more thought you should consider. That thought is location, location, location.
There are many famous architectural locations around the globe that have been photographed many different times, in different light, and in different weather conditions. Perhaps this is why they are so famous. Does that mean that’s where you should go?
As a photographer looking to create the ultimate shot, perhaps you should find your own location. Find someplace that no one has been, a building that isn’t usually photographed, and give yourself the challenge of turning it into the next spot that architectural photographers are dying to go.
Perhaps the most important photography tip is to take your time. You need to give yourself time to look at the building, and give yourself time to see the building in different weather conditions—day and night.
Once you have the basics down, allow your creativity to flow. Take shots from different angles on the ground looking up, far back shooting straight on, and even getting on higher ground.
Do you like to photograph buildings? If so, what is your favorite go-to technique?