Tips for Starting out in Architectural Photography

Ever since I was old enough to swing a hammer, I was made to work. My most prized position in my young years was a toolbelt and a set of basic hand tools. Since then I was captivated with the construction industry. I studied it at university and now find myself on the other side of the world working on the London Skyline.

Once my colleagues found culturedkiwi.com I have been tasked with the role of “company photographer”. As part of this, I make short films and photographs of the facades we are designing and installing. Therefore, my architectural photography skills are having to be refined.

As I go from site to site I am developing a workflow that I am able to replicate. It is producing consistent results so I thought, why not share it? If any of you have experience with architectural photography and would like to share them, as usual please add them to the comments below.

The Workflow

  • Begin with research! Google street view is the architectural photographer’s dream. You can roam the streets to see what the building will look like from all angles. Consider where East and West are so you have an idea of where the sun will rise and set. This will help you identify how the building will be lit throughout the day. Although static, I see buildings as living beings. They change throughout the day due to the people that inhabit them. People move within the space and at night they are lit completely differently. I always find the best time to photograph a building is just as the sun begins to set and you have ambient light in the sky and artificial light inside the building.
  • So now you know the time of day and the rough locations you need to be in, start moving around the subject with your camera off the tripod. Search for interesting compositions. If this is a large building then you will need to walk, a lot! But this will open you up to a number of different perspectives and make that final image selection much more interesting. If you are photographing internal architecture the same rule applies. Move, use your feet. Look at the interesting details from all angles to identify the one that works best. Watch the light as it falls throughout the spaces. Capture this however you can.

  • Begin with as simple compositions as possible i.e. fill the frame. Define the subject and isolate it. From here you can add elements, providing they do not detract from the subject. Add elements by moving further away and/or re-composing with a wider lens. Look for elements that are complementary to the subject. Elements such as leading lines or natural borders will help make your images much stronger.
  • Once you have identified viable compositions, set up your tripod and begin capturing these with the camera’s native ISO. This is typically 100 or 200. Use an optimal aperture to ensure maximum sharpness. Rule of thumb is f8-11 or f16-18 if you are shooting into the sun (or capturing strong reflections) to ensure those sunstars pop.
  • As there is often a lot of dynamic range (especially for internal shots) make sure that you bracket all necessary shots. This means to take one over exposed, one under exposed and one correctly exposed (HDR). Even if you don’t use them in a composite shot. The more data you capture on the day, the better!

  • To add further interest to your shots, sure you are packing filters such as a circular polariser and a 6-10 stop ND filter. The polariser will help you minimise glare off the glass and show the building in an accurate light. The ND filter helps you cut out light and add a longer exposure time to the image. This can be used to add movement to the clouds or blur out droves of people moving through the frame.
  • Take a lot more photos than you anticipate. More and more I am beginning to believe that the best photographers landed in that spot by becoming masters of never showing the bad shots. Take 1000 photos and show only the best few. Only leave the site when you are confident you have at least a handful of great shots. Digital memory is cheap, use it.
  • The final tip is the edit. This is where the magic happens, providing you have great compositions, complementary elements (if necessary). If you need help how to catalogue and rate your images, check out this article where I walk through my complete editing process.

Homework

So that’s about it, for now. I am heading out weekly to take shots of buildings and work on my craft. Hopefully, I can take you along for the journey with me. For more tips and tricks you can check out any of the links below. As usual, if you have any questions please get in touch via any of the social pipes or by the contact page.

Thanks for reading.

Ben – Cultured Kiwi