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Creative ideas to get you started with great building photography

Architecture photography is one of the easiest subjects to get started with – simply because of the abundance of available objects to point your lens at!

Buildings don’t move, they’re always there, and you don’t necessarily need the right weather conditions to get started. That said, there are plenty of factors which separate humdrum architectural photography from striking images. Here we take a look at some tips to get you started with this intriguing subject.

Best locations for architectural photography

One of the best things about architecture photography is that subjects can literally be found all around you. Interesting shapes and angles can be found on pretty much any street – including your own.

That said, if you want to photograph buildings a little further afield, it’s worth doing your research first. Generally speaking, you’re fine to photograph any building so long as you’re standing in a public place when you take the picture – but there are some exceptions to that. It’s worth just double checking that there’s nothing to stop you from taking a picture of a particular building – a quick Google search should tell you.

Additionally, some buildings have restrictions on what you can do with the photos once you’ve taken them. If it’s just for personal use, you’re unlikely to have any issues – but if you want to sell them you may come across some problems. Again, a quick search should help you.

Some of the most interesting building photography will be taken from the interior. Even if the building is open to the public, you may need extra permission to photograph inside it – and you may not be allowed to use a tripod. A quick visit to a building’s website will usually outline their photography policy, and if you’re not sure, a phone call can save a wasted journey. Lots of places ask for a donation for a “photo pass”, while others will only allow non-commercial photography, so it always pays to do your research.

Going beyond physical restrictions, having a look at existing photos of a particular location can also be a good idea. It will give you ideas of what works well, what doesn’t – and hopefully try and avoid taking the same clichéd photograph that countless others have taken.

Best camera kit for architecture photography

There are a few pieces of kit which are almost essential for architectural photography, although of course you can experiment with different options.

A DSLR or compact system camera with a full-frame sensor is a good idea for capturing the best image quality, especially when it comes to detail. Look for something with a high resolution to give you lots of scope for high-detail images. The Sony A7R II has a 42.4 megapixel sensor, which is fantastic news for ultimate resolution.

If you’d prefer to go with a more traditional DSLR option, the Nikon D810 has a 36.3 megapixel sensor, giving you lots of pixels to experiment with. Any DSLR or compact system camera is a good place to start though – so if your budget doesn’t quite stretch to high-end systems, there’s plenty of options to suit a range of different price points.

When it comes to lenses, a wide-angle lens is the best idea for capturing the most of a building, whether exterior or interior. A super-wide fish-eye lens can also lead to interesting compositions. The Nikon AF-S Fisheye Nikkor 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED lens can create completely circular images when mounted on a full-frame camera like the D810.

A wide-angle lens such as the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G lens allows you to fit lots into the scene, while also giving you scope to get a little bit closer for certain compositions. One problem associated with wide-angle lenses is distortion. Unless you can shoot from a distance, you’re likely to see converging verticals – that’s where the lines at the top of the building come together to form a point.

You can correct for this problem in Photoshop, to an extent, but most architectural photographers will use a specialist tilt-shift lens, designed to avoid this problem. The Nikon PC Nikkor 19mm f/4E ED Tilt-Shift Lens is an ideal choice for architectural photography and can transform your photos from amateur to professional.

Although wide-angles are ideal for capturing a whole building, don’t forget about longer focal lengths. These are great for zooming into certain details which can add to an overall architectural portfolio.

A tripod is a fantastic idea, as it allows you to shoot at low ISO speeds and narrow apertures and ensure you still get very sharp shots. As you might be travelling quite a bit with your gear, look for something light that still provides a good level of sturdiness. The Manfrotto Befree Carbon Fibre Travel Tripod with Ball Head is a great example, as it should suit all needs.

Best weather for architecture photography

Architectural photography is a subject which is well-suited to all sorts of weather conditions.

Overcast conditions are great for creating flat light to bring out fine details in buildings, while very sunny conditions can also create interesting shadows.

If it’s raining, you might find dramatic clouds overhead, or drops on windows and so on add to the composition. Of course, if you don’t want to shoot in the rain, heading inside to photograph the interior is also an option!

The only situation you may want to worry about is flare occurring in very sunny conditions, if you have to shoot directly into the light, you can use a lens hood to try and minimise this effect where possible.

Best camera settings for architectural photography

Architectural photography is often about getting the best detail you possibly can. For that reason, shooting at a narrow aperture, such as f/11, and at a low ISO, such as ISO 100 or 200, is a good combination for ensuring the sharpest possible shots. You may find you need to use a relatively long shutter speed to get a balanced exposure, which is where your tripod comes in.

If the light is low, or you’re not permitted to use a tripod, open up the aperture but try to stay at f/4 or wider. A mid-range ISO of 800-1600 should still leave you with enough detail on most modern cameras, and is certainly better than a blurred image.

When photographing interiors, you may find lighting will be artificial. In which case, choosing a specific white balance setting (aside from Auto) can leave you with more realistic options. Even better if you can use a custom white balance, measuring from either a dedicated grey card, or something white where you’ll be shooting.

As always, it pays to shoot in raw format so you can make adjustments in post-production to a range of different parameters, including white balance and noise reduction. Every modern DSLR or CSC offers this functionality, as well as many premium compact and bridge cameras.

Best compositions for architectural photography

You can experiment with all sorts of ideas for architectural photography to get striking images.

As we’ve already mentioned, wide-angle images give you the best scope to get everything in the shot, but you can be left with distortion. Use this to your advantage to create an unusual and interesting look by shooting from as low down as possible. This will give you an “ant’s eye” view that can make even relatively small buildings look imposing and dramatic.

Alternatively, stand as far back as possible – looking for high viewpoints, perhaps from another building. Mix and match the two shots together in a collage or montage to show how the building looks from different angles. A montage can also encompass some tight crops of your chosen building, so try to pick out an interesting element to hone in on.

Symmetry and bold, strong lines work really well for architectural photography. For this reason, shooting in black and white can have a lot of impact as it really allows curves, edges and high contrast areas of your image to be highlighted. Set your camera to shoot in black and white, but have raw format shooting switched on so you can access a colour version should you need it down the line.

As symmetry works so well, look for reflections you can utilise in your photography of buildings. Shooting next to rivers, lakes and so on can yield fantastic reflections that give your shots an unusual angle. On rainy days, even puddles and water on the ground can help to produce interesting reflections – especially in night-time photography where lights will twinkle.

When it comes to interiors, try to cover all your bases. Shoot upwards to capture ceilings, and don’t be afraid to get down as low as possible to make sure you get the widest possible view.

Experiment with different compositions, but a good trick to get started with is to include some foreground interest – allowing the Milky Way to sparkle in the background.

Will you be giving architectural photography a go? Share your best shots with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – we can’t wait to see what you come up with!