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Architectural Photography (I): Composition Tips

Rating: 5.00 based on 2 Ratings
Sara Rodriguez Martinez
  By Sara Rodriguez Martinez
Architectural Photography (I): Composition Tips www.sleeklens.com

One of the best things about architectural photography is that it is available to everybody. Even if we live in a small place, we can easily find several types of buildings or man-made structures that can be an interesting subject for our images. However, architectural photography is not just “point and shoot”. In the first article of this architectural photography series, I will start by showing you some concepts about composition and perspective and their importance in this type of photography.

#1. Leading lines help to lead the eye to the interesting part of your photo

It is a natural tendency of the human brain/eye to look for and follow lines. By paying attention to the placement of lines and angles of the building we can exploit this to improve the composition of our photos and to guide the viewers to focus on what we want them to.  Buildings are rich with lines and geometric shape and you really should use that to your advantage. For example, if you take a photo in a church that has a beautiful stained glass window and you want the viewer to focus on, you could align the aisle and the window so that it will look like the passage is leading to the window

Arches, tunnels and similar constructions usually provide great leading lines for architecture photography.

 

Buildings surrounding your image main object can be a source of leading lines. Here you can see how the lines of the two buildings in the foreground lead the eye to the building in the center: the Born Market (Barcelona)
It is fun searching for leading lines. Here I found that the concrete benches form a curvy line that takes the eye to the Sydney Opera.

 

#2. Include the surroundings into the frame if they add to the story

If the surrounding adds to the building, include it in the composition: It is a good habit to analyze the background/foreground of the building you are shooting at. It is true that sometimes the background might look messy, boring or ugly. However, other times the background adds something to the story of the building. “Contextual background” is called so because this is what its role is, to give a bit of context to the building. This context might tell that the building is in the forest, next to the sea, or that the photo was taken on a special event (for example a photo of the Bastille in Paris on Bastille Day which includes the celebrations as well).

This is a close up of a building that I found interesting. If you are familiar with the flags hanging in the balconies, you will know that it is a building in Catalonia. But you can’t deduce anything more than that.

 

I decided to include a bit of the surrounding into the frame. By the context you can now deduce that the building is probably placed in a touristic area because of the postcard stores you see in the foreground. This photo was taken in Barcelona Old City.

 

For me, Australia is a remote place because I live in Barcelona. I am sure that for a lot of people it is obvious that the Opera building is placed close to the Harbor, but it was not so evident to me. For that reason, I decided to take a photo of the wonderful Opera building that also includes part of the port. For another person, this context might not be interesting and the framing of the Opera might be totally different (probably a close up). The decision of adding to the building some context is subjective and it depends on what we find interesting and the story we want to tell with the photo.

#3. Symmetry gives a sense of balance to the photo

Symmetry will give a sense of balance to your images: man-made structures are usually full of lines and geometrical shapes. If you can show in a picture the symmetry of this shape, it will look balanced and pleasant to the eye. Symmetrical images might look a bit too static sometimes (too perfect as well). But this is an effect that can work really nicely in architectural photography. If you are aiming for a symmetrical image, try to make it as symmetrical as you can, otherwise, it won´t have the same impact. You can also get symmetry by playing with reflections (windows, lakes, pools…)

Symmetry always makes images look more balanced.

#4. Lighting is important in architecture photography

The quality of light has a strong effect on how a building would look like and it changes along the day. At sunrise and sunset, we usually have a soft light that comes with an angle. Shadows are usually long and soft. At midday, on the other hand, the light is hard falling directly from above us and casting sharp shadows. The different types of light will make the same building look different. Shadows will look more interesting during the sunset and sunrise; on the other hand, colors will be brighter during the midday.

This photo from a Buddhist Monastery was taking in the midday. The light was strong (hard). This type of light might create hard shadows (see next photo), but it also increases color saturation. In that case, this light works well with the subject.

 

This image was taken also in the midday. It is a good example of the hard shadows you can get taking photos with the hard light of this time of the day. If you don’t want this shadows, it will be better to take your photos during other times of the day.

 

This building were not under the direct light when I took the photo, so they have not hard shadows on them.

You can also include sunburst in your architecture photography to make the building look a bit different. You should consider what you want to capture in your image and adjust your time accordingly.  I recommend you to experiment with it.

 

If you catch the sun in the border of the building, you can get a sunburst. I personally like them, but some might think that they can take a bit of importance to the building itself.

 

Ah! And don´t forget night photography! Some buildings have lights that make them look even better at night. For night photography I strongly recommend to use a tripod and play with long exposure.

Sydney Opera building looks great at night.

 

#5. Details are also interesting

When talking about architecture photography people tend to think of wide-angle shots and trying to capture the entire building or as much of it as possible. Sometimes, however, you can get really impressive photos if you focus on the details. The easiest examples to find would be in medieval structures with all the gargoyles or stained glass windows. However, you can take awesome photos by focusing on patterns and details of any building; capturing how the ceiling is reflected on a marble floor in an office building or the design of the tiles can also make interesting photos.

 

#6. Compose your image as a panoramic shot to include it all

It can be quite a challenge to fit a whole building in a frame. For this maybe you need to go far in order to “make” the building small. But this approach is not always possible for lack of time, or just because the building is surrounded by others that will block its view even from far. Something that might help for fitting a whole building in a frame is to have a wide angle lens. However, if you don’t have it, there is still a chance you can take a photo of a big building: Do a panorama. If you don’t know how to do it, don’t miss the tutorial of Jordan Younce about making a panorama using Lightroom.  I have to admit that a panorama takes more work than just shoot and go, but on the other side, it is totally worth it.

I have not a wide lens, so I was not able to fit Suleymaniye Mosque (Istanbul) in a single frame. But it worked with a panorama.

#7. Include human figures to give a sense of size

I usually like architectural photos that include just my min subject.  If there is a human figure in the image, we instinctively give it a lot of importance, so I am always scared that the people become the main subject of the photo and the building would pass to a second place. However, lately, I learned that including human figures can give a sense of scale to the image. We are familiar with the high of a person, so when we place somebody close to a building, our brain compares its size with the one of the people. The trick is to keep the people small in a way that we still can see it is a human being, but that the important thing in the photo is the big staff (meaning the building).

By comparing with the size of the human figures in this image, you can guess how tall the buildings were,

#8. Distortion

One of the problems of architecture photography is distortion. I am referring to the effect of having in the photo buildings that seems to be leaning because vertical lines in the image are not parallel, but converge. This is an effect produced by the way of taking the photo. Lenses are usually built by taking the parallel lines as parallel, but when the camera is pointing straight. When you tilt the camera in order to take a photo of a building, you get these vertical converging lines. There are different things you can do to avoid vertical distortion. You can get a tilted/lens that is specially built to solve this issue. The problem here is that they are quite expensive. Another option is that you correct the distortion in post-processing. I will show you how to do it using Lightroom.

The photo I am going to work with is from the Cathedral of Tarragona (Catalonia).

 

The blue arrows show you the vertical distortion. As you can see, the vertical lines of the building are not parallel but convergent. We can correct this distortion using Lightroom.

 

There is a really fast way to correct distortion. In the Develop Module, you need to look for “Lens Correction”. In the Basic section, you can click on Auto and Lightroom will correct the photo. As you can see, this is a really quick way to do it and it works quite well in a lot of photos (including this one). However, you might not be happy with the result, so I will show you another way to do it.
Also in the Develop module and Lens Correction section, go to Manual.

 

By moving the Vertical slide, you can correct the most part of the distortion.
You might need to move a little the Distortion slide to finishing correcting the perspective of your photo. After the corrections, you will probably have some white areas that you need to remove. But it is easy!! Check the next photo to know how!
Check in “Constrain Crop” and the white areas will disappear from your image!!

Or last option, you can accept the distortion and use it as a creative effect.

This photo has a clear vertical distortion, so it gives the feeling you are looking for the buildings from down to up. It is up to you to decide on each photo if you prefer to keep the distortion or correct it.

I hope you find this first article about architectural photography interesting!! Have a happy shooting!!!

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Rating: 5.00 based on 2 Ratings
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Sara Rodriguez Martinez
I am a biologist and a self-taught photographer based in Barcelona (Catalonia). Buddhist philosophy has a strong influence on me: I have a deep appreciation to life and I give a huge value to the little things that makes our days happier. I became a passionate about photography when I got my first camera and I understood that photography allows me to express my way of approaching life. I love learning so I am always willing to trying new things. These days I am shooting mostly nature and portraits.

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