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
#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).
#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…)
#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.
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.
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.
#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.
#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).
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.
Or last option, you can accept the distortion and use it as a creative effect.
I hope you find this first article about architectural photography interesting!! Have a happy shooting!!!