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Architectural Photography (II): How to Work With Historical Buildings

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Architectural Photography (II): How to Work With Historical Buildings www.sleeklens.com

In the previous article of this series, I gave you some general tips to improve your architectural photography. Today I will go a bit deeper into historical buildings. Let’s start!

#1. Do your homework before visiting a building

A lot of Historical buildings are taken care of and some are open to visit, so it is easy to find information about them either online or at the site itself and in tourist information centers. Once you choose a building, you should spend some time checking the activities/events that the building holds, opening hours…etc. Knowing these details will help you to decide the best moment for you to go.

The beautiful Dome of the Rock is situated on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. If you want to access the Temple Mount, you should check the tourist visiting hours in advance because it is open for visitors just at certain times of the day and only on certain days. It also depends on the political situation, so if you don’t check it you might find it closed.

#2. Take your tripod with you to avoid blurry photos

Using the tripod is always a good thing when you are taking photos of architecture. Some of these buildings can be quite dark, so if you want to take a photo during sunset for example (usually the golden light in this time creates a beautiful effect on this type of buildings), you might find it necessary to use low shutter speed, for which a tripod will be handy. In addition, some of these buildings, because they are interesting to the public, are illuminated at night. If you want to capture them at night, you will need again to use long exposure photography. Having a tripod grants you more stability and lessens camera shaking and blur.

The Sagrada Familia (Barcelona) is the unfinished Cathedral designed by Gaudi. It is beautifully illuminated at night. A tripod is always a good thing to have if you plan to take photos after sunset.

#3. If using a tripod is not an option, there is always an alternative

Keep in mind, using a tripod is not always possible. If the building is open to the public and there is a respectable amount of people visiting, setting a tripod might obstruct the passage for other visitors and cause an inconvenience. For that reason, tripods are not allowed in some Historical buildings (this is another good reason to get information about the building in advance). If you can’t use a tripod, look for an alternative approach in order to avoid blurry photos! You can increase the ISO to keep the shutter speed higher (remember that increasing ISO means adding noise to the image). Or you can look for tripod alternatives like monopods, a wall or even setting the camera on the floor (or on any other stable surface).

I wanted to take a photo of this church in Hannover, but I had no tripod at the time. I increased the ISO, so it turned out really noisy. I decided to edit in white and black and leave the noise to give a feeling of an old photo.

#4. Historical buildings look great in classically composed shots

Historical buildings look great when shot from conservative perspectives because they are usually quite balanced and symmetric. Leading lines and symmetry will work really well with this type of buildings:

In this photo, you can see the building of the Catalan Parliament. In the afternoon golden hour light, you can see how well balanced and symmetrical the building is.

#5. Try exploring new perspectives to give diversity to your images

I know I just said how well the conventional/classical perspectives fit historical buildings… but that doesn’t mean you should not explore a little (or a lot), otherwise you can end up with a complete collection of photos that look all the same. I usually take photos in more than one style, it helps me to not feel restricted and also makes my collections interesting to more people. In the case of a Historical building, having both classical and unorthodox perspectives can be a great option.

A typical perspective of the Central Postal Office building in Barcelona. For editing, I used the Blue Hour Cityscape preset from the Brick and Mortar Workflow.

#6. If the building doesn´t fit in the frame, make it look even bigger

Maybe you are in the same situation as I am and you don´t own a wide angle lens and/or a full sensor camera that allows you to fit big buildings in a single frame. When I find myself in this situation, my go-to solution is to make panoramas. The downside of it is that taking a panorama is not always possible (you are in a hurry for some reason, or you needed a tripod and you don´t have it with you for example). In these situations, I change my mindset. I let go of the idea of capturing the entire building and I focus on getting a photo (or photos) of that building that will convey the feeling that the building has more to it than seen in the photo. So I choose a part of the building, usually the top part, and I try to emphasize the distortion to make it look huge and important. You can do this by lowering the shooting point (kneeling down or even lying on the floor if you don’t mind getting dirty). This increases the tension of the photo, adding some interest on it.


Historic architecture photography
Here I am, lying on the floor, taking a photo of the Blue Mosque (Istanbul). This photo was taken by my friend Nuray Akman. If you are going to do this, I recommend you to take care of your belongings better than I do in the photo, someone could have easily take my glasses or step on them…


And this is the photo. I managed to fit a big part of the mosque in the frame and the vertical distortion adds to the feeling of grandiosity.


#7. Take some photos of decorations and details

Many times historical buildings are full of details that add to their story and atmosphere. Take advantage of that and include them in your photos. Take some close ups of the decorations, or of statues. This will add diversity to your shots and they will tell a bit more about the building. Having a small collection of photos from the whole building and some details will be a great way to show the building to anybody that has not been there.

This is the Buddhist Monastery located in Garraf Natural Park (Catalonia), it looks impressive from afar.


Taking a photo of the details helps to complete the collection. Here I included a photo of one of the Snow Lions on the Stupa. These Lions are important in Buddhist culture, they represent a clear and precise mind, free of doubt and unconditional cheerfulness.

#8. Include some hints in the image

Some historic buildings are not so widely known, so adding some hints of where they are located might add to the story. A flag, letters, people dressed in popular clothes and so on. These are examples of details that can be easily related to a country or region

The discrete German flag gives us a good hint about the location of this church (Dresden Frauenkirche, Germany)


#9. Keep in mind that some of these buildings are extremely meaningful to people

Some buildings have a strong emotional baggage associated with them. A good example is religious buildings. If you want to take photos there, be Especially respectful of the people around you. They might be praying or in any other type of intimate spiritual moment, so don´t make them feel uncomfortable with your camera. Read the rules of the place or ask, if you don´t see them written anywhere, to make sure you can take photos. Follow all the other rules, such as dressing code and times.

I took this photo of the Stone of Anointing in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem). According to tradition, this is the spot where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. Christian people come here from all around the world to practice their belief, for some, it is the trip of a lifetime, be respectful as the people around you can get very emotional in these situations.

#10. A film look can make your photo more original

Some historic buildings look really nice if you edit them to look like in a film. Photos of the really well known monumental structures can sometimes look too touristic to my taste. In these cases I like to edit them to look like old style photos, it is a way to give them a nostalgic look.

Eiffel Towers looks great with a film look. To get this look, I used the Brick and Mortar workflow.

I hope my article will be helpfull to you, feel free to write any comment or question. Have a happy shooting!


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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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