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It’s easy to take buildings for granted. We work in them, shop in them, sleep in them. Buildings are all around us, from historical monuments to places of worship; and the more urban your environment, the more buildings you are going to have around you. In the hustle of everyday life, buildings just sort of become large objects taking up space.
Despite the somewhat apathetic view of architecture many people hold, there’s no denying that architecture can make excellent photography subjects. Sure, architecture photography can be a tricky genre, buvet any regular practitioner — whether amateur or professional — will attest to the fact that the rewards are worth the challenges.
If you’re looking to get started in or improve your architectural photography, the tips below should help set you on the right course.
1. Do Your Homework – There are a number of things you should be aware of before setting out on your architectural photography adventure.
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- Check the weather forecast. Just because a day starts out nice and clear doesn’t mean it will stay that way. If there is bad weather in the forecast, you may want to postpone your plans.
- If you plan to shoot at a location such as a national monument or an historical site, be sure to know the opening and closing times of these places and if there are any restrictions in place that will affect the work you plan to do.
- There is sometimes a very fine line between public and private property. A friend of mine, while attempting to photograph a well known NYC hotel, was told by a security guard that he would need to step off the sidewalk in front of the hotel if he wanted to continue shooting. Yeah, we’re talking less than a couple of meters, but that’s the way it is. It might be helpful to know as many rules and regulations as possible ahead of time.
2. Use The Best Gear for the Job – In all honesty, any camera will do — even your cellphone camera. But if you want to maximize your results, there are a few things you might consider taking along.
- A wide angle (or ultra-wide angle) lens will allow to get close and fill the frame for striking, dramatic compositions.
- A telephoto lens (perhaps between 85mm and 135mm) will allow to isolate specific details or sections of a structure.
- A tripod or monopod will invaluable if you’re shooting at night (long exposures) or if you plan on shooting interiors where lighting conditions are less than ideal. Be sure to check on where you can/can’t use a tripod.
3. Appreciate Your Subject – Don’t be in a rush to get your first shot. Explore the building, learn some of its secrets, discover overlooked details. Use these things in conjunction with how the building is being lit to determine your subject’s “good side.”
4. Choose a Fitting Composition – Clean and simple usually work best. You can grab the viewers eye by using repeating elements such as patterns and lines, just try to avoid clutter.
5. Watch Out for Converging Verticals – You will find that using a wide angle lens causes tall building to appear to lean inward. This perspective distortion can be avoided by using a slightly longer lens or by using a tilt-shift lens (it won’t be an inexpensive purchase). Most perspective problems, however, can be fixed with software. See our tutorial on converging verticals here.
6. Color vs. Black and White – Color is quite often a vital element in a structure; we should assume that the person who designed the building used certain colors for a reason. From this perspective, it makes perfect sense to shoot in color. But don’t disregard the strong, dramatic impact that a contrasty black and white image can have.