When you live in a city, as most Light Stalking readers do, then at some point you're probably going to find yourself taking a photograph of a building. Unfortunately, it is very easy to take very poor photos of architecture. Hopefully, these tips will help you capture something a little better than just a snap.
The static nature of architecture is great for photographers in that it means that we can really plan a shot and minimize potential problems. The level of control the photographer has is unmatched in most other subjects in photography.
1) Focal Length – You will probably want the widest angle of view that you can get in many cases. That means shooting with wide angle lenses. Anything under 35mm (on a full frame sensor) will probably do fine depending on how close or far you are from your subject. If you're lucky enough to be in a situation where you can get a great shot of a building from a long distance away, then longer focal length will be fine, but in most city situations you will need to shoot from quite a close distance due to other buildings, cars, people and clutter being in the way. In such cases, you're probably going to want wide angle lenses anywhere from 12mm to 35mm.
2) Stabilize Your Camera – Shooting an inanimate object means that you are not going to face many of the problems that other types of photography has with motion and light. It is quite possible to take your time and get as much light onto your sensor as is required to produce a great shot – it just might take a little longer and require a very stable camera. Get a decent tripod and don't be afraid to use it.
3) Shoot Low ISO – As you're going to have a stable camera, you're not going to have any trouble getting enough light into your camera (ie. you're free to go with longer shutter speeds as a building won't move – hopefully). Minimize noise by shooting at a low ISO.
4) Close the Aperture – Again, you're free to close the aperture when your camera is mounted on a tripod and you have time to leave the shutter open. Shooting at smaller aperture allows you to minimize any lens errors too. Shooting at wider aperture can be good for artistic effects, but usually an architectural photographer will want a greater depth of field which means f8 or above in most architectural situations.
5) Converging Lines – For the maximum amount of realism in architectural photography, it's best to keep vertical lines vertical (usually by increasing the distance between you and the building you're shooting). Sometimes this simply isn't possible (such as when a fish eye lens is required to capture a whole building) and sometimes it's simply not desirable (such as when you want to exert some artistic license). Do what you need to to achieve the desired look, but simply remember the general convention against converging lines.
6) Camera Position – If you position a camera with a wide angle lens close to a building, then the effect can be quite dramatic in emphasizing the size of objects in the foreground compared to objects in the background. The wide angle stretches the perspective. If that is the arrangement you want, then fine. If not, then get further away and use longer focal lengths to bring the objects closer together – an effect that appears less dramatic, but adds a more solid look to a piece of architecture. See the two photographs below to see the difference that only a few meters in camera position can make.
7) Stand Up For Your Rights – In this age of terrorism, every goon and his Doberman thinks he can tell you to stop photographing something or other – especially, it seems, buildings. As with so many of his other life choices, he is often wrong. Check the local laws, but in most cases, if you are in a western country and shooting from a public place then you probably have every right to do so. Check this great post from Photojojo about legal rights and photography for more information on that.