The line between a magnificent photograph and just another snapshot is incredibly thin. While this holds true for every style of photography, you need to be especially aware of it when shooting architecture. Presenting the building in its best form is imperative, but your composition must also please the viewer's eye. Balancing presentation and composition is tricky, so you have to study each factor and possibility of a shot to capture everything at its best and create a successful photograph.
The Secrets of Guiding Lines in Architectural Composition
When you shoot whole buildings, using guiding lines or other compositional cues to direct the viewer's eye to the focal point you have chosen is a good strategy in composition.
Guiding lines (aka leading lines) are best achieved with a wide lens, since wider lenses have a specific focal compression that emphasizes those lines. Longer (telephoto) lenses compress the background and foreground, which works against you by removing emphasis from the guiding lines.
Photo by Wonjun Yang
Guiding lines, used properly, should lead the eye towards (or at least near) the point of interest in the picture. If your guiding lines will lead the eye in the opposite direction, avoid them: they will do more harm than good.
The Keys to the Intentional Use of Light in Architectural Photography
Light is the most important factor in any photograph, and you must pay strict attention to it when shooting architecture especially outdoors. To get the perfect shot, the angle of the light falling on the building must reveal the depth of design in every segment of the structure. Most buildings will have their own lighting system, which might make the job easier, but don't forget to check the lighting conditions during different times of day to find the best time for a shot.
There are always exceptions to any rule: weather phenomena can affect your lighting and when you choose to shoot. Photo by Giuseppe Milo
When a building has its own lighting, you have to avoid double shadows created by the competition between the electric and natural light sources. For the best effect, take your shot at dawn or dusk, when the light systems will be active and the ambient light will be soft. You'll have enough natural light to capture the sky, clouds, and other atmospheric elements, while still having the structure properly exposed.
Long Exposures of Architecture
Recently, long exposures have become a trend in architectural photography. This technique leaves the structure sharp and well exposed, while the sky and clouds are soft. The effect occurs because clouds are never stationary, and the constant motion in the sky creates a smooth, blurred texture in the background, making the photo much cleaner and minimalistic.
Such shots put the structure in the spotlight and draw the viewer's eye to it. If you pair long exposure with tasteful guiding lines and good composition, you'll have an instant winner.
Don't Forget About the Details!
Capturing an entire structure, or a large portion of one, is not the only way to photograph architecture. Often, one or two details of the whole are enough for a great shot. If you follow the other tips listed here, you have the basic formula for many fantastic photos.
Use Patterns for Architecture Shots That Rock
Not many people understand this area of architectural photography. Make sure you're one of them.
Many people (especially those with obsessive compulsive disorders) seek magnificence in order. While some people do not, we photographers consciously search for such order: we strive to display every element in its proper place. It comes as no surprise, then, that shooting patterns in architecture (even if only by instinct) is something every photographer has done at least once in their lifetime. I know I have, and every other photographer I know has as well.
If you have not yet tried to photograph patterns, I urge you to do so as soon as possible. Such photographs can be quite compelling, and you can find patterns wherever you look. You can take incredible shots when you pair patterns with lighting that emphasizes the relief in the architecture.
Of course, it requires some skill to shoot such pictures without getting a distorted perspective, but it is easy to learn how to achieve the right results: All you need to remember is to be on level with the scene you are photographing and to use a lens that doesn't have distortion. Mid-range telephoto lenses are often best suited for this job (you probably want one in the range of 50ñ200mm, preferably a prime lens). See our article on converging verticals for some information specific to that skill.
Photographing architecture is all about attention to detail! Always take your time, plan your scene and composition thoroughly, and don't be afraid to think outside the box.
With practice and creativity, anyone can master the art of architectural photography. If you have skills in other fields of photography, you can combine your knowledge with these rules of thumb and begin producing your own great photos of architecture.