Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Finding The Right Time of the Day to Photograph Exteriors


In the previous article we discussed how to find the ideal angle of the sun for photographing exteriors of buildings. In this article we will discuss how to calculate the right time of the day when sun will be in that ideal position to shoot our building. Which is when sun is approximately 45° between the axis of the lens and the plane of the elevation.


Finding The Right Time of the Day to Photograph Exteriors
Finding The Right Time of the Day to Photograph Exteriors


Calculating the right time of the day might appear very simple as we know that sun always rises in the east and sets in the west travelling in a southerly arc. Agreed it does not rise in the true east or sets in the direction of the true west. And depending upon the time of the year the elevation of the sun changes, altering the angle at which sunlight strikes subjects on earth. But how much difference can it make? Well……. not much and if you know the basics you will be able to correctly predict the right time of the day when sun will be in the desired position.

Though our calculations on the position of the sun are based on the fact that sun rises in the east and sets in the west there are some additional factors that need to be considered as they also affect our calculations. Whenever possible obtain a location plan of the building which clearly shows its geographical position some days before the actual shoot. You will be able to decipher the main elevations that need to be photographed using the location plan and a brief chat with your client who is familiar with the building.

Photographing Exteriors of Buildings that Faces East and West


As a general rule East facing elevations should be photographed in the morning and west facing elevations in the afternoon, unless you are trying for special effects by shooting the building when it is backlit by the sun.

Photographing Exteriors of Buildings that Faces South


Elevations that faces partially south (south-east or south-west) is guaranteed sunshine on a sunny day, unless it is completely surrounded by tightly packed buildings which are much taller than it.

For buildings that faces southeast, morning hours are the best and for buildings that faces southwest afternoon hours are ideal. The more easterly the angle the earlier will be the optimum shooting time and the more westerly the angle, the later will be the best time for photography.

It is very rarely that we find a building is facing true south. But if you are called upon to photograph one, you need to consider the most important secondary elevation (side) before finalizing whether to shoot in the morning or in the afternoon. If your composition is going to be from a southeast angle you need to photograph it in the morning and if your composition is going to be from a southwest angle you need to photograph it in the evening.

Problem Exteriors


Even though the principles we discusses work on most occasions, sometimes when photographing in crowded cities we find that there are other tall buildings opposite to ours that could block the sunlight when it is shining frontally at our elevation. In such situations it is recommended that you choose the opposite time of the day than you would otherwise choose.

For example


Calculating the right time of the day to photograph exteriors
Calculating the right time of the day to photograph exteriors


The principle suggests that you choose mornings for photographing elevations that face southeast and afternoons for photographing buildings that face southwest. But in situations where light falling on your building could be obstructed by another building standing opposite to it. Photograph southeast facing elevations in the afternoon and southwest facing elevations in the morning.

The reason being, at one point during the course of its movement from east to west the sun will reach an angle that completely lights the whole street, first lighting up one side of the building for half an hour or so and then the opposite side before disappearing behind the buildings once more. The only issue here will be that the sun will be shining at a more oblique angle.

Photographing Exteriors of Buildings that Faces North


As we have discussed earlier sun travels from east to west in a southerly arc and this causes some problems when we need to photograph buildings that face north as such elevations does not receive direct sun light during most seasons. In most cases you can solve the issue by photographing northeast facing buildings early in the morning and by photographing northwest facing elevations early in the evening. We will be discussing how to photograph north facing elevations in detail in a separate article.

As discussed in the previous article softwares / apps for smart phones like The Photographer's Ephemeris or Sun Surveyor will be of immense help when planning your shooting sequence for both exterior and interior shots.

No matter how precisely and scientifically you plan, it is important that you always arrive early on location as is all set up well before time in order to wait for the angle to increase for improved texture and modelling, as necessary. Keep shooting at regular intervals and you will get a series of shots which reveal the texture in completely different ways, giving you many choice for selecting one or for compositing multiple frames for extreme lighting effects.


Related Reading


  1. Best Time of the Year for Architectural Photography
  2. Weather Forecasting for Architectural Photography
  3. Architectural Photography – Taming Natural Light for Exterior Shots
  4. The Importance of Styling and Detailing in Architectural Photography
  5. Perspective in Interiors Photography