Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Architecture Photography Tips

1. Planning & Preparation

A little bit of planning and preparation goes a long way in ensuring that the shoot goes smoothly. It is always helpful to pay a visit to the location to get an idea of the building, where it is located, the size of the rooms, colors used, the position of the doors and windows etc and also to identify potential challenges, specialist equipment (lenses, lighting gear, triggers, filters, stands, clamps, modifiers, props and other accessories) you might need for the project, also to determine the best time of the day to shoot the structure.

If it is a running business or public structure you should also find the opening and closing times, obtain permits etc. Make sure you check the weather forecast for the location too, especially so if you plan to shoot the exteriors. Do also check the direction which the building is facing as that determines the perfect time of the day to shoot the exteriors.

 2. Lens Choice

architecture photography ideas
architecture photography ideas: Photo by: Jijo John

Choosing lenses for architecture should be based on certain considerations like:

  1. What does the client expect; are they looking for a realistic representation or for more dynamic/artistic images.
  2. How big or small are the spaces; are there confined spaces where you can’t move the camera back enough, is the building surrounded by other structures or will you be able to get a clean shot from the distance.
  3. Are there paintings / sculptures / wood work / fine examples masonry etc in the building of which you need to take detail shots.

For realistic shots (that approximate the normal human perspective) you will need a normal lens, for confined spaces you will need a very wide angle lens, for detail shots and shots from a distance you will need a short tele photo lens, if perspective correction is important you will need specialist hardware like the tilt shift lens, it all depends on the look and feel you wish to achieve in your shots and the message you wish to convey to the viewer. For more on choosing lenses, do refer this article which we previously published in this blog - What Lens for Architectural Photography.

3. Do Not Rush Through the Shoot

Once you reach the destination, don’t take the camera out immediately and start shooting, instead take your time to go around the building, studying the different areas, cross checking with your plans, considering lighting options etc and only when you have convinced yourselves that you have thought of most alternatives and have come to a decision on the best course of action should you take out your camera.

4.  A Stable Tripod is Your Best Friend On Location

architecture photography tips
architecture photography tips: Photo by: Jijo John

There is nothing like a good solid tripod and a matching head, it is indispensable for architecture photography. Get the best you can afford and you will not regret your decision as it will give you years and years of reliable service. While on location you will be taking some really long exposures, leaving your camera on the tripod for extended periods, might be taking multiple exposures with same framing to later combine in software etc. so it is critical that you have a tripod that keeps your camera and lens combination stable.  A tripod that can at least extend up to 6 feet without using the center column is a big advantage, remember eye level shots are the ones most frequently demanded by clients. I have found the 3 way pan and tilt head to be the most useful one for shooting architecture. It lets you adjust your camera in all three axes and also has spirit levels to help you level the camera.  One very useful accessory to have with you will be a wired remote for your camera which allows you to change exposure settings without actually touching the camera; for those who want the best remote triggering / tethered shooting CamRanger is an excellent option.

5.  Shoot Low ISO

One advantage of shooting architecture is that you are primarily dealing with inanimate subjects. So you have all the power to leave your shutter open for long duration, with a stable tripod and head you are also covered against camera shake. So make most of the situation by shooting in low ISO settings (helps you minimize noise and capture more detail).   Apart from low noise, images shot with low ISO settings also have better (more accurate) color rendition.

6.  Use Large Depth of Field

architectural photography tips
architectural photography tips: Photo by: Jijo John

Unlike other genres of photography, the shallow depth of field effect is seldom appreciated in architecture photography. Yes there are certain instances when employing shallow depth of field would produce really interesting results but on most occasions you need to use narrow apertures of f/16 or narrower to get both objects the foreground and background reasonably sharp. Another advantage of using narrow apertures is that it lets you correct some errors inherent in some lenses, comparatively cheaper wide angle lenses produce images which are soft towards the edges, and using narrow apertures lets you minimize such issues.

7. Composition and Framing

Keep the composition as clean as possible and try to avoid distracting elements. The principle of Less is More absolutely fits architecture. Before taking a shot do ask yourselves, why am I taking this picture, what is it that intend to show to my viewer and in what perspective. Some basic compositional tips for architecture are:

  1. Keep horizons and horizontal lines level
  2. Keep vertical lines vertical
  3. Include repetitive elements like lines, pattern, and forms in your composition
  4. Use leading lines to convey perspective and depth and to direct the viewer’s gaze along an intended path
  5. Shoot the details
  6. Show context
  7. Use the power of symmetry (of both horizontals and verticals)etc.

8. Avoid Converging Verticals

As an architectural photographer, one should be aware of the distortions caused especially by wide angle lenses. Unless you are purposefully including the distortion as an artistic effect you should take all steps possible to eliminate them in your shots. Shooting with your camera properly leveled in both vertical and horizontal axis helps minimize distortions.

One major distortion we often see in architecture shots is that of the walls (especially of tall buildings) leaning in when shot from a low angle. One could either move further back from the scene an shoot with a longer focal length lens to avoid this, or use specialist lenses like the tilt shift lens or try to correct it in image editing programs like Adobe Photoshop.

Another alternative is to try position your camera half way up the building by either using a ladder/crane platform, climbing a nearby hill or building. When you are positioned exactly half way up you could photograph the scene without any distortion, remember moving further up than the half way mark will start producing distortion in the opposite direction, now the bottom of the building will start to slope inwards.

9. Shooting Details

When we think about architectural photography our first thoughts are always of wide shots, comprising the whole building. But remember it is the small details that collectively make the architecture appealing and they should not be overlooked. If you pay attention to the details you will find many interesting items that make great subjects like spiral staircases, antique clocks, repeating patterns, stone carvings, wood art, interesting masonry carvings etc. all you need is a eye for detail and they will present themselves in almost every scene.

10. Pay Attention to Light

architecture photography tutorial
architecture photography tutorial: Photo by: Jijo John

Light changes the mood of an architectural photo like nothing else. It interacts with the building creating highlights and shadows, contrast, atmosphere and more. Different lighting conditions could completely alter the feel of any given space; a room may appear completely different when viewed in different times of the day and in different weather conditions. When you are photographing architecture, pay attention to the existing lights, both natural and artificial and think of ways to enhance the mood. It is always a good idea to use the ambient light present in the scene as your main light and only supplement it with fill light wherever needed.