Monday, 10 March 2014

What Lens for Architectural Photography

Lens quality is of paramount importance in architecture photography. Architecture photography requires lenses free of aberrations and distortions. We will cover how to practically test lenses in a future article. Lens choice maybe the most important equipment decision you make for real estate photography its way more important than which camera body you choose.

 As an architectural photographer, most of your work could be done with 3 or 4 basic lenses. Of course, the wider the range of focal lengths available, the greater is your choice of viewpoints. Having lenses of many different focal lengths greatly increases the number of possible shots in any given situation. The flexibility offered by them is invaluable especially when working in confined spaces. However the most important trade off is the bulk and the costs involved. To an extend you could solve the cost issue and the issue of having to carry a lot of lenses by using zoom lenses instead of fixed focal length lenses (there could be a slight degradation in image quality).

Having said about the advantages that a zoom lens offers, it should be born in mind that fixed focal lengths do have some advantages over zooms. In general prime lenses have faster apertures f/2.8 or faster which gives a nice bright image indoors, makes it easier to focus and is a huge benefit if you can't bring a tripod along and have to handhold the camera. Their biggest advantage for interior photography is that they give the best correction of linear distortion, (keeps straight lines straight).

Normal Lens

Normal lenses (50mm for full frame cameras) produce a perspective which is roughly equivalent to that produced by the human eye and this makes them a very essential component in architectural photography.

Here's an interior shot with a normal lens of focal length 50mm (full frame camera).

using normal lenses in architectural photography
using normal lenses in architectural photography
Photo by Jijo John

They are used to present a very realistic version of the scene being shot. It gives the viewer a better idea of how it feels to be physically present at the location.

Short Tele Photo Lenses

Short tele photo lenses in focal length of 70mm – 200mm is used in architecture for detail shots and to show a distant view of the building if the building is not hemmed by other buildings or by street furniture.

By using a short tele photo focal length we were able to zoom in on the details. Shot with a focal length of 135mm.

using short tele photo lenses in architectural photography
using short tele photo lenses in architectural photography
Photo by Jijo John

The longer focal length compresses the perspective and thus is useful for showing the building in context with its surroundings or even a cityscape. Longer focal lengths can also be used to isolate the building from its surroundings.

Wide Angle Lenses

The vast majority of architecture photography is done with lenses of focal length from 16mm – 35mm. The perspective distortion caused by the wide angle lens when used creatively produces pleasing compositions that dramatically exaggerate what that photographer wishes to emphasize in his/her shots. Wide angle lenses also help photographers overcome one major problem they often face when photographing interiors, the issue of confined space (you can't back up far enough); they make wide coverage of interiors possible from relatively close viewpoints. Another big advantage is that of increased depth of field, the wider the angle of view of a lens, the smaller an object in a frame is reproduced and therefore the greater the depth of field around it.

Here's the same interior shot with an ultra wide angle lens of focal length 16mm.

using ultra wide angle lenses in architectural photography
using ultra wide angle lenses in architectural photography
Photo by Jijo John

This dramatic view produced by wide angle lenses is very appealing to the human eye as this is one view which a person standing in the same position is cannot see with his naked eye. This is one reason why the advertising posted in magazines are mostly wide angle shots.

However the major advantage of the wide angle lens could also be a disadvantage in certain cases. The photographer should use his judgment to determine how to represent the space in front of him. If the client requires the space to be featured in a natural human perspective then only a normal lens could do the job, wide angle lenses introduce serious distortions in which any object that is not exactly parallel to the camera sensor could appear to recede sharply into the distance. This affect increases as the closer the object gets to the lens. Wall, pillars, door frames etc are areas where the distortions become immediately noticeable. So always keep in mind the final use of the image when choosing focal lengths.

In the next article we will discuss about specialist lenses for architectural photography.

Related Reading

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  2. What Lens for Architectural Photography
  3. Architecture Photography Tips - Combining Multiple Exposures for Interior Shots
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  5. What is commercial photography?