Thursday, 17 April 2014

Architectural Photography Tips – How to Photograph North Facing Buildings

Perhaps one of the most difficult assignments you could be called to work will be to photograph a building situated in a busy/crowded city and whose elevation faces true north. If you are wondering why, then I strongly recommend you first have a look at these two posts which we published earlier in this blog.

1. The Ideal Angle of The Sun for Photographing Exteriors
2. Best Time of the Year for Architectural Photography

How to Photograph North Facing Buildings
How to Photograph North Facing Buildings

Yes buildings with elevations that face true north receive little to no direct sunlight during most times of the year. And be rest assured that most of your assignments will always be during the wrong time of the year. So let us discuss what options we have when faced with such a situation and what strategies should be adopted to produce professional quality images in such unfavourable circumstances.

Tips for Photographing North Facing Elevations

Chances of a building having an elevation that is facing true north are actually very slim. On most occasions the elevation will be slightly angled towards the east or the west while being angled north.

We know that sun rises in the east and sets in the west and the angle and elevation of the sun changes with different seasons. During summer months sun is much higher up in the sky than in winter months. Also during summer sun rises from a north easterly direction travelling in a southerly arc to set in the northwest direction. So if the building you need to photograph is angled towards northeast or northwest then chances are that the front elevation of the building will be briefly illuminated by direct sunlight during sunrise or sunset.

1. You could aim to get best results by planning to shoot northeast facing elevations early in the morning and northwest facing elevations in the evening. The greater the angle of the buildings elevation towards northeast or northwest the better.

2. Photographing building in crowded cities where the structure is surrounded on all sides by other buildings is generally a tough task. But in our case such a situation might actually work to our advantage. In certain cases you could see that the front elevation of a north facing building is evenly illuminated by sunlight being reflected off buildings opposite it. This could actually produce some pretty decent results, only make sure you are not angling your camera in the direction of the sun.

3. Another option we have is to shoot the north facing elevation during an overcast day. When there are clouds in the sky, they act as a giant diffuser scattering sunlight, making it a very soft diffused light. Even north facing buildings are evenly illuminated in such conditions. Only problem will the reduced contrast and texture detail and the exposure difference between the clouds that is now acting as our light source (which is also in the composition) and the buildings. A graduated neutral density filter might come in handy in some occasions to even out the exposure difference and record detail in the clouds while keeping the building rightly exposed.

4. Shoot bracketed exposures - this is one of the times when a stacked exposure (HDR) could give you much better results than one single exposure. Rather than depending on softwares that create HDR images automatically, you could produce much better results (realistic images) by manual blending technique, which we will cover in detail when we get to post processing techniques for architectural photographers.

5. There is one final option that works like a charm every time. Let’s photograph the building during dusk more as a night shot. Now it doesn't really matter what direction the building is facing.

Related Reading

  1. Right Weather For Photographing Architecture
  2. Finding The Right Time of the Day to Photograph Exteriors
  3. The Ideal Angle of The Sun for Photographing Exteriors
  4. Best Time of the Year for Architectural Photography
  5. Weather Forecasting for Architectural Photography