Photographing architecture is a specialty
business, one that requires a trained eye and a unique knowledge base.
Architects spend years bringing design to physical form, and the architectural
photographer must help tell that story.
The challenge, of course, is to creatively use light and perspective to
represent the character and personality of a space or structure. High-end
equipment isn’t a must, but getting started does require a basic understanding
of the fundamentals. Collected here are some of the on-the-job considerations
that the pros work with everyday.
1. It’s All About Perspective
Architecture comes in all the shapes and sizes, but it’s really about the lines.
Taking great photos is about working with those lines, and using perspective to
draw attention to detail and bring your subject to life.
While not absolute, the general rule is to keep vertical lines vertical, and
perpendicular to the horizon. Camera lenses distort perspective. When you point
and shoot in front of a building, the vertical lines tend to slant inwards,
converging at a point beyond the frame. Converging lines can be used for
emphasis and dramatic effect, but to create an accurate representation a clean
geometric, or straightforward, shot is preferred.
2. Take A Few Steps Back
Photographers spend a lot of time walking around in search of the perfect camera
Most will avoid straight-on, eye-level shots. This angle tends to flatten images
and produces boring uninteresting shots. On the other hand, things get weird and
unpleasant when working angles that are too low or too high, or pointing too far
right or left. Telling the story of space is always a balance between creative
and practical decision-making.
Putting more distance between yourself and your subject adds perspective to
straighten those converging lines. Shooting from a higher vantage point, such as
a nearby building, also helps build a more realistic perspective of the
3. Steady and Level
A proper tripod allows you to level the camera parallel to the horizon and with
the focal plane perpendicular to vertical lines, which helps to control
perspective. A tripod is also essential for stabilizing the camera to reduce
noise or blurriness and give sharp images.
4. Go Long and Wide
For architectural photos, the goal is to fit as much background detail into the
frame as possible. This means using wide-angle lenses that give a large depth of
field and a long focal length. Photographers commonly rely on tilt-shift lenses
that can control perspective and converging lines right within the lens. These
lenses are expensive and absolutely not necessary unless you’re a working pro. A
standard zoom lens that covers anywhere in the range of 16mm to 70mm will
satisfy most needs and budgets.
5. The Perfect Light
Light is a challenge that must be understood and controlled. Most architectural
photographers prefer to shoot with as much natural light as possible.
Thankfully, natural light is readily available, and it helps show how structures
truly exist within their environments. The key to working with natural light is
determining the right time of day to shoot at.
Front lighting and backlighting are least preferred because these angles reduce
detail and make subjects look flat. Side-front lighting is ideal. Capturing
light at a 45-degree angle across the elevation of the building brings surface
details alive, casting shadows and giving a sense of dimension.
High dynamic range (HDR) is widely used by professional architectural
photographers. Photographers can take several different exposures of the same
fixed setup, and then render them together with editing software, making for a
far greater range of light levels within one image.
Professionals are keenly aware of the weather and how it will affect lighting.
Bright sunny days makes for hard contrasting light, while overcast clouds create
softer edges. The sun is always on the move and depending on the time of day,
and day of year, it can have drastically different effects on an image. Apps
like Sun Seeker are useful for figuring out the sun’s position in relation to
The hour right before sunset or before sunrise is the “golden hour” — a prime
time to shoot. This is an hour of golden sunlight and long shadows that add
warmth, depth, and texture to a subject. Nighttime can be a fantastic time to
shoot depending on the available light sources and overhead sky, but it does
take some lens work and experimentation. Staged lighting is also an option, but
also requires another level of technical knowledge and understanding of how the
lights will affect the color and temperature of the shot.
When considering color, the goal is to remain true to the building and its
character. Many pros use polarizing filters or color collaborators to get the
right color. Artificial lights can skew color perceptions, so there is caution
to be had when shooting at night or indoors.
7. Simple composition
Lines and patterns are the aesthetic basis of architecture. Photographers use
leading lines to guide the viewers’ attention across the scene or subject
matter. For good composition, keep things simple and focus on the lines; direct
them towards the corners when you can. Vertically, think about those converging
lines. Horizontally, think about the Rule of Thirds. There are infinite angles
to work with, and walking around to explore will help compose more creative and
Scale is also important to consider. If you need to give a sense of size, think
about the foreground and background and how you can make reference points out of
objects like people or trees.