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Architectural photography can offer its fair share of challenges. The lighting is unpredictable, buildings have a way of tilting and people always seem to be in the shot. But have no fear, architectural photography can be conquered. We have come up with some solid tips to help you with your architectural photography. If you follow these tips your headaches will be reduced and the results are sure to be amazing.
1. Wide Angle Lens
A wide-angle lens is invaluable to architectural photography. Chances are that you will be shooting in a relatively tight space. This makes backing up to get everything in the frame nearly impossible. By using a wide angle lens, you will be able to fit everything into the frame without having to back up too far. When choosing a wide angle lens, I would recommend using anything between 15-35mm. A 16-35mm lens works great for architectural photography. It gives you a nice range of super wide at 16mm, while still allowing to zoom out to 35mm.
Be aware of distortion though. You will find that a 16mm lens will cause a lot of distortion, especially if you are shooting close to a building. Be aware of using fisheye lenses as well. Fisheye lenses are very very wide, so they capture a lot of information and cause a lot of distortion. In my opinion, when used improperly, a fisheye lens can look somewhat amateur. But there are plenty of professional photographers that can pull of the fisheye look and create amazing photographs.
A 17-40mm wide-angle lens, perfect for architectural photography.
2. Try a Tilt-Shift Lens
If you have never heard of a tilt-shift lens, you are in for a treat. In the old days when people used box cameras, photographers could fine-tune the camera to combat distortion. Essentially the photographer could minimize if not eliminate the tilted look of tall buildings. A tilt-shift lens allows you to make these same fine tuning adjustments, keeping everything straight. The shift function of the camera allows the photographer to capture the tallest of skyscrapers while maintaining straight lines along the side of the subject. With any other lens, you will get tremendous distortion whenever you tilt a wide angle lens upwards.
Another cool aspect of a tilt-shift lens is the tilt aspect. Using the tilt function, you can keep different elements in focus on different focus plains. If you have ever seen a photo or timelapse of a street scene that looks like a miniature town, this is how its done. By photographing from up high and using the tilt function, you can create a miniature effect by using this selective focal plane. The only downside to this lens is its price. It’s a very expensive lens, especially if you are not doing architectural photography full time. I recommend renting it first and seeing if you like it. But if you only have a wide angle lens, fear not, my next tip applies to you.
Above, a tilt-shift helps straighten the appearance of tall buildings, below, the tilt function miniaturizes the world.
3. Leveling Your Camera
Any time that you have to tilt your wide angle lens up you will get distortion in lines that run up and down. In an effort to combat that distortion you can try shooting level. Shooting level simply means trying to get your camera as flat as possible. In order to do this, you will need a tripod. You may also need a level that fits in your hot shoe on top of your camera, they sell these on Amazon for about $9. Some cameras come with a build in level so make sure and check before you go out and buy one.
The next step is simple, level your camera. You will first want to level side by side, move the camera until the bubble gets to the middle of the level. Do the same thing for front and back movement. Once both sides are leveled, you will have substantially reduced the distortion in your picture. Leveling from front to back can be tricky with tall buildings, it will most likely result in chopping off the top. Even by leveling side to side though you reduce some of the distortions. You can also try backing up as well, this will help minimize distortion. This tip works very well when shooting indoors though. It allows those walls to straighten up and results in a polished image.
A simple bubble level can make a world of difference.
4. Picking The Right Time
Picking the right time of day is key to executing a beautiful architectural photograph. I am not going to tell you the magic time that you should be doing architectural photography. But different times will result in completely different images. I usually try to shy away from shooting at noon for almost everything. At noon the sun is directly overhead and creates harsh shadows. If you are looking for harsh shadows in your photos then this time is great for you. There could actually be great features of a building that could be highlighted by this lighting.
Generally, though you are going to want to stay closer to the sunrise and sunset times. During these times of the day is when you will see beautiful colors in the sky. There may still be lights on in buildings so you can get a beautiful balance of light from the sun as well as man-made lights. If you devote a few hours to the shoot you can get a wide array of lighting. Also by shooting either early or later in the day, you will see fewer people. By eliminating people, you save time in photoshop and have more freedom to shoot from different angles. Commit to waking up early or staying late and the payoff will be well worth it!
Morning light is soft and golden.
5. Do Your Research
If you are shooting either a famous or historic building, it’s important to gather some information about the building. Many buildings either have historic significance or important architectural aspects. In either of these cases, you will want to make sure and highlight these aspects. If you really get to know a building, you can learn to appreciate the time that went into designing and building it. This will make your photography better and more compelling. Make sure to get well-composed images of special details of the building. These were well thought out pieces of the final product and the images will be cherished for bringing attention to them.
Some buildings need no introduction.
We hope that these tips help you to create beautiful images of all things architectural. By taking time to go beyond the physical building, you can create truly moving images. Take the time to dig deeper and the payoff will be well worth it. Good luck.