Architecture photography requires a good knowledge of composition, gear choice, and proper light exposure. While this is true of most photography, but anyone can just point a camera at a pretty building and snap. But making architecture photos pop takes some doing.
Wide angle and Fisheye lenses
With architecture photography, I want to capture as much of a scene as possible. And to do so, I need a lens with a very low focal length. Anything below 35mm can be considered a wide angle lens. Using one, I can capture much more of a building or a room compared to using a higher focal length.
Another property of wide angle lenses is that differences in lower focal lengths make a much more significant difference at wide-angle lengths. Going from 18 mm to 14mm produces a much higher contrast compared to 304 to 300mm.
Once lenses get below 20mm or so, they begin to create a slight amount of distortion in the photograph. They bend the view created slightly. While most wide angle lenses have corrective elements to counteract this, sometimes it’s fun to maximize that distortion. These ultra-wide angle lenses are called fisheye lenses.
The fun thing about fisheye lenses is that they create such intense distortion that it changes how you view the subject matter. Instead of having a standard view, elements within the photo get creatively shaped. There are even circular fisheye lenses that can create “miniature planet” effects when properly used! But even a standard fisheye will give incredible results.
HDR photography and lighting
HDR is an acronym for High Dynamic Range. The technique involves using a tripod and taking three shots with adjusted light exposure. Most cameras nowadays have HDR photography modes built in as it’s incredibly popular if a tad overused. Fortunately, architecture photography is where it shines.
The camera takes three shots. The first one is a baseline image. And the next two have the light exposure adjusted up and down slightly, usually a single stop of light. Each stop of light is a doubling or halving of the amount of light exposure.
The camera then combines the images to create a single photograph that shows increased detail in both the bright highlights and dark shadows. The technique gives you a photo that more accurately captures the dynamic range your eyes can see.
And in architecture photography, this is perfect for scenes where you have deep shadows and bright light. Churches are a prime example of where to use HDR techniques. I can capture the details in the high ceilings as well as from the brightly lit stained glass windows without either one overwhelming the image exposure.
How to Photograph Buildings Creatively
Spend time simply looking at a scene through the viewfinder. Often I’ll simply walk around, trying to imagine a possible photo.
Something fairly mundane can suddenly look incredible when I look through my viewfinder instead. My brain is taking in the scene beyond the main subject.
But when I use my viewfinder to crop out the parts I don’t want, the subject in question may be far more intriguing.
Photo by Ben_Kerchx / CC0 1.0
Leading lines are an elemental component of composition that’s particularly important in architecture photography. As the name suggests, I want to use the lines in the scene to draw the attention of the viewer across the photo. Architecture elements like bridges, roads, power lines, and building frames can all be used to channel one’s attention.
One of the best things about architecture photography is that I can either decide to try for a particular subject or just take a walk around town. Broken down buildings are often even more interesting than famous well-kept ones. And because they aren’t moving, I have plenty of time to get my photo just right. So spend some time with a wide angle lens and see if architecture photography speaks to you!