When you visit a new city (or even explore your own hometown), do you find yourself marvelling at the buildings? I know I do. I especially love coming across an old building hidden amongst all the new ones. But it can be hard to take a picture that does it justice, it’s not as simple as pointing your camera up and snapping a picture. I’ve listed some tips on how you can capture beautiful buildings in all their splendour, and some things to keep in mind when shooting modern and historic architecture.
Modern vs historic architecture
With historic architecture we want to try and stay faithful to its original aesthetic and purpose. Try to avoid getting having too many people, cars or powerlines in the shot – these will mar the beauty of the building. Historic buildings can be quite detailed, so be careful not to crop important features out of the frame such as plaques, words or statues.
Modern architects go to great lengths to make their buildings stand out from the others. Location, visual expression and the use of strong lines and geometry are common features. Modern architecture provides a bit of leeway when it comes to shooting ambiguously. Rather than capturing the whole structure you may choose to highlight a particularly interesting part of the building – for example, a grand entranceway, the way the light filters through a window or exterior accents.
When to shoot
As with most photography genres, you’ll find that the best time to shoot architecture is around two hours after sunrise or before sunset. This light is softer, lower in contrast and if you’re lucky enough to catch an orange or pink sky, this will reflect nicely in any windows.
The bonus to shooting right before sunset is that lights will be turned on in the building and it will be dark enough for them to show up, but bright enough that the architecture and sky are still visible. The yellow glow from interior lights will provide warmth and a ‘lived-in’ feel to the building, which is perfect if you’re shooting houses. This may be more difficult for historic buildings as they tend to be poorly lit and have less windows.
To shoot architecture well it’s important to own (or rent) a good wide angle lens. Without this you’re going to have a pretty hard time fitting an entire building in your shot without first stepping back 100 metres. The shorter the focal length, the wider the field of view (the more you can fit in your image). A length of at least 35mm is considered a suitable wide angle, but 24mm or wider will give you an ultra-wide view (perfect for castles or skyscrapers).
The only problem with shooting at such a wide angle is that it produces a lot of distortion, namely barrelling, which can cause horizontal and vertical lines to appear bent (when we know they are actually perfectly straight). You can read a little more about lenses and distortions here. To help fix this type of error, you might choose to adjust your image using editing software. However, this tends to crop a lot of the image out, giving you a smaller, lower quality image to work with.
Alternatively you could use a tilt-shift lens. As the name suggests, these lenses allow you to either tilt or shift the way your camera captures perspective to correct horizontal and vertical lines.
Besides lenses, a tripod will is very useful for photographing architecture, especially when it comes to keeping your horizons straight. If shooting at dusk or dawn, you may choose to use a longer exposure, and when you do this a tripod is vital to prevent camera shake. You may also like to use a polarising filter if the building has a lot of windows, to reduce the reflections in the glass and to deepen the blues of the sky.