Architecture is a popular subject in photography. Often focusing on intriguing forms and structures, it’s a highly accessible choice of subject, given it’s existence all around us. Although a broad area, depicted objects may include anything from buildings and towers to bridges and windmills or even more unexpected subject matter simply like lamp posts! With practice and a solid understanding of principles & techniques, you can rapidly develop an eye for framing, composition and lighting. Master these skills, add some lateral thinking and incorporate personal style and you will create truly breathtaking photos.
As with more areas of photography, lighting is a crucial part of architectural photography. In the case of architecture the photographer will likely have no control over the orientation and position of the subject and little ability to affect the physical lighting of the structure – leaving focus on the use of natural lighting paramount.
Generally speaking, back lighting should be avoided in architectural photography as it tends to render surfaces dark and unvarying in appearance. If the architectural subject is back lit we can compensate by cropping the sky out of the frame and utilising a longer exposure to increase the level of detail captured. Alternatively the object can be photographed as a silhouette.
Best results are commonly produced from side-front lighting as this provides ample illumination and casts long and aesthetically interesting shadows. These shadows will assist in heightening the detail on the front facade of the subject and increasing its three dimensional qualities.
Shooting at night can be a pleasure on account of the purposeful design of many structures to almost come alive in darkness. Carefully planned lighting introduce colour and vibrancy, producing shadows across the face of the subject. Be sure to use a tripod and set your camera to its lowest ISO setting to keep noise in the image at a minimum.
OLD V MODERN ARCHITECTURE
Old and ancient architectural subjects typically lend themselves to more simple compositions. This will allow the natural beauty, form and detail to stand out. In addition, it is often beneficial to avoid cropping too tightly as the gardens, formations or other surrounding scenery provide a rich context to the architecture. In contrast, when photographing modern architecture you can use a far greater degree of creativity and capture the structure in a more abstract style. Experimenting with wide angle lenses can produce stunning outcomes though the creation of extreme perspective. Photographing such buildings from unusual angles and toying with geometric patters also create intriguing images. You are also free to crop in more tightly without causing an unnatural feel about the image as it is common for modern buildings to be positions in very close proximity to one another. With regard to inclusion of a subjects surroundings, it ultimately depends on what you as the photographer wish to convey. If it compliments the shot take a wide photo, if it distracts, cut it out.
Photographing an architectural structure from too close a distance can cause distortion. This can be utilised for abstract or artistic means, however, it can also become distracting. If you're intention is to produce images with straight and clean lines, walls and so on, consider using a telephoto lens and photographing your architecture from further away. Telephoto lenses can also be used to create effects such as flattening perspective, creating lines that appear parallel and giving your image a surreal quality. This is achieved by shooting from a great distance and using a long focus length lens. A special group of lenses known as tilt/shift are also available. These give two different types of movements: rotation of the lens plane relative to the image plane, called tilt, and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, called shift. Shift is helpful in avoiding the convergence of parallel lines, a common occurrence when photographing tall buildings.
But sometimes even the right tools and preparation still results in distortion. An easy way to fix some distortion is to use the "Upright" tool in Adobe Lightroom (or similar correction tool featured in other photo editing software) that "corrects" distortion. Although this is not as good as correcting for distortion on the day using tilt-shift lenses or similar, it is an inexpensive way to achieve a similar effect.
A final note – make the most of any inherent detail in a structure, which may vary from grand features and sculptures to the most intricate of patterns. Be on the lookout for these details and feature them in your photographs as this will best convey the character of the architecture.