Buildings make for an often gratifying subject when photographed well. In some ways they're simple because they don't move! Being structures, they're there whether you want to capture them in the morning, the evening, winter, spring, fall, or summer. Unless, of course, they've been destroyed with a wrecking ball, which is an entirely different photo op. The key elements below give guidance to architecture photography that might help you see buildings in new ways and open up doors to photographing them with a different vision.
Fitting It In
Once you find the time to fit architectural photography into your schedule, you'll discover it's not always easy to fit a building in your lens! Much like landscape photography, buildings demand wide angle lenses or even a fisheye if you want to get creative. There will be times when it'll be difficult to step back far enough to capture the whole building, which is where the helpful panoramic format can come in handy. Though panoramic is a different topic, I will note that there are cameras that have a Scene mode that stitch together several shots. You can also achieve the same effect when you download the images by using a dedicated panoramic software program such as Hugin or PTgui.
Regardless, one thing to be careful of is to not get too much foreground or sky in your image just so you can fit the building in. If this is the case, move around and try different angles and perspectives, such as the image of Blenheim Palace above. The photographer captured enough sky, which was agreeable that day, while shooting from a low angle and not worrying about getting the whole Palace in the shot. The key elements here are the angle and perspective.
If you've read enough of my articles, you know I'm a fan of the polarizer filter. It has so many uses in certain genres, and architectural is one of them. There's a good likelihood that you'll come across windows when photographing buildings. It's like coming across noses when photographing faces! Though you won't have to polarize all the time, in cases where the windows dominate the building, such as in this image, you will want to use a polarizer as it will either cut down on reflection or enhance the sky behind the building so the glass and sky don't compete.
The inside of a lot of buildings can be just as interesting to photograph as the outside. Spiral staircases always make for interesting subjects. In a way, they add a sense of movement, and certainly depth. Keep looking around; there will be other interesting angles and shapes. It's a matter of seeing them through the lens. Make sure there's no clutter or obstructions in your way, which might mean having to move some things. Try different angles from low to high to left to right and up and down! Sometimes looking through the viewfinder and scanning the room makes a big difference in how you see things.
Indoor lighting might be a bit of an issue. You may have to adjust your white balance for incandescent lighting, but that could also be competing with daylight coming through windows and skylights. The combination can be tricky, but not insurmountable. If all else fails, there are software fixes to help adjust it. HDR (High Dynamic Range) is often used for real estate and architectural photography because it helps gives balance to contrast and details to shadows. You just have to be careful with not overdoing it.
The Sky is the Limit
Once you find a building you want to photograph, you'll need to consider, just like people, its best angles, lighting situations, and perspectives. Keep in mind that the sky often plays a big role in architectural photography. Going on an overcast day with a flat, gray sky, will likely lead to disappointing results. You'd have to stop down a few stops to get detail in the sky, if any, but this leaves your building a bit underexposed, something you'd have to compensate for in post-processing. Instead, see if you can photograph it when the sky has some puffy clouds (like the example at the top) or a brewing storm. Though the main subject is the building, as the backdrop, a sky with character can make, rather than break, an image's interest. So, don't forget it's there and think through how big a role it plays. If you can't shoot on a day when the sky is interesting, you can try replacing the sky in your editing program.
Just like the sky, you'll likely have sidewalks or some form of concrete or bricks or other foundation in the foreground of a building. The obvious point is that a foundation doesn't change as much as the sky. However, it can come across differently with the right shadows, lighting, and even if it rains and there's reflection or puddles to add interest. Flat light on the foreground will only impact negatively if it really stands out in an image. Depending on where you can crop it (through the lens or in post-processing), will depend on how much consideration you put into it. But, just like the sky, be aware of its existence in relation to the building itself. Kind of like feet on people! If they're cut out, it looks funny, and if they're included and the person is wearing shoes that don't do the rest of the image justice, well, it can be a problem.
Not everyone is a fan of photographing buildings, but if you come across one that grabs your attention, it's a good idea to consider these tips before pressing the shutter. People don't think about it until they're traveling and see a neat building. That's when the tendency to go into snapshot, tourist mode can kick in. Slow down, take time to think like a photographer, and not a tourist, and then snap away!
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