How To Photograph Buildings :: Digital Photo Secrets

How To Photograph Buildings

by David Peterson 7 comments

Humans are different from every other species on the planet. We don't just carve out niches and build habitats for ourselves. Our homes, offices, and churches are actual works of art. That is the wonderful thing about photographing buildings. Because your work is already done for you, all you have to do is put a frame on it. With these handy tips, you will learn how to take architectural photographs that stand above the rest.

Take Your Time And Consider All Of Your Options

Thankfully enough, the buildings you photograph aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Enjoy this fact and scout out every possible shooting location. Consider the different sorts of lenses you will need. If the building you want to photograph is in the middle of a big city and surrounded by a bunch of other big buildings, your only option might be a wideangle lens.

As photographers, we are usually concerned about the background in our images. That’s because we shoot smaller things like people and animals most of the time. Buildings are different. They’re big. Your job as an architectural photographer is to look for interesting foregrounds. A great foreground could be a pond, a statue, a busy street, or anything visually interesting to frame the building.

Unless you are visiting a place for only one day, you should return to the same shooting locations again and again. If you want that one-in-a-million shot, you need to be there for all of the moments when the weather naturally makes your subject stand out. Plan to go out during partly cloudy mornings and evenings, and don’t stop doing this until you capture the ideal shot.

Bring All Of The Right Gear

Like most photography, you can get pretty good photos with your plain camera. To get the best photos, however, you'll need some extra gear. There is a variety of tools to use in special circumstances. I’ll highlight a few of them so you know when to bring out certain pieces of equipment.

A Wide Angle lens can
distort images

One important photographer’s tool is the shift lens. This lens brings the building into perspective without giving it a distorted wideangle curve. You would use this if you already tried to take a closeup picture of a building and found it to be more curvy than you like. Unless you have a good reason for owning it, my advice is to rent gear like this.

Always bring your tripod when you’re taking pictures of buildings. You’ll need a steady camera for evening and night photo shoots. Also, because photos of buildings should usually be very crisp and clear, you will need to use a more closed aperture. This means your camera will be even more vulnerable to camera shake as you hold the shutter open longer to get the shot.

Don’t Limit Yourself To Shooting The Entire Building All The Time

Just because you’re taking a photo of a building doesn’t mean you have to take a photo of the building in its entirety all the time. Many of the more interesting angles you can find don’t feature the entire building. They only feature sections of it, but they do so in a much more artistic and eye-catching way. I don't show the whole building in the top example photo on this page. I think the foreground is a lot more interesting so chose to concentrate on that.

Most Americans know this
is the Chrysler building

People will always know it when you take a picture of an iconic building. Use this to your advantage and find the most interesting angles. Even if the people looking through your photos can’t see everything, they’ll still be able to identify the building. They’ll see your work as a really neat interpretation of your subject matter.

Create Something Different

Buildings are a very popular photographic subject. They stand out, and anything that stands out automatically triggers our internal instinct to photograph it. If there is a building you want to take a picture of, it is worth your time to check out what the competition is up to. Luckily, with today’s GPS technology and a site called, this is incredibly easy.

Just log on to Panoramio and search for the building you want to photograph. If anybody has taken a picture of it, the picture should be in the vicinity of your building on a map. I usually check within a mile radius. You can also do a quick check through Google images if you know the name of the building you are photographing. Have a look at what others have done, take notes, and plan to capture something unprecedented.

Sometimes you don’t even need to create something completely new. You may only need to improve upon what’s already out there. Perhaps someone took a nice photo of the building, but he didn’t think to frame it with something interesting in the foreground. Just by going out and improving on someone else’s work, you can create the definitive image of a building in your local area.

Remember that patience is the key to getting unique photos of buildings. Anyone can go out and take a picture of a building. The best ones are shot with a little extra effort.

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  1. Claude F. Lewis says:

    Just getting back into photography. Living on a beautiful island and there is so much to be photographed.

  2. grace robins says:

    Thank you again David as usual your tips are very useful.

  3. Leslie Wolf says:

    The most important functions of using shift and tilt camera movements are to maintain sharp focus in a close-up shot, and to correct converging verticles to become parallel verticles in architectual or buildings photos.

  4. Aldis says:

    Funny! I have an image VERY similar to the one featured here - with actually tiny water columns looking huge because of perspective.

    The tips are good. You SHOULD try them. But then you also need good lenses. Which is the most expensive part in photography (if you haven't found that out yet).

  5. vishal says:

    What are the common camera settings for photographing buildings. How can I best use my 18 -55 mm Nikon and 70 -300 mm Sigma lenses for this purpose

  6. Tariq Zuberi says:

    Thanks a millian , I am poor at taking building photographs, I will try the tips

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.