Architecture Photography: Perfecting Lighting and Composition

architecture photographyIf you have ever traveled anywhere, including the streets of your own hometown, I’m sure you’ve come across a building that made you stop and stare in awe. You take out your cell phone, snap a photograph of it and save it for later. The next time you pull up that photograph, the building doesn’t seem as astounding as it did in real life. The building didn’t get less interesting, the photograph simply didn’t allow it to live up to its perfection.

Although snapping a photograph of a building seems like a simple task, a lot of work goes into beautiful images of architecture that you may not be aware of. Things like the type of camera, focal length, composition, white balance and time of day all make huge differences in the way your final photograph turns out. Let’s take a look at some of the most important aspects of improving your architecture photography!

If you aren’t too familiar with cameras and want to learn more, Udemy has a great course that will help you understand your first DSLR.

Your Camera

Ah, the most important part of taking a photograph. You can’t take a photograph without a camera! And you can’t take a good photograph without a good camera. I know smart phones are getting better quality cameras and you have an old point and shoot just laying around your house waiting to be used, but if you’re serious about architecture photography you’re going to need a DSLR. Not only will you have more control over the final image, but you’ll learn a lot more about photography in the process. So how do you know where to start? If you’re not looking to spend thousands of dollars on a new model, Canon and Nikon have a lot of older, entry level DSLRs that you can grab for a couple hundred dollars. Most will come with a kit lens that may be helpful when shooting, but you may want to invest in some better quality lenses as well.

Your Lens

Most DSLRs will come equipped with a standard zoom lens. The glass isn’t too high quality, and somehow you can never quite get your subject in perfect focus. Unfortunately lenses are the most expensive part of your hobby (some will cost more than your camera body!), but they’ll be well worth it in the long run. If you’re merely doing this as a hobby and don’t want to get into the more professional equipment, your kit lens will be perfectly fine. If you are thinking about turning this into a profession, you’ll want to invest in a wide angle lens. This will ensure that you can get the entire building in one frame, but the distortion isn’t as strange or comical as a fisheye lens.

The Time of Day

There are two important times of day: one known as the golden hour, and the other known as the blue hour. If you photograph a building in the middle of the day on a sunny afternoon, it’ll seem inviting and almost commercial. If this is the look you’re going for, great! But if you’re looking for something a little more artistic and interesting, you’ll want to wake up early and catch the sunrise.

  • The blue hour: The blue hour is the period of twilight during morning in night where the world is not quite light or dark yet. Because of this, the world is cast in a beautiful, almost eerie blue hue that adds a dramatic aspect to your photographs. Images taken during this time tend to benefit from longer exposures, which pick up on color and light that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
  • The golden hour: The golden hour is the first hour of sunlight right after sunrise, or the last hour of sunlight right before sunset. The sun is lower in the sky, allowing the world to bask in a warm, diffused light that makes all of its subjects seem majestic.

White Balance

If you want your shot to have a blueish hue you shoot during the blue hour, and if you want your shot to have a golden tone you shoot during the golden hour, right? Luckily, you don’t need to go chasing light in order to create specific color tones in your photographs.

Keeping your white balance on ‘auto’ may work the majority of the time. But if you want to dig a little deeper into what your camera is capable of, try messing around with the other settings! If you want your shot to appear warmer, set your white balance to ‘shadow’. This setting cancels out the cool blue tones of shadows, warming up your entire photograph. If you want your shot to appear cooler, set your white balance to ‘tungsten’. This setting cancels out the orange tones of tungsten bulbs by adding in blue tones.

Composing the Shot

Now that you’ve got all of your camera settings figured out, you have to actually take the photograph!

  • Consider what the most interesting part of the building is. Does the entire building work together to create an interesting composition within itself, or is one particular part catching your eye? Are there other interesting buildings or landscapes around your subject that would work well within the photograph?
  • Look for lines! Composing with lines is one of the easiest ways to make an architectural photograph more interesting. Since buildings are created out of lines, work with the flow of them naturally. If a building includes lots of vertical lines take a vertical photograph – and vice versa for horizontal lines.
  • If it’s a stormy day, don’t put away your camera gear yet! Bad weather can create significantly more interesting photographs than sunny days.
  • Don’t restrict yourself to straight-on photographs. Think birds eye, worms eye, different angles. Move around and don’t be afraid to duck under things or stand on top of objects in order to get the perfect shot.

Most importantly, have fun! Photography is all about experimentation, and with a digital camera you can experiment all you want. The results are right there on the screen, so you can easily tweak your settings until you figure out what works for you. Get out there and shoot! If you want to perfect your photo editing skills once you have your final photographs, Udemy has a handful of helpful courses that will make you a Photoshop pro in no time.