2017 Week 5 Theme: How To Take Good Architectural Photography

Photo by Pedro Lastra
Photo by Pedro Lastra

This week, I’m handing over to guest photographer and PhotoBlog member Helen Hooker. She’ll be your guide as she shares her top tips on how to take good architectural photography. If you’ve read any of Helen’s photography articles, you’ll know you’re in capable hands.

Before I hand over, let me mention last week’s theme. Your mission was to practice headshot portrait photography on a willing friend or relative. I enjoyed checking in on the entries each day, because there was such an impressive mix of compositions and styles. Brilliant work from the PhotoBlog community!

Let’s see who our winners were…

2017 Week 4 Theme Winners:

Congratulations to these members! Check your inboxes for a PM from me soon. Thanks to everyone who participated. You can check out all the entries here.

Here’s the winning shot by member Emmanuel Diaz. Do you see the triangle formed by the outline of the model’s arm? Including shapes in your photos is a great way to strengthen compositions. Nicely done, Emmanuel!

Photo by Emmanuel Diaz
Photo by Emmanuel Diaz

2017 Week 5 Theme: How To Take Good Architectural Photography – A Special Guest Post By Helen Hooker

We spend a lot of time around architecture, frequently taking it for granted. Have you ever thought about telling stories about the buildings around you through photographs? It’s easy to take a quick snap of an interesting structure, but why not see if you can create something more artistic? I’m going to give you a few hints and tips so you too know how to take architectural photography for this week’s theme.

Photo by John Cobb
Photo by John Cobb

How to Participate:

Deadline: February 5th, 2017

How to submit: Add 2017theme5 as one of the tags in your post on the PhotoBlog platform

Check out the submissions: Use the Weekly Theme tab

Support and encourage: Like and comment on your favorite posts

What to Shoot

You’ve got so many choices here! You could go for a piece of historic architecture, such as a stately home or a beautiful church. Why not use this theme as an excuse to go and shoot somewhere new? Alternatively, if you live or work in a city you could seek out a piece of modern architecture. There are endless compositional possibilities in the shiny glass and steel buildings popping up in our cities these days.

How to take architectural photography
St. Etheldreda’s Chapel in the City of London. I took a simple approach to photographing this beautiful space. Photo by Helen Hooker

Finally, you could pick a piece of everyday, functional architecture. This could be a barn on a local farm, or even an interesting angle on your own home. It can be immensely satisfying to tell the story of somewhere very familiar through your photos.

Pick Your Shooting Style

Again, the options are almost endless. A classic view is to photograph an entire building; but you could also take a wider view, showing your chosen structure in its environment. Perhaps your chosen building is dwarfed by city tower blocks or sits alone in the landscape. This can help the viewer get a sense of scale.

How to take architectural photography
A wide view of the London skyline at night. Photo by Helen Hooker

One of my favourite approaches is to get closer. Sharing an interesting architectural detail tells more of a building’s story. Alternatively you could pick out a repeating pattern to create an abstract image. Chicago based photographer Angie McMonigal often uses this technique to stunning effect. She finds patterns in architectural lines and creates wonderful abstract images from them. Visit her website to take a look at her amazing work.

How to take architectural photography
This staircase at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art becomes a striking abstract image in the hands of Angie McMonigal. Photo by Angie McMonigal.

A Few Thoughts on Technique

Which lens?

Well, your choice of lens really depends on the approach you want to take. For grand sweeping lines, a wide angle lens (e.g. 24mm) is useful. However, you can go even wider if you wish. To capture architectural details inside a building, something longer would be more useful. I almost always have a 50mm lens with me. Its fast aperture is really handy in low light interiors. It’s also great for blurring the background when photographing details. I recommend taking a couple of lenses and trying both approaches.

Photo by Jan Tielens
Photo by Jan Tielens

Converging verticals

If you want to photograph an entire building, a big decision is whether you want the upright lines to be vertical. When shooting whole buildings, vertical walls can appear to lean backwards in photos. This is because it’s often difficult to step back far enough. Traditional architecture photographers avoid this by shooting with tilt-shift lenses or a view camera.  Such equipment can be expensive but, thankfully, very similar results can be achieved in post-processing. The transform tools in Photoshop and Lightroom are great for this. Just leave as much space as you can around the building, because you’ll lose a little off the edges when you correct the distortion.

Photo by John Towner
Photo by John Towner

Alternatively, you could go to the opposite extreme and pick an angle that really emphasizes the distortion and converging lines. I love shooting upwards when I’m photographing churches to exaggerate the lines and make the architecture seem even more imposing. Don’t be afraid to lie on the floor to get the best angle. I’ve done this many times. If you want to go the whole hog, you could even shoot with a fisheye lens and go bananas with the distortion!

The vertical lines converge strongly here but they only serve to lead the viewer's eye to the beautiful patterns in the center of the tower at Peterborough Cathedral. Photo by Helen Hooker.
The vertical lines converge strongly here but they only serve to lead the viewer’s eye to the beautiful patterns in the center of the tower at Peterborough Cathedral. Photo by Helen Hooker.

The human element

Have you thought about including a human element in your images? All buildings are designed with people in mind, be they houses or spaces where people work. Include people in your photo to help tell a story about the building or to lend a sense of scale.

Including a person in this photo of Middle Littleton Tithe Barn gives the viewer a sense of the vast scale of this medieval structure. Photo by Helen Hooker.
Including a person in this photo of Middle Littleton Tithe Barn gives the viewer a sense of the vast scale of this medieval structure. Photo by Helen Hooker.

Color or monochrome?

While most of us shoot in color these days, there’s always the option to convert images to black and white in post-processing. Doing so removes colorful distractions and emphasizes the lines of the building. I adore the work of Billy Currie, a photographer based in Scotland. His stunning monochrome images of architecture offer both drama and focus the viewer’s eye on the architectural lines.

A dramatic take on the Lloyds Building in London, where the monochrome treatment makes us focus on the architect's design. Photo by Billy Currie.
A dramatic take on the Lloyds Building in London, where the monochrome treatment makes us focus on the architect’s design. Photo by Billy Currie.

If you find it difficult to visualize what a monochrome image might look like, why not set your camera to shoot in RAW+JPEG mode and set your picture style to monochrome?  That way you’ll see a black and white image on your LCD screen straight away but you’ll still have the full-color RAW file to work with later if you decide you prefer color.

Look for the light

Take note of how lighting conditions can change the appearance of your chosen building. Pick the time of day carefully to capture the best illumination of the exterior. It’s worth checking which direction the sunlight will fall at different times of the day.

With interior photography, look for the way the light falls through the windows and the shadows cast. If you’re planning to shoot stained glass windows in a church, an overcast day can often be your friend as it reduces the contrast between light and dark. However, dramatic shafts of sunlight create beautiful effects.

The shafts of sunlight here create a magical effect, throwing beams down into the nave of Wells Cathedral. Photo by Helen Hooker.
The shafts of sunlight here create a magical effect, throwing beams down into the nave of Wells Cathedral. Photo by Helen Hooker.

So there you have it, food for thought and some inspiration to whet your appetite for this week’s theme.   I can’t wait to see what creative images you all come up with!

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About the author

Ben McKechnie

Ben is a photographer, writer, and editor. His work is driven by a fascination in people, and the relationship they have with their culture. Currently to be found editing, photographing, and eating his way around beautiful Taiwan. Ben is a graduate of MatadorU's Advanced Travel Photography course. Check out more of his recent India-based photojournalism over on on his Facebook page and Instagram using the links above.

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