What is architectural photography?

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Image: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

For a detailed overview of architectural photography, please start at our Architectural Photography – An introduction page.

What is architectural photography?

At its simplest, architectural photography might be considered to be the taking of a photograph of an architectural form or structure. But this is not particularly helpful…

Arriving at a definition

A quick search on Google will confirm that many definitions of the term architectural photography do exist. Hausberg et al1 offer the following:

Architectural photography “…is an art that represents 3d architecture in 2 dimensions.”

This is quite brave of the authors. If we use a smartphone to take a photograph of a building, we have covered a significant part of their definition; we have represented a 3d form in a 2d photograph.

Architectural photography image of date farm workers' accommodation building
Architectural photography?

That leaves us then with the “art” part of the definition. Are all photographs art? To some viewers a photograph may well be a piece of art. To others, that same image may be worthy of only the waste bin.

The use of the term “art” introduces a subjective element into the definition which, to my mind, casts doubt on its suitability for purpose.

Schulz2, on the other hand, asks the question “What is architectural photography”, but falls short of answering it definitively. Rather, he clarifies what architecture is, and allows “architectural” to refer to architecture, and then goes on to explain what photography means. This, of course, aligns with my rather simplistic initial observation above, that if we take a photograph of a building, it is architectural photography.

So where does that leave us?

It depends on what the end user’s need are really. If a client wants a fine art image of his/ her building, we can work to deliver just that; a fine art interpretation of the building that stands before us. To accomplish this we may use, by way of example, a long exposure to allow clouds to streak across the sky for effect, yielding an image that would not be visible to any passing observer. We may create a High Dynamic Range (HDR) artistic masterpiece that does not accurately reflect what we saw with our own eyes. We may remove unwanted elements from the image to create our final image.

We also have a valiant attempt to define fine art photography from Julia Anna Gospadarou3:

“Fine art photography is the expression of the imagination and will of the artist, who needs to create an object that will resemble his personal inner world, his vision and abstract representation of the material world, an object that has a meaning to him and that he releases into the world so others can understand him and learn his truth. This object is the fine art photograph.”

I applaud Gospodarou for having the courage to even attempt to define fine art photography, let alone publish her definition. In a nutshell, a photograph is fine art if the photographer says it is.

Fine art architectural photography image
Fine art photography

So what is the final answer?

The client may require an image of documentary record, or a Verified View, to deliver an accurate record of what is there, and of course a full record of the position and location of the camera, and associated settings.

We might be asked to create images of architectural detail, or to create abstract images of buildings, or to take photographs of property to support a sale by the owner.

These are all valid options for the architectural photographer.

Considering all this, if you take a photograph of a building and call it architectural photography, that’s what it is. Whether it will ever be accepted as art, or fine art, or sell as a print, or be licensed by anyone, is a totally different matter. The important aspect then, will be how your client, or potential client, regards your work.

Take a look at my fine art cityscape gallery to get some idea of the directions you can take your fine art in. Also, visit my other galleries to see if you can identify any aspects of my own style.

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  1. HAUSBERG, A., SIMONS, A., GÖßMANN, C. & MEUSER, F. 2012. Architectural Photography, Berlin, Dom Publishers.
  2. GOSPODAROU, J. A. & TJINTJELAAR, J. 2014. From basics to fine art. Black and white photography – Architecture and beyond.
  3. GOSPODAROU, J. A. & TJINTJELAAR, J. 2014. From basics to fine art. Black and white photography – Architecture and beyond.

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