Architectural photography may be commissioned for many reasons, but it is also usually an investment. It is the role of the professional architectural photographer to deliver the best returns possible.
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Fine art, project record, wall art, annual report,..?
Regardless of the size of a building, there is architectural detail that highlights the architect’s creativity. To see more images of Islamic architecture at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque please click here.
For a quick introduction to me, Alan Millin, how to get started maximizing your return on investment in professional architectural photography, and this website in general, please take a look at “Welcome to the home of professional architectural photography“.
What is architectural photography?
In its simplest form, architectural photography may be considered to be the taking of any photograph of a building, but in reality there is much more to it than that.
Photographing architecture, (and doing it well…), is described as one of the most demanding disciplines in photography, in terms of skills and equipment required, and is an art that represents 3D architecture in 2 dimensions1. The transition between documentary and artistic architectural photography is difficult to pinpoint2, which is one reason why it is essential for the architectural photographer to be fully aware of client needs.
For a deeper dive into this topic, please take a look at this specific “What is architectural photography?” post.
The importance and value of photography to architects should not be under-estimated. Trans World Airlines (TWA) bought the Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center project (c1956) based on a slide show of Balthazar Korab’s photographs of the project model, without actually seeing the model . Korab’s photographs of the model also effectively signaled the end of his career as a practicing architect, and launched his career as a photographer3.
The importance of architectural photography
“How we perceive architecture depends to a significant extent on its interpretation by the photographer”
The above quote (from Hausman et al.) further demonstrates the importance of architectural photography, and also the part played by the photographer. A fine art architectural image will reveal the creativity of the photographer, in addition to that of the architect, while if a documentary record is required, the photographer’s artistic inclinations will be of little value.
Read our article “Why is architectural photography important?” to learn more.
What is architectural photography used for?
To many people architectural photography may simply be an image of a building, yet it has many use categories, including:
- Business acquisition
- Fine art
- Real estate sales & marketing
- Travel & tourism
These categories are introduced in more depth in this article: “What is architectural photography used for?“
Creating great architectural photography
Following on from what architectural photography is, the importance of it, and what it is used for, we naturally arrive at the question of how to create winning architectural images. While having a camera is something of a prerequisite, many other factors come into play.
Preparation is key to successful photography, whatever the genre. For architectural photography we need to consider shooting angles, perspective control, weather, light, shade, and shadow.
Can we make use of our smartphones? Do we have the right equipment? Do we know what settings to dial in to our cameras before we leave home?
Some photographic genres, such as fashion, portrait, headshot, and street, may look odd with no people in the image. With architectural photography we can choose to capture an image of a building with no people in the shot, but we also have the option of including people to suit our artistic intent. We may, for instance choose, to include people to introduce a sense of scale, or activity within a building.
Take a look at “How to #1: Great architectural photography” to explore this topic in greater depth, and Book review #3: James Ewing – Follow the sun, which reviews Ewing’s field guide to architectural photography.
Equipment for architectural photography
Cameras come in many forms, from old film cameras to the latest digital cameras; from large, view cameras to pocket size smartphone devices. There are also many variants within each category.
DSLRs also come with different sensor sizes, and as such are usually referred to as either full-frame, which offers a similar size image as that provided with 35mm film, or APS-C, which is a smaller sensor, often referred to as a cropped sensor. APS-C sensor crop sizes vary by manufacturer, with crop factors of 1.5 and 1.6 being typical. Full-frame DSLR’s, fitted with tilt-shift lenses, are now the standard for architectural photography.
There is also a considerable variety of lenses for the most common camera used for architectural photography today, the Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. The DSLR allows the photographer to change the lens on the camera to suit the occasion. The latest mirrorless cameras also offer this same facility.
Lenses in common use include prime lenses, having a fixed focal length, usually with a wide aperture; zoom lenses, some of which are capable of maintaining the same widest aperture at all focal lengths, while the widest aperture of the cheaper lenses decreases with increased focal length; wide angle lenses, which offer a wide angle of view, and are offered as prime or zoom; and telephoto lenses, which typically offer a longer focal length than a standard view, and are also available as prime or zoom.
Of particular interest to the architectural photographer are tilt-shift lenses, which allow the DSLR user to obtain some of the versatility provided by a larger view camera.
You can find more on the subject of lenses in our “What is the best lens for architectural photography?” article.
It will not be long before an aspiring architectural photographer discovers the need to hold a camera steady for prolonged intervals. Devices to support the camera are limited only by the photographer’s imagination. Cameras can be rested on the floor, a fence or gate post, a table, a camera bag etc., but all these lack one important attrribute, the ability to be easily adjusted to fine tune the camera position.
Tripods are the tool of choice when it comes to mounting the camera. Monopods, particlularly those that can be equipped with feet which effectively turns them into mini-tripods, also provide this function, but usually with less stability than a made-for-purpose tripods.
Along with deciding which tripod to buy, it is also important to consider which tripod head to buy. Cameras are mounted to tripod heads, which in turn provide the adjustment that photographers need to fine tune composition, and hold the camera in position while the shot is taken.
Natural light is often not adequate to light scenes for architectural photography, particularly for indoor shots. There are times when the photographer will need to provide supplemental, artificial lighting to bring out the best of the room or building being photographed.
This may range from using large softboxes outside, providing light through a window, to strategically placing off-camera flash units, often referred to as strobes, around a room or in an adjacant room, to light darker areas.
Control of these off-camera flash units may be achieved through setting up a master slave system which relies on the master light triggering the slave units, through infra-red control, or by wireless triggers.
Using radio transmission allows the photographer to avoid line-of-sight issues that may manifest themselves when using other forms trigger.
Read through our detailed Equipment article to learn more about the equipment used by architectural photographers.
Editing architectural images
Having taken photographs, the next step is to get them ready for their final use. This process is know as post-processing, or post-production. The term editing, while widely used in reference to manipulating an image with software, more accurately refers to the process of selecting which image, or sequence of images, makes the final project output. Consider the goal of creating a photobook; The process of culling a large folder of images to arrive at the 40 – 100 or so images that will make it into the book is editing. Finishing, refers to the actions carried out to bring an image to its final output condition.
That said, I do refer to editing here as the process of finishing, as that is how most people, particularly non-professional photographers, seem to interpret it.
Image editing requires us to manipulate the images that our cameras create, even if they look perfect in-camera. With film photography, this manipulation is carried dout in a dark room. For the now much more common digital photography, we enter the digital equivalent of the darkroom. To do this we need computer software. There are many applications available to us, ranging in price from free to very expensive. Find out more in our “Image editing software” article.
Architectural photography has some specific characteristics that we typically need to consider. For more on editing architectural photographs please check out this “How to edit architectural photography images” article.
1. HAUSBERG, A., SIMONS, A., GÖßMANN, C. & MEUSER, F. 2012. Architectural Photography, Berlin, Dom Publishers. (Find out more here)