How to Capture Dramatic Architecture Photography

Architecture photography has fascinated shutterbugs for centuries. In fact, the world’s oldest surviving photograph contains architectural elements — the View from the Window at Le Gras was taken way back in 1826. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise since building design photography can be a great avenue for both documentation and artistic expression.

Stellar architecture photography captures the essence of a structure — be it a building, bridge or cityscape. And this, in turn, requires pre-planning, an understanding of light, space and composition, as well as good knowledge of editing techniques.

Whether you are a complete novice or looking to upgrade your skills, here are a few tips to take your architecture photography to the next level.

Photo by Ben Willmore, instructor of Dramatic Black & White Architecture

Choose the Location

Whether you prefer taking shots of classic buildings or modern skyscrapers, your next subject shouldn’t be overly difficult to locate. Ask yourself, what grabs your attention. Is it well-preserved architecture, contemporary structures or run-down and abandoned spaces? The choice is entirely yours.

If you want to see what structures in your area have been deemed photo-worthy by others, check out ShotHotspot. The platform uses geotagging information from apps such as Flickr to pinpoint popular photo locations.

Get to Know Your Subject

Once you have set your mind on a subject, explore it. Walk around it, looking for any unique architectural features. If possible, explore the building’s interior. In addition, reading up on the structure’s history (why it was built and how it was used?) can help you decide what kind of mood you want to capture in your photos. 

Emphasize Lines and Shapes

Vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines can influence the movement of the eye across an image, particularly in black and white photography. Lines can be used to draw attention to a certain focal point in the photograph and even elicit an emotional response from the viewer. 

Vertical lines convey a sense of power and strength, horizontal lines have a calming effect and diagonal lines promote a feeling of movement. While not as common in architectural design, curved lines convey a more natural feel since they are often found in nature.

Shapes can add an element of interest to architecture photography. While black and white photography already emphasizes form, composition can also draw the viewer’s focus to a certain shape in an architectural design. 

Straighten Converging Lines

While converging lines can add depth to your shot, they can also make a structure look as if it is about to tip over. This is because converging lines appear to curve. This perspective distortion can be prevented with a tilt-shift lens. Alternatively, you can correct diverging lines by using the perspective warp tool in Photoshop.

Try Different Angles 

Rather than capturing the entire structure, give yourself the freedom to be creative. Experiment with perspective. Explore the structure’s angles — look around corners, up ceilings and down staircases. Focus on an architectural detail while minimizing distractions or completely fill the frame with a shape to create an abstract effect.

Not all images have to be taken from an eye level. Make the structure look dominant by capturing it from below or take a photo from above to emphasize the subject’s shape and minimize distortion. While experimentation is paramount, it is also important to think about the basic rules of composition (archways can make great frames for a shot, etc.). 

Shoot at Various Times of the Day

In structural photography, light can add an element of drama to your images. It can also create a more three-dimensional look and obscure unwanted details. As such, the time of the day you shoot your subject can make a huge difference to the final result. Visit the site at sunrise or sunset to complement your image with golden hues, reflections and shadows. Conversely, shooting your subject at night presents the opportunity to add a certain mood to your image by using artificial lighting.

Different weather can also add a range of effects to your photographs and even completely change their mood. As such don’t wait for sunny days. Cloudy skies, rain, fog and even snowfall can all add vitality and texture to your captures.

When it comes to light, interior photography is a whole different ball game. When shooting inside buildings you need to be able to make the most of both window and artificial light. This is when an off-camera flash can come in handy as it can help you control the directions and intensity of interior light.

Know When to Use Post-Processing

These days capturing striking, high-quality architecture photography is about much more than a keen eye. It’s often also about the post-production process and how well you can use Photoshop, Lightroom or other editing tools to retouch your images. Other than correcting distortion, some of the most common post-processing touch-ups include adding contrast and blasts of color, correcting white balance and combining HDR photos.

While manipulating images is a common practice when it comes to artistic projects, it’s important to understand that using editing software on your work isn’t always appropriate. If you have been commissioned to take shots of a building for documentation purposes, the expectation will be that your photographs will be true to reality. Saying this, minor changes such as getting rid of an electrical socket are usually acceptable.

Want to learn more about architecture photography? Subscribe now to access Ben Willmore’s Dramatic Black & White Architecture class.

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