“Take a photo!”
For most everything we do everyday, we document it. We take photos.
Especially when we travel. Or when we experience something new.
When exploring new places, visiting beautiful countries and cities, there are always architectural marvels to stare at and take a picture of. Also, architecture doesn’t only point to one building; it could be an entire row or bridges, subway stations, tunnels, or even parking garages.
Architecture is interesting. There’s always something new to see, unique to capture and features to focus on – for the new and old.
Photo source: Architectural Digest
Photo source: Forbes
However, compared to capturing images of food, home decor or taking selfies, architecture photography is not always easy. There are challenges to conveying the scale, unique features and essence of buildings and structures.
First, choosing the right angle is challenging because there are several. Second, the asymmetrical design of the structure translates to dozens of opportunities to capture its beauty. And lastly, given its size, how do you ensure the parts you want to show off all fit into the frame?
Before we begin, let’s just say, to reach that photo composition you’ll love, the architectural features you need to keep in mind are symmetry, leading lines and repetitive patterns.
And remember, you don’t need to be a professional photographer to take stunning architecture photography. All you need is your smartphone and a few creative, useful tips to get started.
Here they are:
1. Three common viewing angles
The first and most common one of all these tips is the human-eye view – to look at the building straight on and take that picture. Simply put, you look at it and take an image of the entire structure that caught your attention.
Photo source: Snapshot Canon-Asia
Apart from that, there’s another popular choice whenever the opportunity arises – the bird’s eye view or aerial pictures. These beautiful shots are eye-catching because they capture a whole landscape into the frame – one you don’t see everyday.
Finally, another wow-er is the ant’s eye view. Basically, you imagine how an ant would view that architecture by going near it, looking up and taking a snap. With this, you decide how much sky you wish to include around the narrowing tip of the building.
2. Different times of day and weather conditions
Lighting is important in any type of image. In architecture photography, the changing light throughout the day has the power to influence the overall look and feel of the structure.
First, the differing sizes and angles of the shadows change by the hour, giving your photo a new story each time. Next, sun, rain and snow add special effects to your photo, sometimes masking certain areas, other times adding to its dramatic effect. All in all, showing the relationship of the structure with the environment – like how biophilic architecture merges with the unpredictability of the natural world.
The only thing is, to achieve this, you’ll have to wait long hours in the same area. Otherwise, you can go back to it at different times of day and weather conditions.
Photo sources: Matador Network and Architectural Digest
3. Light, shadows and reflections
In a similar vein, you make use of light, shadows and reflections to create visual interest and depth to your architectural photos. The shadows give a 3D effect to your image that varies depending on the angle, size and opacity.
Architectural marvels that have different heights, irregular shapes and contours, and columns usually lend more interesting shapes in their shadows. Moreover, they can temporarily trick the eye by creating other optical illusions that seemingly add to the structure.
Photo source: The Architectural Review
On the other hand, there are many modern buildings and structures that have reflective surfaces such as glass and mirrors. Use these features for artistic interest by emphasizing them and showing depth in your photo or giving that added dramatic element based on the image it reflects.
Another way to play with reflection is through water. If there’s a water feature beside it, rain and puddles or a body of water – all of which create interesting reflections that add to the architecture’s visual impact.
Or, if it’s a water-inspired structure whose main feature and essence is water dynamics and fluidity, you can use its own star element to capture its magic. For example, use your picture as a platform that compares soft and hard parts – concrete versus water – and portray how they can work together to make each other beautiful.
4. Focus on the details
Many times, when we think of architecture photography, we think of taking the entire structure and facade and fitting that into the frame. We forget that architecture is made up of intricate little details, texture and patterns that make it the beauty that it is as a whole.
In order to bring these unique details to life and tell a different story is to focus on them. Look for interesting designs like carved figures, vintage doorknobs, ornate carvings and the like. You can also focus on the brick walls, jagged edges, some rough exteriors, maybe rammed earth surfaces, etc.
These touches and natural surfaces are one-of-a-kind. Not only does this give your photo a new, distinctive focus, but it also shows the hidden ideas behind the structure and is a fresh take away from the big, anticipated one.
Photo source: PhotoBlog
Additionally, the details mirror the story of the architecture. With a doorknob or colored paintings, you can tell of its origins – which era it belongs to or century it was created in. Besides beauty, true genius in art and design can be told by how much these details communicate the meaning and purpose of the architecture.
5. Living beings for scale and life
Before, architecture photography was usually devoid of people and living beings. However, today, that approach is being debunked – architecture photography is getting a new breath of life when accompanied with people. Like some previous points, the photo tells a story – both of the structure and the person in it. Plus, they make the photos more visually interesting.
Photo source: My Modern Met
This is also a way to emphasize the size of the building, adding a person will provide scale to its enormity and space.
Additionally, living beings in a photo provide or accentuate its focal element. That added, external element attracts the eye and gives the image a central focal point. If not a person, other options you can play around with are using bicycles or cars.
6. Lines, shapes and patterns
Going back to what was mentioned earlier about architectural features that guide photo composition, leading lines and repetitive patterns are commonly used. When you see architecture that catches your eye, take a moment to admire it, then study it to see for any lines, shapes and patterns.
Capture the continuity of those lines and patterns because they will be able to lead the eye of the viewer from one end of your frame to the other. Make sure to focus on the strongest lines that make up the design. This could refer to windows on the building facade, endless hallways and corridors or spiral staircases taken directly from the top or at an angle.
Photo source: Cape Town School of Photography
Apart from serving as visual guide, they also add their own element of artistry and interest. Depending on which angle you take it from.
For example, those spiral staircases will not look the same if taken straight on – the human-eye view – compared when it’s taken from a bird’s eye view. Similarly, using uniform geometric windows as guide, the architecture won’t deliver the same message and depth when you take head-on, flat, showing the facade, or when you take it from an ant’s eye view.
Photo source: Bored Panda and Expert Photography
7. Frame your shots
When taking any type of photo, the first rule is to frame your shots well; an especially important point in architecture photography. As the photographer, you know and choose which element or part is the focal point. Make sure that stands out in your frame during your first glimpse of the image.
In photography, the rule of thirds guides the framing of your shots. Using a simplified explanation, it’s a compositional structure wherein the entire frame is split into nine squares – three vertical, three horizontal – using four gridlines.
According to the rule, when using the gridlines as guides, the focal point of your image should cover one or more of these squares. Meaning, it shouldn’t fall too much in either direction that it looks like it’s about to stumble out of the frame. Moreover, there are four points where the grid lines intersect, you can use these specific spots to highlight interesting aspects in your photo.
On your smartphone, turn on the ‘grid’ function in your camera to help you follow this better.
Photo source: Coolblue
In addition, the grid also helps you position your architecture off-center. If that’s what you want. This method creates a bit of visual interest because you also show surroundings that might contribute to the beauty of the structure (especially true in architecture near or on natural landscapes).
Besides that, it holds the viewer’s attention for a slightly longer time by giving them something else to look at besides the main subject.
Photo source: Passion Passport
On the other hand, sometimes you’re just meant to take the entire image without having to worry about the rule of thirds because that architectural landscape has to be seen in its entirety to be appreciated. You simply use the gridlines as a guide to ensure your image is straight on.
This works when the magnificence and beauty of the structure is shown in the build-up of the details rather than as a whole. Another reason is when the whole landscape is needed to tell the story and focusing on just one part is simply not enough.
Photo source: ArchDaily
8. Capture symmetry
On top of framing your shots, the grid helps you capture perfect symmetry in your architectural photos. Symmetry is also one of the more popular choices when it comes to photography and part of the architectural features that guide photo composition.
But when you want to show-off architectural marvels, this particular technique can really give high visual impact. Easily part of the thumb-stopping content as people scroll through social media.
Not only does it provide balance and harmony in your photos, but it also gives it a sense of depth. Additionally, symmetrical images are easier to appreciate because visually, it is simple to understand.
To achieve symmetry in photography, find architecture with a central design and mirror images of the east and west wings, stand in the center then shoot. Similarly, this refers to having equal visual weight on both sides. Use the grid’s guiding lines to show you where the center is, or adjust it accordingly when you edit afterwards.
Photo source: ArchDaily
Another way to look at symmetry is to see repetitive, identical structures that look like you copy-pasted one onto the other side. In this case, stand in between two of these identical structures and take your photo. Or, if they come in odd numbers, position yourself in the center of the middle structure and take the photo from there.
Photo source: Nicholas Goodden
The trick with symmetry is to fill up the frame. If you’re showing left-right symmetry, then the invisible central line should cut across fully from top to bottom. On the other hand, if you’re showing top-bottom symmetry, then use the horizontal axis as the basis that cuts across from left to right.
You’ve probably noticed in one of the images above that horizontal symmetry can be achieved through water reflections. Yes, that’s the most common approach for this type of symmetry. Although still having visual impact, vertical symmetry, however, offers more balancing and visual power because that’s what the eye can better focus on.
9. Architectural interiors
As if on instinct, we usually focus on the exteriors alone in architecture photography. Just like those unique details, we forget that the interiors also contribute to the beauty of the entire space. To experience the entire story behind the architecture, the exteriors give you one part while the interiors dive into the other, to give you a complete picture.
Inside, you have more angles to feature and try out. Here, windows are what you look out for – they are your main source of natural light. Or search for any design gaps in the structure, like a skylight, dome-like holes, that let in different forms and stretches of light.
The light rays give you shadows and reflections, emphasis on certain areas, or points to a focal element. Similarly, you can try all the other points we’ve mentioned before when it comes to the interiors – symmetry, leading lines, inclusive of people and other shapes and patterns.
Photo source: Wallpaper Safari
Furthermore, you can open a window and use it as a frame by taking a picture of the adjacent building or outdoors.
There’s also a chance to create some mystery. If you take a picture directly in front of the window, you’ll be against the light and any object or person in it, especially when fully in front of the window, will become a silhouette.
10. Explore different perspectives
One of the beauties of taking architecture photography – exteriors and interiors – is the multiple angles and perspectives you can take. Each one results in something different. Sometimes you show distortion, other times you focus on equality.
Photo source: The Straits Times
Outside, travel around and above the structure to see how it looks from different angles. You can try ‘keystoning’ which is when you tip your smartphone back to give the building a bit more 3D effect – similar to how a structure seems to get narrower as it the image goes up. Like this, you’re right at the bottom; but you can also take an image from afar to show the majesty of the structure especially against those beside and around it.
Inside, take note of the unique details and where the light touches to choose your focus and which areas to place more emphasis on.
Photo source: Divisare
11. Create abstracts
When you want to show something more, lend a little mystery or give your viewers something to think about when looking at your photo, create an abstract. For architecture photography to be abstract, you have to focus on the elements instead of the whole; otherwise, you’re just showing off the entire structure, no mystery.
Abstract photos capture a part of the structure’s essence without revealing it in its entirety. You give viewers a glimpse and the rest is up to their imagination.
To start, you can try looking for repeating patterns and let that fill the frame. Others who see it can tell that it’s a structure but they won’t know which one, or what it really looks like because you only gave them a peek. Make sure to capture an interesting element or pattern on it to still make your image memorable, not only a mix of strange lines and shapes.
Photo source: South China Morning Post
On the other hand, focus on an imposing design – like a bell tower, large decorative columns and pillars, unique windows or spiral staircases – and place emphasis on those. Disproportionately large or repetitive design elements are easier to create an abstract image of because they can easily fill the screen and become a focal point in the image.
You can also explore other creative touches by using complementing elements that combine well with the architectural element you wish to emphasize on.
Photo source: Forbes