The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” has never been truer. We live in a visual society where photos take precedence over words. But because of the onslaught of images people are exposed to everyday, it’s even more important to make sure your architectural photos stand out.
Taking intriguing photos doesn’t require spending thousands of dollars on equipment or a degree in photography. It does take skill and some planning to get the best shots.
Here are a few tips to help you improve the quality of your photos.
1. Know what your intention is before you take the shot
Do you want to show the impressive angles of a building, the hominess of a living room, or the grandeur of a church steeple? Do you want the photo to be clear and concise or warm and artsy? Knowing what you want your photo to impress upon a viewer can help you choose the right angle and the lighting you need.
2. Learn the history
Studying a little of the history of the building in advance can help you know which features to emphasize in your photo. Showing architecture in the style of photography from its original time period can produce interesting shots, but so can showing an old building in a modern setting. Think about your options in advance.
3. Visit the site numerous times
Take shots in different types of weather at various times of day. While a sunny day exposure may be beautiful, a shot in the rain can create a unique atmosphere, telling a completely different story. A sunset shot will be different than one taken at sunrise. Many photographers prefer early morning or evening shots but do experiment before hand.. Night shots, with lights glittering, are often overlooked but can be a good option.
4. Invest in good equipment
You don’t need to spend a fortune on camera equipment, but a professional camera with a wide angle lens is important. A tripod will allow you to keep your camera level even when doing a timed shot. With a neutral-density (ND) filter you can take photos in bright sunlight without them looking over-exposed. A tilt shift lens, though expensive, will help remove distortion from your photos, especially those pointing upwards. If you can’t afford a tilt shift lens, distortion can be corrected after the shot is taken, see #7.
5. Try a diagonal angle
There’s no law that says all shots must be vertical or horizontal. Play around with some diagonal views just to see what happens. This is called the Dutch Angle in photography technique terms.
6. Use a long exposure
For an unusual, almost blurred effect, use an exposure of five seconds or more. This can add action to an otherwise static scene. It can also produce interesting lighting as shadows change. Play around with some exposure times and see what happens. It’s always best to use a tripod so the camera is steady throughout the entire exposure time.
7. Don’t be afraid to include people
While this is generally not done in architectural photos, it can be used on occasion to give a sense of context. Instead of an empty office or a vacated house, let the shot show the rooms being used as intended. The trend of never including people is starting to change so you can be one of the first to populate your photos.
8. Explore different views
Lie on the ground. Take shots up close. Then step away and take another. If possible, take a shot looking down as well as looking up. This is one reason drones are now being utilized in photography. They can take shots from views you can’t reach on your own.
9. Use light to your advantage
Notice how the light hits the building or the room during different times of the day. Shadows can add texture or ruin a photo. Taking numerous shots will help you decide when the light is perfect for the mood you want to convey.
10. Catch the reflections
When you’re taking shots of glass and water watch for the reflections. You can sometimes capture an image of another building, a unique cloud formation, or a landscape feature that adds to the imagery of your photo.
11. Learn to use photo enhancing software
Adobe Photoshop or Perfect Photo Suite are good choices. No matter how carefully you frame your shots, you can’t remove all distractions or distortions from your photos while on site. However, with software you can make changes later. There are many ways you can enhance your photos so learn to use the many options available. Hugin and PTGui are good for panoramic shots.
12. Take your time
Learning patience may be one of the greatest skills a photographer can acquire. If the shot doesn’t come out as you want, try again at a later time or on a different day. You can often capture a moment such as a bird flying by or an unusual cloud formation if you wait for those special times.
13. Consider black and white
Though most photos are enhanced with color, there may be times when a black and white shot, with its clear contrasts, will convey your intended message better than color.
14. Always keep your camera handy
Though you carefully plan most photo shoots, the ultimate shot may appear when you’re least expecting it — so be ready. You may also stumble across a unique structure that provides the perfect photo opportunity. Don’t settle for only taking shots of the buildings everyone else photographs, find some places off the beaten path.
15. Take notes
Jot down the types of lenses and exposures you use. There’s nothing more frustrating than taking a stunning photograph and then not remembering how you achieved the effect. Obviously you can’t do this for every shot, but when you try something new it never hurts to make a brief note.
Whether you’re taking photos of medieval castles, modern skyscrapers, or subdivision homes, getting the ultimate shot is possible with a little patience and skill. Don’t be afraid to experiment and bring your own creative view of life to your photos.