Tips for creative architectural photography
Photographers who are interested in architectural photography and visiting Barcelona are in for a treat. With the most World Heritage sites found in any city within Europe [Barcelona has 9 of them], an exceptional diversity in styles from Gothic, Romanic and Modernism to modern, high-rise, cutting-edge architecture – some of the best architecture in the world can be found here.
The scope of architectural photography is vast, encompassing just about everything from skyscrapers to a mud-hut. Because we are surrounded by architecture in some form or another throughout our lives, it’s hardly surprising that it’s one of the most popular genres of photography out there. With such diversity all around us, how do we find ways to capture scenes that are not just a recorded snapshot?
There are a number of techniques and ways to think outside of the box to achieve this. The great thing about architectural photography is it allows you to slow down and assess a scene before just firing away. With practice, you will learn to develop your eye and shoot architecture without repeating the same compositions time and again, while finding interesting ways to express your own photographic vision. Below are a few pointers to help you on the right track:
1] Use the right camera equipment
Probably the most important technical aspect of shooting architecture is what camera equipment to bring. Most likely, you will need a wide-angle, ultra wide-angle or even a fisheye lens for most scenarios. Another very useful addition to your bag is a tele-zoom lens – great for standing back and compressing elements of a scene, or picking out small details, texture or repeating patterns. Architectural photography is best captured with a tripod and remote cord where possible. As well as using the lowest ISO possible, you can get the composition ready while waiting for the light right to arrive. Lastly, don’t forget to add polarising and graduated neutral density filters to add detail to interesting skies.
2] Plan your location
To be sure, the best way to arrive at your chosen location is by being prepared in advance. Knowing at what time the ambient light is right, how the weather will be, or even when the moon-phases occur are all part of making sure you are ready at your location before you start shooting. Also bearing in mind any opening hours, permits needed or if you are allowed to use a tripod on the premises will allow you to think about your photography instead of dealing with last-minute hitches. Ideally, you would have scouted the area beforehand and know at which precise locations to be set up. Positioning yourself to add the foreground or background for context or scale can be very helpful. Likewise, you may find that the surroundings detract from the overall image. This is where different focal lengths of your lenses come into play.
3] Perfection requires patience
Taking your time before shooting and exploring the structure from all angles will allow you to assess your preferred location to get a unique shot. For example, there are countless images of the Eiffel Tower, but have you seen one from the top, looking down with a fisheye lens? Iconic structures in particular can be challenging in terms of how to shoot them differently, but thinking outside the box is what will make your images stand out. Likewise, think about using buildings and other structures as backgrounds, instead of just your main subject. With your camera set up on a tripod, you can get really creative, especially with slow shutter speeds. Imagine using a very long exposure on a cloudy evening to get the effect of the clouds whizzing by. Other long exposure techniques include removing every person from a scene in a location that would otherwise be crowded – the only thing holding back your creativity is if you rush, so take your time!
4] What about the weather?
The weather will be responsible for dramatically changing the look of your images. For this reason, it is most important to read weather forecasts in advance. Quite often, the most uncomfortable shooting conditions will also yield the most dramatic looking images. Swirling clouds, rain or lightning can turn a great image into an exceptional one – the trick is to be ready to go out when the weather gets more interesting. Some locations will require different weather conditions. Night photography in remote areas away from any light pollution, can make architectural subjects come to life if shot against a starlit night sky. If you live nearby to a location you like to shoot, go back often in different weather conditions and during different seasons – you will be surprised at how varied the same subject will look.
5] Post-processing your images
Enhancing images on your computer is the final step to creating your masterpieces. All the usual settings of your software and steps to edit images should be made, however architectural photography can require extra time on specific controls of your software. Firstly, check that any straightening is applied. Architecture often looks best when all lines are centred, especially for interiors. As ultra wide-angle lenses are often used, you may need to apply distortion correction, unless something like a fisheye effect is the desired result. As architecture often includes contrasty skies, a software’s built-in graduated filter can also be used. Some photographers also like to use their camera’s built-in HDR function, or standalone HDR applications. If the images are edited this way, we find it best to use a subtle, natural looking effect. If done correctly, HDR images will bring out all the micro contrast detail in a structure, but still look natural. Finally, the photographer should view different presets in colour and Black and White in order to get an idea of the final result before continuing the editing process.