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Explore Architectural Photography

February 12, 2015 8:00 am

In our Spring 2014 post entitled 5 Must-Shoot Spots in NYC for Photographers, we discussed some of the most ideal locations in the city for photography. A large part of what makes locations such as Grand Central Station and St. Patrick’s Cathedral so breathtaking in images is the architecture of the buildings. Creating intriguing architecture requires collaboration among architects, builders, and engineers and their final artistic “masterpiece” fulfills both form and function in a way never before seen. Executed well, architectural images add a new dimension to the portfolio of both pro and amateur photographers. Capturing the nuances of architectural design in a photograph is an art form in itself that requires practice and skill.

Time it right

The best time for exterior architectural photography is right before dawn and soon after sunset. At these times, the sky is full of color and textured that add depth and interest to the shot. This is also when the light on the building is the most even and when the building’s exterior lighting mixes well with the ambient light. During the middle part of the day, the sky can appear washed out and too bright, no matter the weather. Full daylight also creates harsh shadows on buildings that make it challenging to capture the intricate details of the design properly. For interior architectural photography, the right time is determined by what you’re trying to capture in your image, such as afternoon sunlight streaming in through the stained glass windows of a church or the view of the descending sun through the picture window of a skyscraper.

Think like an architect

During the creation process for a building, architects focus on lines, shapes, and spatial relationships so when you’re shooting architecture you need to concentrate on capturing those same elements. Framing your shot with the architectural aspects in mind creates powerful visual pieces that grab and hold the interest of the viewer. When you’re photographing an exterior, the non-organic shapes of the structure are focal points that provide patterns and leading lines against the natural backdrop of the sky or other surroundings. Experiment with shooting architecture with different color building materials to see how that amplifies shapes and textures. Research the history of the building, even talking to the architect or builder if possible to discover the important features of the structure.

The Cloisters - NYC

Select the best lens

To maintain perspective and avoid a skewed view in architectural photography, a tilt-shift lens is a good option. With a tilt-shift lens, you’re better able to capture the right perspective on larger, taller buildings. While it’s possible to manipulate an image shot with a wide-angle lens during processing with a photo-editing program, this can reduce the quality of the image. When shooting from a distance, you can use a telephoto lens to capture an image with only minimally skewed perspective.

Convey scale and steady shots

While a building can be visually interesting alone in the shot, consider including something else in the image to convey the scale of the structure. Having a person, vehicle, or standard doorway in the shot helps show the viewer visualize the space and comprehend the true dimensions of the structure. Keep your shots steady by using a tripod to compose your image. Using a tripod ensures that you keep lines level and that multiple shots are framed the same.

Take different shots at different exposures

The texture, depth, light, and shadow that make architecture so interesting also present a daunting challenge for a photographer. Photographing architecture means that you’re working with a vast range of dark and light areas that don’t necessarily present well in a final image. In exterior shots, the dark, shadowy areas of the building are in competition with a bright sky. For interior shots, sunlight through windows can illuminate half of the room and leave the other in darkness. Unless you’re intent is to capture such striking, stark contrast, you’re going to need to use exposure bracketing to even out the tone of the image. Exposure bracketing is taking several different photographs using different setting. For example, to fix a half-dark/half-light interior shot, you have one shot exposed for the window and another shot exposed for the wall. You then combine the two during image processing in your preferred photo-editing program. This is when shooting from a tripod is especially important as it keeps your framing the same in each shot so it’s easy to layer images during processing.

Architectural photography is worth exploring when you want to expand your skills while adding something new to your portfolio. Countless buildings in NYC serve as beautiful, functional artwork, and once you start exploring the city with an eye for architectural detail, it will never quite look the same. Baboo Digital photolab services help expose every new aspect of the city and our expert framing, mounting, and laminating create the perfect finish on your favorite images.