First Lesson in Architectural Photography

I am a student who has been practicing architectural photography for a year. Being a photography lover, I have founded an Instagram page. In this essay, I am going to discuss some simple techniques that I have been using in my photos.

Preparation Work

1.  Get a Camera or a Cell Phone

For beginners, I would suggest you get a camera with both auto and manual mode. Canon 850D would be a good and cheap option. Try to fiddle with the manual setting to replicate the photo you took with auto mode. This is the best way to become familiar with the effect of each setting.

For photography guru, you would already have some professional camera, then you better get a tilt-shift lens for architectural photography. A Samyang tilt-shift 24mm lens would be an economic choice, which will be compatible with most brands of camera. Perspective distortion would be your biggest enemy in architectural photography. A tilt-shift lens would be able to get you a perfectly straight building!

But if you are taking photos just for fun, a cell phone would also be a good choice.

2. Target a Location

Is there a place, such as a city, a street, or a building that impressed you? Perhaps a place that is in your neighborhood, or a place that is miles apart from your hometown. Yet, it may not be necessary for you to visit architecture marvels like Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum in Paris for a good shot, as architectural photography focuses more on the context.

3. Walk Around the Site

Arriving at your destination, you may start by walking from the exterior to the interior, or in a reversed way. In the beginning, you could pay attention to the form and the structure of the buildings. For example, whether the building is a huge mass, or whether is it a large space underneath the rooftop. Afterward, start looking for special features of the building or site, undergo close observation to see if there is anything unique about the building elements, colors, textures, etc.

Context of the Photo

1. Imagine How the Photo Will Look Like

After familiarizing yourself with the site, revisit the spots that fascinate you. Brainstorm about which parts of the buildings you would like to include in the photo. Next, move around your targeted spot and look for the best perspective for shooting the photo. I usually take photos using a one-point or two-point perspective. For a one-point perspective, it is important to locate the vanishing point on the centerline to make the photo more organized.

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One-point perspective of Central Market, Hong Kong ©snapshots_jp from Instagram
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Two-point perspective of Hong Kong Cultural Center ©snapshots_jp from Instagram

2. Try Letting the Photo Itself Tell a Story

Photos serve as the language of photographers; most photos have a meaning or a story behind. For example, the photo below overlaps the edge of two separate buildings, this fusion of grass and concrete aims to create a contrast between nature and our city.

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Buildings at Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong ©snapshots_jp from Instagram

3. Zoom in to the Main Character

Try to make the photo continuous by zooming into the main character, avoid showing the edge of the wall in the photo. Not only can this create a stunning photo, but it can also leave room for the views’ imagination. Besides, since the photo aims to highlight the main character, the photo should also avoid unrelated eye-catchy items, such as construction sites, road signs, and advertisement banners.

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Star Ferry Pier, Hong Kong ©snapshots_jp from Instagram
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Tsuen Wan District, Hong Kong ©snapshots_jp from Instagram

4. Adjust the Angle of the Camera

Make vertical lines vertical, so that the photo is more readable. Unlike portraits with human figures rotated to different angles, architectural photography aims to present how the actual building looks like in reality. Therefore, it is important to make the buildings straight.

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Cho Yiu Chuen, Hong Kong ©snapshots_jp from Instagram
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Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel ©snapshots_jp from Instagram

5. Ratio, Gridding

The most common ratio used in architectural photography is 1:1, meaning that the axis of the photo is located right in the middle of the photo. Besides, the ratio of 1:2, divided by 9 grids, is also frequently used.

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Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel in the ratio of 1:1 ©snapshots_jp from Instagram
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Cho Yiu Chuen, Hong Kong in the ratio of 1:2 ©snapshots_jp from Instagram

6. Timing of the Shot

Last but not the least, the timing of a shot is a cherry on top of a cake. Go out on a sunny day for a good photo, as sufficient sunlight helps create shadows that have the power to give form to architecture. Besides, human figures can make the photo more vivid. Therefore, it is suggested to take photos when pedestrians pass by.

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IFC, Hong Kong ©snapshots_jp from Instagram
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Cho Yiu Chuen, Hong Kong ©snapshots_jp from Instagram
Star Ferry Pier, Hong Kong©snapshots_jp from Instagram
Hong Kong Cultural Center ©snapshots_jp from Instagram

Photo Editing

1.Applications

One recommended computer application for photo editing in Adobe Lightroom. The application allows organizing, editing, and sharing of images. You can also use your cell phone if a computer is not available.

2. Crop and Perspective

Crop away unrelated eye-catchy items, such as construction sites, road signs, and advertisement banners. Next, rotate the photo and double-check if vertical lines are not tilted. Then straighten the photo using the perspective function if the was taken from a low angle.

3. Adjustments

Make adjustments in brightness, contrast, and saturation depending on your likes and dislikes.

Author

Architectural Journalist

RTF

Hong Kong

Josephine Pun is a student who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Architectural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Being a storyteller, journal and photography are channels that she uses to express her unique perception of architecture. Read her articles and experience architecture without leaving your couch!

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