They say one should not judge a book by its cover, but we all do – and for good reason.
The website and social media platform are now what makes the first impression of a Firm in our minds, and a well-documented project has a far superior outreach than an excellent project with poor photographs.
Let’s face it. Not everybody will visit that hip cafe you designed, but they will visit the website, and all they get to see are photographs.
Architectural Photography is no longer a niche profession. Architects are seeking photographers who can see their projects with the nuance with which they have been designed.
But capturing architecture comes with its own challenges.
Architectural photographer focuses on the context along with the structure, including the surroundings, its relation with the users, and the details, to produce dynamic and captivating photos. From documenting large scale projects in their making of capturing heritage structures and cultural urbanscapes around the world, the field of architectural photography can be very versatile.
To get you started, here are a few skills every architectural photographer must master:
1. Know your equipment
Not just your camera. A good photograph depends on smaller details like which lens you use, tripod, Polaroid lenses, and in-depth knowledge of the procedure. A camera is a tool, and you are the one using it.
Apart from the camera, it is wise to invest in a tripod. It’s a must for low exposure shots and night time photography. A narrow aperture helps focus on details and produce sharp images but is prone to motion blur. Using a tripod will ensure crisp images, without having to increase your shutter speed (in case of dim light).
Photographers can also invest in a polarizing filter/lens. It controls the reflected light in a photograph, saving you from the glints and reflective glares on glass facades, windows, reflective materials, water bodies, etc.
The specifics of which equipment is used doesn’t matter as long as one has an understanding of its working and basic photography principles. Dutch Architectural photographer Iwan Baan’s Instagram is full of awe-inspiring photos shot on his iPhone.
PRO TIP: Always use your DSLR on manual mode, making sure you have control over the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
2. Following the sun
One of the essential rules of architectural photography is being aware of the light, the time of the day, and the weather. A good understanding of light and exposure can turn any mundane photograph into a masterpiece.
The right light adds a mood and drama to a photograph. And this depends on the sun’s path. The position of the sun in a photograph (even if it isn’t physically present in it) will either emphasize and obscure details, or give you a flat, overexposed picture.
If the sun is behind a building, a silhouette is created due to overexposure, producing moody images. Even exposure pictures with ambient lightning can be shot with the sun in front of the building.
It is important to study the sun-path of the site beforehand, to optimize your timing. In case that’s not possible, another trick is to orient yourself according to the sun, however, this can limit your angles.
A leading example in documenting famous architects’ works, cultural architecture, and portraits of Architects in their homes (latest- B.V. Doshi), Professional architectural photographer Edmund Sumner’s photography emphasizes interesting play with lights and shadows using integrated parts of a building.
PRO TIP: Directional light requires sun to be closer, and hence mornings and evenings are the best for Architectural Photography.
The angle depends on the building, its location, and its context. The objective is to make the photograph look dynamic and the right angle generally does the trick. Angles are a way of playing creatively with perspectives and scale in a photo.
When it comes to architectural photography, height matters. A default setting we have is to click pictures from the eye-level. To create more dynamic photos, various heights can be explored. Taller height minimizes distortion. Photos looking down on a building (birds-eye) emphasizes shapes whereas looking up (ant eye) makes the structure look daunting.
Angles create feelings in a perceiver. They can be used to focus on certain shapes and lines, or even spaces. They add a sense of depth to space and depending on the intention of the photographer, make the viewer feel a certain sense of calm or confusion.
PRO TIP: The only way to find the best angle is to click pictures of a building from as many angles as humanly possible. Angles depend on shape, size, orientation, context, etc and hence have a different impact on different buildings.
4. Creative composition
The frame of the photograph decides what a viewer sees and perceives from it. A good architectural photographer knows what to include in a frame and how to compose these elements to please the eye. Architectural photos are more lively with everyday elements in them, such as people or traffic.
Assess the elements present in a building, decide what needs to be focused on, and compose these elements to form a final frame.
A well-balanced photograph has a good balance of colors (yes, even for monochromatic shots). The white balance can be adjusted in a DSLR or even during processing.
Tekla Evelina Severin, also known as the ‘color addict’ is a professional architectural photographer, art director, interior architect, set designer, colorist, and trend forecaster all around the world. Her photographs are an amazing example of creating balance and composition and treating the frame like a canvas.
PRO TIP: Using the rule of thirds while capturing photos is a great trick to create balanced and attractive pictures with a composition that pleases the eye.
5. Architectural details
“The details are not the details. They make the design” -Charles Eames
An architectural photographer knows the importance as well as the photographic beauty of details. Venturing into the right composition and exposure helps highlight specific details of a structure that are generally lost in wide-angle shots of the entire building.
Details can be emphasized by composing a photograph using dull and enhancing background with a bright and focused foreground. Try using different angles when it comes to details. Capturing details can be fun, as opposed to the myths.
Rory Gardiner is an architectural photographer who has an eye for subtle and light compositions, often focusing on the color white. He is a Minimalist who brings out the best by just focusing on one detail.
PRO TIP: To focus on details while creating an interesting composition, minimize all distractions and fill the frame with particular detail.
Processing and editing have become an essential part of Architectural photography. Multiple software such as Photoshop and Lightroom help photographers tweak their photographs to give it an intended feel or atmosphere.
The most important thing to remember when processing is white balance, especially if it wasn’t set as required in the camera while shooting. Exposure, contrast, saturation, and noise reduction can be easily managed by processing.
Processing also comes in handy to fix distortions caused by some lens. A good quality lens should not distort your photos, but in some cases, lines appear as curves, giving your building the lopsided look it shouldn’t have. This can be fixed using perspective warp in Photoshop. Make sure the lines and details are sharp and aligned.
PRO TIP: Know the limitations when it comes to editing (physical as well as ethical) Over-edited pictures are a nightmare. Keep it as natural as possible!
The research includes multiple site visits, studying the site context for better angles and frames, being aware of the weather and lighting conditions, and studying the architecture and details of the building.
Architects have an upper hand when it comes to analyzing architectural details and site context. They have a clear idea of elements that can be focused on and parts of the structure that can act as backgrounds with less emphasis.
Studying the subject, its specialty, interesting spaces, points of focus, photogenic details, elements, and frames can help a photographer pre-visualize a picture.
Desirable application of design principles, angles, composition, perspectives, etc requires preparation and visualization of the end result, which comes from research.
PRO TIP: walk around the building/ structure, a couple of times at least, and visually analyze the interesting elements of a building. This will help you visualize the photographs that you want to produce. Preparation is key.
8. Design principles
The design principles that every architect learns about are not really limited to design and art. These principles (unity, pattern, movement, balance, emphasis, contrast, rhythm) help a photographer compose his frame in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
The design elements (line, color, shape, space, texture, typography, scale) are tools of art and design, and these 7 principles show designers how to use them.
Balance: The visual weight of an image is decided by balance. The desired effect can be induced using stability for balance and disunity for imbalance.
Rhythm: The correlation between the elements in a photograph creates rhythm. This can be achieved by the recurring distribution or disorganized yet harmonious compositions.
Pattern: The human eye calibrates to seek patterns since its predictability is soothing and hence pleasing to the viewer. Repetition in elements can induce patterns in a photo.
Emphasis: Emphasis on certain elements creates a focal point, specifying interesting elements. It decides what a viewer takes away from the photo. It can be created using interesting foreground-background compositions, selective grouping, color or texture variations, perspective, etc.
Contrast: Two contradicting elements that are composed together in any photo gives a narrative to the still frame. This can be achieved using two contrasting elements like old and new, light and dark, colors, textures, etc.
Unity: Unity depicts the visual relationship between the elements composed in any photo. Similar colors, tones, elements, etc creates a sense of unity.
Movement: The visual highway of a photograph, movement defines how the viewer travels through a photograph. It determines a path for a perceiver to follow.
PRO TIP: what elements induce in viewers, a line psychology cheat sheet-
Diagonal lines- feeling of movement, speed.
Horizontal lines- a sense of calm.
Vertical lines- a sense of power, growth
Curved lines- organic, natural, subtle, slow movement of eyes
Jagged lines- excitement, faster movement of eyes.
Creating alluring and inspirational photos requires a basic understanding of how humans perceive visual information. Certain colors induce calmness while some create a feeling of unease. Shapes and lines create a story, with perspectives forming narratives. Eyes follow points of focus, which act like protagonists, giving the photo meaning.
Composing a photograph to tell a story, results in a photograph with beautiful narratives and balance that soothes the eye.
Combining these skills with the in-depth knowledge of art, design, design principles, detailing, and analytical capabilities of architect results in compelling photos that are sure to leave a mark on viewers.
(PRO TIP: Don’t forget to switch that camera on)