Guide to Architectural Photography
Architectural photography is one of the oldest forms of photography there is. Architecture is all around us – so photographers have long photographed buildings and monuments.
Architecture photography can involve photos of exteriors as well as interiors. Buildings are multi-faceted – they provide us with places to live and work, but they are also artworks, and of course, some buildings have enormous historical or cultural significance.
This guide will cover the basics of architectural photography, suggest inspiration for your own work, tips for how to best work within this diverse form of photography as well as advice on post-processing.
So, let’s get started!
What Is Architectural Photography?
Architectural photography is, simply put, the photography of buildings. However, there are many nuances within this simple definition, as we will discuss below.
Architectural photography is often concerned with the accurate recording of structures. Many architectural photographers will also take more stylised photos, use unusual angles and even create ‘abstracts’ from the form of the building.
It can also include buildings and structures such as bridges, telecommunication towers, windmills and monuments.
Subjects may be historic, unusual, built by a famous architect or built in a particular style. Castles, religious buildings, palaces and spectacular houses are typical subjects for historical architectural photography.
Though it’s a very broad type of photography, architectural photography usually attempts to show a high level of detail in the style of the building: it’s structure, it’s decoration, the materials it is made from and the setting it is in.
Like all kinds of photography, taking photos of buildings is an ever-evolving art form. In the 19th century, Nadar used a balloon to take aerial shots of Paris – today, while we can stay on the ground and use sub-$200 drones!
What are the types of architectural photography?
There are two main classifications or types of architectural photography:
- exterior: photographs taken of the outside of a building/structure.
- Interior: photographs taken from the inside of a building/structure.
How much does an architectural photographer make?
The wage of architectural photographers can vary. There is no simple answer as it depends on the country’s general economy and other variables.
There is no fixed amount an architectural photographer will charge – just as there is no set amount that a client will be prepared to pay (this will be dependent on their budget).
The experience level of any photographer is a key component when deciding how much to charge – and equally when a client decides how much they are worth. When looking at architecture photographers specifically, the kind of structure being photographed will make a difference to the fee, as will whether it is an exterior or interior shoot (or both).
Then you must also consider the length of time the shoot will take – and if it’s a long project, taking more than a day. Amount of images to be delivered will then affect the price of the job – as will the type of post-processing needed.
Sometimes a license may need to be purchased to photograph a particular building – in these cases; this will be added to the job price. So, all in all, there is much to consider.
As an average for a day rate however, in the United Kingdom an architectural photographer can earn £500 – £1000 and for the United States of $1500-$3000. However, some photographers will charge far more, dependent on their experience and standing within the industry.
What is architectural photography used for?
These are some of the main purposes of architectural photography:
- Commercial – for advertising and brochures for selling buildings and accommodation
- Accommodation and travel – this industry needs photography for adverts and brochures
- Architectural records – an architect, construction firm or client may require a set of photographs taken throughout the building operation from conception to completion for their records and portfolios
- Historical recording and research – an important sub-genre of this is recording in historic buildings through renovation projects (the before and after)
- Art History and Tourism – buildings often have art and craftwork (windows, murals, carvings) as part of their fabric
- Industrial photography – this is often concerned with buildings and industrial complexes
12 Architectural Photography Tips
You may now be asking yourself “What makes a good architecture photo?” Below we bring you some essential tips to get you started taking effective architectural images.
1. Choose the right camera and accessories
The first thing to do is to check your camera bag and take the right equipment with you. First of all, you will need the most obvious but important piece of equipment – a camera! So you may be asking what is the best camera for architecture photography?
Now, there is no one magic camera, that will fit every single photographer looking to capture architecture. Budget, of course, is a consideration, as is the kind of architectural photography you’re considering trying.
With all this in mind, we have compiled our list of recommended DSLR, medium format and mirrorless cameras for architectural photography to all budgets:
- Nikon D850 – an ultra-high megapixel Nikon and widely reviewed as the best DSLR ever. The incredible detail this camera can capture makes it perfect for photographing architecture.
- Sony a7R mk3 – a high-resolution mirrorless model by Sony to rival the DSLR equivalents by Canon and Nikon. Just like the Nikon D850, this Sony model received superlative reviews upon release.
- Canon 5Ds R – this DSLR by Canon has a 50.6 MP sensor making it a great rival to the Sony or Nikon models.
- Nikon D7500 – if your budget doesn’t stretch to the three models above, Nikon’s D7500 is a great all-round crop sensor camera. It lacks the high megapixel sensor and many of the pro features of the D850 but is a cost-effective alternative.
- Canon 7d mk2 – Canon’s professional crop sensor model is another cost-saving alternative.
- Fujifilm GFX medium format series – architecture photographers used to favour medium or large format cameras in the day before the digital revolution. Fujifilm has a range of excellent medium format digital cameras for you to consider. The larger sensor means better photo quality and more detail captured – however, the camera is larger, slower to use and more expensive. Also, many other variables contribute to the overall photo quality a camera produces – lenses, for example, not to mention the skill of the photographer operating it!
As well as choosing the right camera for you, you may want to consider investing in the following accessories:
- Polarising filter – this useful filter is often used for landscape photography as it blocks out reflected light but is also great for removing light glare from windows. So it’s an essential architectural photography accessory. Be aware; this filter means you lose a few stops of light, so you’ll probably want to shoot long exposures when using it.
- Tripod – useful for carefully composing your images and essential for any long exposure photography.
- Drone – add a different point of view to your images with a drone.
2. Pick the best lenses for architectural photography
It really helps to have a variety of lenses at your disposal for architecture photography. Your mind probably goes immediately to a wide-angle lens, and undoubtedly a wide-angle is essential – but having more than one lens to choose from is a significant advantage.
You can also consider investing in a tilt-shift lens, a must-have lens for anyone looking to take architectural photography seriously. Tilt-shift lens allows greater control over perspective and helps you avoid distortion in your images.
So, what is the best lens for architectural photography? We’ve compiled a list for you below:
- Nikon 12-24mm 2.8g – a zoom wide-angle lens, perfect for architectural photography. Tamron also offers an excellent alternative 14-24mm lens.
- Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L – an ultra-wide-angle 17mm tilt-shift lens that captures beautifully sharp images
- Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L Macro – this tilt-shift lens gives you control over perspective and depth of field and produces exquisite images.
- Nikon PC 19mm f/4E ED – just like Canon, Nikon produces professional tilt-shift lenses perfect for architecture photography. The 19mm f/4 is Nikon’s wide-angle tilt-shift and produces beautiful images.
- Nikon PC-E Micro 45mm f/2.8D ED – in Nikon tilt-shift lenses, PC stands for perspective control. Like all tilt-shift lenses, the excellent Nikon 45mm 2.8 is manual focus.
- Samyang / Rokinon Tilt-Shift 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC – an affordable tilt-shift lens alternative of really high quality.
3. Choose the right time of day
The time of day you shoot at makes a huge difference to your images. You can really use this to your advantage with architecture photography.
You can use the light at sunset to throw long shadows to accentuate the features of a building. Harsh sunlight at midday can help create a high contrast photo to highlight shapes within the structure – or use overcast light for a flatter photo.
Before you start, think about how the time of day and season can affect your final image and help you achieve the look and feel you are aiming for.
What if you’ve planned the right time to capture your image, but the weather gods aren’t on your side? Sometimes, software such as Luminar AI can lend a helping hand, by replacing skies and relighting scenes with its artificial intelligence tools.
4. Add context to your image
Some photographers make their architectural photography all about the structure they are capturing. For example, if you’re photographing houses for an estate agent, you will be looking to take simple, inviting, precise images that show off just the building.
However, there is no rule to say you shouldn’t include context. For example, if you’re photographing a museum or landmark, you may want to include the surrounding crowds of people.
Similarly, you may want to include the landscape or street around the building you’re photographing. Adding context can help add a storytelling element to any photo – so consider adding people or surroundings to your architecture photography.
Reflections on a mirrored building also add context and help to subtly show wider surroundings, like the example above.
5. Look to details as well as the bigger picture
Architectural photography is not just about showing an entire building. You can also choose to photograph just architectural details – or hone in on certain parts of a structure.
When you choose a building to photograph, take that key shot, showing the whole structure. Then ,start to look at different parts of the building – inside and out if possible.
Using a telephoto lens to capture just the edge of a building can be interesting – and showing only one part of the structure (roof beams in an old building for example) can speak volumes about its architecture.
6. Shoot from different angles
You can no doubt find one dramatic angle to make most buildings ‘look good’. Sometimes that will be necessary for the job – to really sell the building.
However, if you’re looking to capture the building authentically, try different angles and shoot from various positions. This can open up so much more interest visually.
Shoot a building straight on, against an open sky, and you can make your photo all about shape and form – shoot from more of a side angle to make the building appear 3d.
7. Use post-processing tools to perfect your image
Post-processing is an important part of all photography. With architectural photography, you may want to avoid over-processing your images – as you can lose the essence of the building you’re photographing.
However, with any image by any photographer, this is an artistic impression – it’s the photographer’s view of the world that is shown. So, you can, of course, make the photo as stylised as you like.
You can accentuate certain parts of a structure with dodging and burning – or draw the eye away from the background or surroundings if you choose.
After taking your photos, you may find that the building looks misshapen or has a warped perspective. Luckily, this can be corrected in the edit.
In Lightroom or Photoshop, you will be able to work on the perspective of the image. You can use the perspective tools to remove distortion and straighten the lines in the building you’ve photographed.
8. Use ND filters to remove people
As we’ve discussed, you may want to include people in your image to give context or to tell a story. However, you may be wanting to avoid this at all costs, but can’t get to a vantage point that allows you to photograph your subject without including any passing people.
In these cases, use an ND filter to remove them from the scene. You’ll need an ND filter, a tripod and a long exposure – keeping the shutter open for longer will have the effect of ‘erasing’ anything that’s moving, such as pedestrians.
An ND filter also allows you to shoot with a shallow aperture and long exposure, meaning you have complete control of your image and its look.
9. Use a tripod for precise images
As we mentioned in our rundown of must-have accessories, a tripod is a pre-requisite for architecture photography. It certainly doesn’t need to be used for every image, but it’s great to have a tripod available.
The primary role of a tripod is to keep your images still – essential for long exposures. But also, architectural photography is not a fast-moving type of photography – you generally have time to consider your composition.
So a tripod can help with this – you have to get the angle just right and consider the lines you’re capturing. A tripod can help slow you down and really consider the very best way to photograph your subject accurately.
A tripod will also allow you to add height or get closer to the ground.
10. Record the same building on different days
It’s a simple tip, but why not return to the same site at different times of the day – a building at night looks and feels very different to how it does in the day. Just as it is very different in the summer to how it is in the winter.
So you can photograph the same building again and again and still add variety to your photography portfolio. If a building is being built, you can return to the site again and again, from building process to completion.
11. Do your research
Before photographing a building, you should take some time to research it. It may give you some storytelling ideas for your images.
It’s also worth considering that for some iconic buildings – or just buildings with specific purposes – you may need permission or a licence before photographing them.
12. Enhance the sense of space in your interior photography
Much of the time, you will want to correct your images’ perspective, either with a tilt-shift lens or in post-processing. However, you will sometimes see estate agent interior photography that makes a space look bigger than it really is.
You can achieve that with ultra-wide-angle lenses – and instead of correcting the distortion this can give, go with it and create a sense of space. You can even try a fish eye lens to get creative with the lines of a building.
Architecture photography opens up a whole world of creativity. Buildings, bridges, monuments – there is so much variety in subject and location.
You can choose to take authentic and very real photos of your subject. Or, you can make an abstraction of a building – concentrate on just one part of a structure, or just the shadow it casts.
There really is so much opportunity for you to explore, and we hope this guide has helped give you some inspiration to get started. So go out and start experimenting with architectural photography and enjoy creating different photos of various buildings.
If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below.