From stunning interiors to breathtaking exterior designs, there’s so much art and beauty that can be found in buildings and structures—which is why architecture photography has long been a favorite avenue for hobbyists and pros alike to explore.
What Is Architectural Photography?
Simply put, it’s the photography of man-made buildings and spaces like houses, offices, museums, or places of worship.
It’s typically divided into two main sub-categories: exterior and interior architecture photography. Whether you choose to focus on the inside or outside of a building is up to you, depending on your goals and vision. Both types of photography are commonly used to create artwork, editorial content for magazines, as well advertising and marketing imagery for real estate, travel, and interior design.
Some of the most interesting architectural photos aren’t always recognizable as buildings. This is commonly known as abstract architecture photography, where the focus is on the shapes, lines, and angles that make up the structure. Experimenting with different angles is a great way to start working with buildings and understanding how to use shape to your advantage.
As an architectural photographer, your job is to highlight the work of the architect, engineer, or designer when creating these images, but there’s no one right way to capture a building in a photo.
The average salary for an architectural photographer is around $57,000 a year, so investing in professional equipment and understanding how to take architectural photography in the best way can ultimately turn into a lucrative career.
One aspect to keep in mind if you’re looking to sell your work commercially is knowing how to determine licensing fees for architecture photography. Licensing terms are typically agreed in the contract before any photography takes place, detailing the usage rights of any imagery. If a company wants to use the photos outside of these agreements, a separate licensing fee is often paid to the photographer to compensate for the continued usage of their work. For example, most licensing allows for usage on a company’s website or social media, but excludes print or digital advertising (unless the image was taken for this specific purpose). A separate licensing fee is then used to cover photo usage for advertising. Whether you choose to build this cost into your original price or charge an ongoing fee later is up to you.
What Makes a Good Architecture Photo?
Now that you know what architecture photography is and some of its most common uses in commercial art and design, it’s time to start planning your shots.
When you’re used to taking pictures of people or landscapes, switching to a new focus can seem daunting. You might be asking yourself how to take architecture photography and what makes a good picture. Like landscape photography, it’s best to let the subject speak for itself and build your picture around the natural features that you’re presented with.
Lighting is going to be both your biggest challenge and greatest friend. If your focus is on the exterior, making use of natural light will be your greatest asset in capturing the building at its best.
You also have the benefit of weather conditions to produce different results—although this can also be tricky when you know exactly what you want but the elements aren’t cooperating! While interior architecture photography can also be subject to different light conditions, this is usually easier to manipulate with your own equipment if there’s limited natural light sources or if conditions aren’t optimal.
As Skillshare instructor Minh T notes, “Great architecture exists in small moments that add up to a bigger picture. It could be how a corner meets a wall, or how lights hit a space.”
This is where you’ll want to start looking for distinct lines or shapes like symmetrical features or a unique piece of construction that draws in the eye and creates interest. These types of visuals are what make abstract architecture photography exciting and new; the same building could be photographed hundreds of times, but every photographer will highlight something different that’s unique to them and their artistic style.
Equipment for Architectural Photography
Having the right equipment is key when it comes to taking a great photo. While you don’t have to buy everything at once, arming yourself with some of the basics can put you in a good position to create different styles of photos, capture a range of angles, and allow you to play with depth and tone.
These days, you can use just about any type of camera to capture incredible photos. Even smartphones can give you unexpected results! Don’t be put off by thinking that you need the best and most expensive DSLR camera on the market before you start working on your architectural photography. Although, one of the benefits of a digital camera over a smartphone is the ability to change lenses and easily alter settings like exposure, ISO, and shutter speed.
Your lens becomes your eyes as soon as you attach it to your camera body, and it makes the biggest difference when it comes to the way you want to capture your image.
Zoom lenses will allow you to get closer to the building without having to physically move, whereas a fixed focal length prime lens will typically give you a sharper and less distorted result. A tilt shift (t/s) lens is one of the best options for altering perspective and understanding how to use a t/s lens for architecture photography can help you to create unique images for your portfolio.
While a traditional lens has a fixed imaging circle when it comes to the sensor’s position, a t/s lens allows you to change where the center of that circle is. This helps to level and straighten lines that become crooked with a traditional lens, without you needing to move a substantial distance from the building you’re photographing.
While not always a necessity, a tripod can be a useful piece of equipment to carry with you. It helps to keep your camera still (perfect for those of us with shaky hands and for long-exposure shots) and also shoot from angles that may be difficult to maneuver yourself into.
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5 Tips for Taking Architecture Photos
You have your camera, a few lenses, and you’re ready to head out to take your first shots. Here are a few of our top architecture photography tips to keep in mind while you’re creating!
Research Before You Visit
Every building has a story, whether it’s been standing for centuries or only a few weeks. Before you head out to start taking pictures, do some research on the building. Why was it designed and built that way? Does it fit in or differ from other buildings created at the time? What is the architect’s background?
Knowing some of these background details can help you to decide what to focus on when shooting. Skillshare teacher Nancy Da Campo recommends using Atlas Obscura or Google Maps to find unique and unusual buildings before venturing out to a new location.
Shoot in a Range of Seasons, Weather Conditions, and Times
Different times of the day or year can create a whole new atmosphere in your photos. Light conditions, particularly for exterior shots, will vary based on where the sun is in the sky or if it’s hidden by clouds.
Shooting throughout a range of conditions can make your pictures feel light and airy, or moody and dramatic. Take a look at how Skillshare instructor Chris Burkard shoots at sunset, sunrise, and during the night to take different commercial-focused imagery.
Decide on Your Composition
Before you take a photo, think about composition from both the framing and lighting perspective. This is especially important if you’re working primarily indoors, when you have the ability to move furniture or decor to be exactly where you want them.
But don’t feel that you’re restricted by exteriors either. An immovable structure is a great way to challenge yourself to find what’s most interesting, what will capture the viewer’s attention, and what will be memorable.
Just because your photography focus is a building doesn’t mean you have to remove all of the people. Some of the best architectural images feature blurred individuals with the structure itself in focus, typically created with long exposure and minimizing any distraction from the building but adding depth and interest to the final result.
Adding people into the shot also helps to give the viewer a sense of scale and can drastically alter the final tone of the image that you’re creating, adding a new level of complexity that can be fun to experiment with.
Don’t Be Afraid to Edit
As with all photography, taking the time to edit your work is an important final step when creating high-quality pictures. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are the most commonly used software for photo editing and can take your photo from good to great with features like lens correction and color adjustments.
But be careful not to over-edit. While applying filters to your work can seem tempting, remember why you wanted to photograph that building to begin with. It’s easy to lose the authenticity of the structure in the edit, so keep your changes minimal to enhance the final product rather than dramatically alter how it looks.
Buildings can be some of the most interesting and beautiful structures to photograph, so now that you know how to take a great architectural photo, grab your camera and get snapping!
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