Architectural Photography 101

Welcome to Architectural Photography 101. This primer on the sub-genre of architectural photography will help you understand:

  • What architectural photography is
  • Specific categories of this sub-genre
  • The uses of this kind of photography
  • Famous architectural photographers, past and present
  • Equipment you would need to do it yourself
  • Tips on getting into this form of photography

What Is Architectural Photography?

You know that photography is the art of taking still images of people, places, and things. What distinguishes architectural photography as a sub-genre? It’s a discipline where the emphasis is placed on capturing pictures of buildings.

This sub-genre takes pictures of architectural structures of all kinds. Specialized photographers use certain skills, cameras, and techniques to capture images that are both representatively accurate of their subject matter and aesthetically pleasing to the viewers of such pictures.

What Kinds of Architectural Photography Are There?

Architectural photography can generally be classified into two different categories within the broader sub-genre. One is exterior photography, and the other is interior. Both use similar techniques, but there are some differences. Based on the particular photography taking place, different equipment might be necessary.

Exterior Architectural Photography

Exterior photography of architectural structures takes images of the outside of them. They might also include some of the surroundings.

These images usually get taken in daylight when there is abundant and natural illumination. However, night photographs might use ambient light from landscape lights, street lights, exterior lights on the actual structure, twilight, and moonlight.

Adjacent landscaping can be used to form the comprehensive composition of an image. It might even be required in order to convey the aesthetic harmony a structure shares with its local environment. Photographers often include statues, fountains, trees, and flowers in their images, especially in the foreground. This helps viewers look into the composition and then the primary subject.

A growing trend in exterior architectural photography is aerial photography. This opens up new and distinct perspectives. Images like these can be level with the actual structure, illustrating property boundaries, showing a geographical perspective, and putting surrounding scenery into context.

Interior Architectural Photography

Interior architectural photography might also use ambient light through skylights and windows. However, indoor lighting fixtures are also useful. However, architectural photographers often set up their own supplemental lighting for better illumination inside a structure. Either incandescent ‘hot lights’ or electronic flashing ‘strobe lights’ are commonly used.

Post-processing editing is utilised frequently to balance the lighting scheme. This is done whether additional lighting was used or not. One key component to architectural photography is that any principal subjects remain stationary nearly all the time.

What Is Architectural Photography Used For?

Architectural photography can have many purposes. They often depend on the photographer and why they are shooting something, but most architectural photography has commercial applications. That being said, architectural photographs usually have three intentions behind them:

  1. Catching the attention of the viewer with clarity
  2. Properly representing a particular piece of architecture
  3. Decisively influencing any viewers that look at them

Photography of this kind might be used to lure property buyers, tenants, and even tourist traffic to a particular location.

Famous Architectural Photographers, Then and Now

Studying the greatest architectural photographers of past and present can help you see what the best examples of work in this sub-genre are.

Top 10 Architectural Photographers Ever

Presented in no particular order, this group should be considered as a representation of the discipline’s peak as a whole. Certainly other names could hold their place on this list:

  1. Berenice Abbott (July 1898 – December 1991): This American photographer was renown for her photographs of New York City during the middle of the 20th century.
  2. James Austin (June 1940 – ): Born in Australia, Austin was a Fellow in the British Institute of Professional Photography from the late 1970s until the early 1990s. His international travel has featured freelance work in many nations, notably Italy and France.
  3. Iwan Baan (February 1975 – ): His unconventional approach presents architecture in new perceptions, often by using people and surrounding environment in his photos. This Dutch photographer has won the Julius Shulman Photography Award, among many others.
  4. Sergio Castiglione (1965 – ): This Argentine professional is both an architectural photographer and actual architect. His work has taken him to more than 200 cities around the world.
  5. Frederick H. Evans (June 1853 – June 1943): This British photographer is credited with mastering the platinotype technique and was known for imagery of cathedrals in England and France.
  6. Carol McKinney Highsmith (May 1946 – ): She has done photography in every state in America. The USA Library of Congress attained her ‘born digital’ set of 1000 images taken throughout the nation and is the biggest digital collection in the institution.
  7. Andrew Prokos (1971 – ): Greek by ancestry but American by citizenship, Prokos does fine-art photography in addition to architectural work. He produced the Niemeyer’s Brasilia series that is published in 12 countries to international applause.
  8. Julius Shulman (October 1910- July 2009): This American photographer was most famous for his image of the renowned Stahl House. His work helped architectural photography become thought of as a truly independent art form.
  9. Wolfgang Georg Sievers (September 1913 – August 2007): This photographer emphasised industrial photography among his architectural works. He was an aerial photographer for Germany in World War II before moving to Australia.
  10. Wayne Thom: Born in Shanghai, Thom’s international work has spanned more than five decades and multiple continents. He worked with Julius Shulman in one famous collaboration.

Top Five Best Architectural Photographers Currently

While some of the names on the all-time top 10 list are still alive, these five professionals are widely considered the world’s best at the time of writing:

  1. Kerstin Arenmann: This German photographer lives on Malta. She primarily works with long-exposure photography in monochrome to express light and form.
  2. Iwan Baan: Already discussed in the all-time top 10 list, he is still at it today.
  3. Arnaud Bertrande: He taught himself photography and uses primarily digital methods. His imagination speaks more through his images than he speaks himself.
  4. Mihai Florea: Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, he emphasises minimalism, composition, and lighting through balanced photographs that express depth.
  5. Julia Anna Gospodarou: Another professional who is both architect and architecture photographer, Gospodarou emphasises abstract details, often through fine art photography done in black and white.

Top Five UK Ever Architectural Photographers

If you’re looking for more local inspiration, here are five professionals thought to be the best UK representatives in this field:

  1. Janie Airey: Based out of London, she has over a decade of experience in commercial photography. Documenting various Olympic venues from 2012 are some of her notable works.
  2. Frederick H. Evans: Already mentioned in the all-time top 10 global list, his photographic standards were unrivalled in his time.
  3. Eric de Mare: His influence is unmistakable, as his photographs actually made British architects reconsider the very notion of modernism.
  4. Richard Pare: He is famous for documenting pieces of Soviet architecture done in the modernist style.
  5. Tim Rawle: Famous for images of Cambridge, he was largely an industrial photographer who now manages the Oxbridge portfolio.

Architectural Photography Equipment You Might Need

If you want to get started in architecture photography, then you absolutely need a camera. If you want to do it past an entry or amateur level, then you also need equipment with your camera.

Camera Options

For your camera, you have three options:

  1. Smartphones: High-end smartphones can actually take pretty good photos of architecture. This is especially true if you use a good manual camera app, such as Adobe Lightroom.
  2. Digital Cameras: DSLRs and mirrorless cameras in particular stand out with the manual controls and freedom for experimentation.
  3. View Cameras: These are ideal when you want to do large-format photography. Dedicated professionals love them, but hobbyists find their size and price obstacles.

Equipment You Might Need

If you’re looking to get past the hobbyist level, or just serious at that level, then you need certain things besides a great camera:

  • Elevation: You might not think of this as equipment, but without it, you’re only going to shoot at ground level.
  • Flash: Interior shots work better with more light.
  • Tripod: This can steady your camera for more detailed final images if you have a long exposure or heavy lens.
  • Standard Lens: Either a prime or zoom lens helps you capture detailed shots indoors and out.
  • Special Lens: These let you experiment with your creativity, especially in terms of depth and perspective.

Architectural Photography Tips You Can Use

Whether you decide to do interior, exterior, or even both, you can start off with some simple techniques for effective captures.

Editing Architecture Photos

It’s a digital world now. You have multiple options for digital editing, and you need to use them:

  1. Adobe Lightroom: This comprehensive app gives you high levels of post-processing control.
  2. Adope Photoshop: This classic piece of software is great for the retouching of small areas, layering, and stitching together layers.
  3. Photomatix: This app and others like it usually emphasise certain editorial aspects, such as merging images.

Four Techniques to Keep in Mind

To make the most of any architectural photography, try these tips:

  1. Positioning: Try to position your camera so it is perpendicular with the subject structure’s vertical lines.
  2. Dynamic Shapes: You can convey structural symmetry with clean lines contrasting a clear sky. However, dynamic shapes, such as curves, add a feeling of movement to your still imagery.
  3. Get the Light Right: Patience pays off if you can capture shadows changing and stretching from columns or windows.
  4. Experiment With Camera Settings: Perfecting your craft takes time, experimentation, and a willingness to fail often as you learn.

Getting Started

If you’re totally new to the architectural photography scene, use this process until you find your own rhythm and way of doing things:

  1. Research: Every building and structure has its own story. Look up who the architect was to determine their influences, style, and construction or renovation dates.
  2. Notice Your Initial Impression: When you stand outside or inside the structure, look around a little to notice everything. What draws your eyes first or the most? Your instincts can guide you to what’s interesting about the subject matter.
  3. Emphasise Details: With enough research, you’ll find minor details that align with the subject’s narrative. Find what makes this place unique.
  4. Back Out a Bit: Take the landscape and locational context into your purview. If you see a nearby body of water, try to get the building’s reflection with the actual building in the same photo.
  5. Involve Other Rooms and Structures: Nearby structures can make an effective contrast for exterior photography, while adjoining rooms and hallways add variety to interior perspective.
  6. Shoot From Many Angles: Just when you think you’ve used every shot you can get, reconsider your vantage points, angles, and perspectives.
  7. Shoot on a Varied Schedule: If you shoot first on a sunny day, what about when it’s raining? How does the structure look when it’s dark?

In Summary

Architectural photography is the discipline of taking photos of buildings and structures. Photographers doing this kind of work draw inspiration from famous colleagues, and they use certain skills and equipment to make sure their photos are aesthetically pleasing but also accurate to the subject matter.


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