Hi and welcome to my blog. I am Rick, and I photograph buildings. Time to share some of my knowledge about this.
So here are 25 essential architectural photography tips for beginners. Architectural photography is a great career choice for a photographer, as there will always be buildings and people will always want photos of buildings! Buildings don’t move, answer back or cry. They just sit there. Which is one of the many reasons why I like photographing buildings.
Read on to find 25 tips which I have collated from my many years of photographing buildings.
If the thought of photographing a wedding terrifies you! Or pets. Or small people! Then read on. It sure scares me!
About this post.
At the end of this post is some background stuff that supplements these 25 points. I have put this stuff at the end so I can get straight to the subject of this post. I start with the recommended gear that I use, how I use the gear, a bit about how I approach photographing buildings, and image processing. And then the other stuff.
This includes the affiliate links in this post – please read that bit before clicking any of the links in this post.
But lets get straight into those 25 tips, which I have to say are my own thoughts and words!
1 – What camera do you need for architectural photography?
I recommend a full-frame camera. I have used a Canon 6D for years. This is the Canon 6D Mk 1. There is nothing wrong with this camera which was released in 2012 and I still enjoying using it today. Sure I would love the Canon 6D Mk 2, but for now the Mk 1 does me just fine.
Sure there are better cameras out there with lots more features but I do not need any of that stuff.
I want simplicity, reliability and excellent image quality. That is all I need from my camera.
And the sensor on a full frame camera is larger than other sensors, giving the best image quality and full value to wide angle lenses.
To contradict that completely I have also used the Olympus OM-D EM5 Mk 2 and Olympus EM1 Mk 2 successfully for architectural photography, but the Canon is my go to camera, leaving this wonderful little cameras for my Travel Photography work.
So while I recommend a full frame camera, if you have a crop sensor camera you can still take great photos so start with that. That is what I did. And micro four thirds works too.
2 – What lenses?
Well this might surprise you. The lens I use for 95% of my architectural photography work is the Canon 17-40mm F4 L lens. And 95% of those photos are taken using the 17mm business end of things.
One camera body, one lens, this does me for the vast majority of my architectural photography work.
A wide-angle lens is critical for internal shots and getting the external shots that you need for architectural photography.
I am talking anything in the 14-18mm range (on a full frame camera). This is circa 10 – 13 on AOS-C sensor cameras, and 7-14 on micro four thirds cameras.
3 – Get a tripod.
I take all my architectural photos using a tripod. The only time that I do not use a tripod is when I physically cannot, normally when I have to get right into a corner, in some place where I have to shoot hand held, when my camera is on the ground/ floor or on top of my painters’ pole!
Using a tripod means that you do not need to worry about camera shake, and the fixed position helps get the best composition.
If you have a rubbish tripod it is better than no tripod. And you can always hang your bag from the tripod to add some weight and stability.
And get a geared tripod head if you can afford it, so you can make very subtle but important adjustments using the gears.
But if you only have a ball head you will still be fine, you just have to fiddle around a bit more.
About the gear
I wanted to say something about gear before I move on.
You do not need the best gear to take great architectural photos. The best gear will help you make it easier to take great shots, but you can still get rubbish results with great gear! As you will now see I have used both full frame and micro four thirds cameras – the point is to get out and take photos whatever you have.
If you only have basic stuff use that and you will be fine. If you already have the gear that I describe then great.
But don’t let not having the gear be an excuse or a barrier, just concentrate on taking great photos.
Practise with what you have.
4 – Camera settings – aperture
I will normally use the sharpest part of my lens, F8. If I am focussing on something very close I will go to F16.
On most shoots this does not change at all from F8.
Basically I set my camera up as I have described and don’t change anything. This leaves me to concentrate on what I am taking photos of.
And that is it.
5 – Camera settings – shutter speed
I use AV Mode, so I select the aperture and camera selects the shutter speed. I don’t have to worry about the shutter speed as I take photos on a tripod and my subject is not moving.
There are of course times when I have to think about the shutter speed, such as when there are trees in the shot blowing in the wind, but most times this is not a concern to me.
6 – Camera settings – ISO
The lowest native ISO on my Canon 6D is 100. At this ISO I get the highest quality and the least noise. So this is what I use.
I can expand the ISO to 50 but 100 works just fine.
7 – Camera settings – JPEG or RAW
RAW. Only RAW. I want the maximum data possible, and I want to do all the processing myself.
When I started off I did shoot in JPEG and RAW, but all this did was give me loads of duplicate images that I have since deleted.
So RAW only.
8 – Camera settings – Autofocus or manual
AF. Well why would I want to focus manually?
I have never (as far as I can remember) used manual focus to take a photo on an architectural photography shoot.
9 – Image Capture Mode
I use AV. I select the aperture and the camera selects the shutter speed. I don’t need anything else.
10 – Exposure
Well that is sorted by the camera. I review the first few images on a shoot, but after a couple of shots I know everything is going fine so I don’t need to check any more.
If there is a tricky exposure I might have to make some adjustments, but most of the time I don’t need to, in part because of the next point.
11 – HDR
Yes I use HDR. Before you hit the email/ bad HDR comments section please bear with.
I am not talking that grungy HDR here. I am talking about taking three exposures, one the correct exposure, one two stops under exposed and one two stops over exposed, which are merged together in Lightroom to create a new, clean RAW file with more data in it than I can get in one shot.
Why do I so this?
I get more data to work with, without having to do anything other than merge the images together.
And if the camera gave me a single RAW file that would be all I would need. (My Olympus cameras do that by the way!).
12 – Where to focus
Normally I focus about a third in. I select the focus point on every shot manually, this is part of the thought process when I am making a composition. I spend most of the time on a shot on the composition and the focus point – all the technical camera stuff is sorted leaving me to focus on what I am photographing.
OK that is the techhie stuff out of the way.
The point here is that I photograph every building using well practised techniques and settings.
Practise and work out what you own preferred way is.
My way is not the right way – my way is just my way. It is how I get consistently excellent results.
13 – Go out and photograph some buildings
The best way to improve your architectural photography is to get out and take photos of buildings.
This is simply the most effective way to improve your photography, and at the same time you are creating a body of work.
Everyone has to do this, and everyone starts with nothing, so don’t worry, just get out there and take photos of buildings.
14 – Photograph where you live for practise
I mean where you live, where you actually live. You can spend as much time as you want, with hopefully no distractions. You can also take photos at different times of the day, and play around with props and lights.
This is another seriously good thing to do. The first Google 360 walk through I did was in my house!
15 – Photograph public buildings
Why public buildings? Well because being public buildings you are generally ok to take photos without getting permission, and also to include people in your photos if they are in public spaces.
I am not saying that you can photograph every public building, and it helps if you check, but you are normally OK.
16 – Things to think of when photographing a building
What are you taking a photograph of?
How will the photograph look to a stranger? This is a great way of approaching this. If you show your family your latest photo of a building they will probably tell you it is great, even if it was rubbish.
What would someone who does not know you think of your photo? This is where getting real critiques of work is really useful.
17 – Composition
This is the biggy. This is important. This should be a post on its own.
- What to include in the composition.
- And what to not include.
Your camera is placed firmly on your tripod. You are looking through the viewfinder or the rear LCD screen.
This is the time to think about the content of the image. And check around the edges for things sticking out.
This is the critical time. Take a photo, look at it on your LCD screen, and think what you do and do not like.
If you need to change the composition do it.
This is where practise comes in. Practise and checking the images you took after on a much larger screen. Comparing the first photo taken to the last photo.
I am assuming that you are starting out in architectural photography, so do not worry about how many photos you took to get to the best photo – that is part of the learning process.
Composition is king
This is the single most important thing about architectural photography. Of course all the other things are important, but getting the exposure nailed is a given when you are working commercially.
So take time with each and every composition, and review them after critically. If it takes you 30 shots to get the image you were after that is fine, this will get better in time.
I am still waiting for the day when I take 20 photos on a shoot and issue all 20 to the client. But all these architectural shoots later that is still to happen.
18 – Details
There are important details that need photographing, and getting all of these is great practise using different camera settings. So as well as capturing all those fantastic internal spaces get the small stuff too.
19 – The technical stuff
Architectural photos have to be technically correct. I am talking verticals, horizontals, no distortion and correct white balance and colours.
This is another reason why I shoot in RAW – this gives me the maximum adjustment possibilities to get the colours just right.
20 – Sorting the images in Lightroom
Import all the images into Lightroom, and put them in a single folder. Put all the sets of bracketed images into stacks, and collapse the stacks. If you took 100 photos, and each photo was three bracketed photos, then you would have 300 photos to sort through. Trust me this is virtually impossible.
Stack the images and you have 100 to sort through instead of 300.
Go though the images one by one, with the image filling the screen. Use P to pick an image (assigning a white flag to the image). Go through the images, and then do this again.
Now look at all the images in grid format, filtering out only the picks, and get rid of the similar ones.
Pick the best of the best. And process those.
In time you will choose less and less images to process – in the beginning just go with what you like and don’t worry about the numbers.
But do not process every image!!!
21 – Image processing
Another post all of its own, but this is my workflow.
Import into Lightroom (I do some processing on import using an import preset in Lightroom)
- Put in a new folder
- Stack the images
- Choose the picks
- Put the picks in a folder called “Picks” (it does not have to be complicated)
And now the edit
- Crop and transform
- White balance
- Basic panel
- Effects panel
- HSL panel
And that is it.
I work in a different way to most.
I start with crop and transform. These two work hand in hand. Once I have done the first image I do this to the next image. Once done this to all the images I move on to the basic panel.
And on and on until I am ready for final cleaning up n Photoshop.
22 – The technical stuff
Again this has to be correct. I take a lot of time getting my verticals right in the image capture, but often have to tweak them in Lightroom.
And the same goes for horizontals.
And the next adjustment after these is getting the colour correct using the white balance dropper tool. I select the dropper and click on an area that is a neutral, ideally grey. If the three numbers are the same I click and am done, I can copy and paste this white balance to other images with the same lighting.
23 – Realistic processing
I have over done my processing in the past, but thankfully realised this and got myself back to realistic processing, albeit with my own style.
Don’t go over the top – the perfect outcome of an architectural photo is that it looks natural, technically correct and shows the building to it’s best.
24 – Create a portfolio
Get out and take photos and build that portfolio. I have 12 photos in my interior portfolio, and 12 photos in my exterior portfolio.
Here are links to the portfolio pages on my website
25 – Contact potential clients
Yes this is a scary one, but in the beginning you will have to approach people. If you know people then approach them and see what you can agree. There is nothing wrong with doing a few shoots for nothing to build your portfolio, but if you are going to do this make sure every one is clear that you are not the “free” photographer.
Give your client an invoice for what you think you could have charged for the job and discount it down to zero. That tells them that your work has a value. I heard this tip from a famous photographer and love it.
And the other stuff
I said that there was other stuff that I was going to save to the end of this post – here it is.
Who am I?
I am Rick McEvoy MCIOB, ABIPP. Yes I am a Chartered Builder (MCIOB) and Associate in the British Institute of Professional Photography (ABIPP). So yes, I am professionally qualified in both photography and in building construction.
These qualifications, along with my experience in both construction and photography enable me to help people get started in architectural photography. And this is practical help based on my own personal and professional experiences.
What do I do?
I am an architectural photographer, and I still love taking photos of buildings. I also photograph nice places, and buildings in nice places.
About this blog post
In this blog post I have given you 25 helpful architectural photography tips which are aimed at beginners with no experience in architectural photography. I have however assumed that you are competent at taking photos and have a camera of one sort or another, and that you are familiar with the fundamentals of photography.
Where am I coming from in this post?
You will hopefully see that the way I approach my architectural photography is all about simplicity and consistency. Composition is king.
I have refined workflows for both image capture and processing that have evolved over my many years working as an architectural photographer.
All the links to gear in this post are affiliate links. If you buy anything that I recommend using one of these links I get a commission.
Am I being paid to recommend stuff?
Not at all. Everything that I use I have paid for. And everything that I recommend is gear that I use myself.
One last thing
This post is all my own words, based on my own experiences working as an architectural photographer. There are things that I write about that others will disagree with.
I am not a technical expert nor am I a photography purist. I believe in sharing information that helps people take better photos.
The tips in this post are my tips for people wanting to know a bit more about architectural photography and are written with that intent in mind.
A very quick word on working commercially
Once you are taking photos for money things change. You need to have other stuff in place, including
- Public Liability Insurance
- Professional Indemnity Insurance
- Gear insurance
- Spare gear
- A solid data backup regime
- Quotations, contracts, invoices etc
These are things for another post, which I will get on with writing now!
Other related blog posts
Check out my other blog posts about architectural photography
Here is the video that I have recorded to accompany this blog post on my You Tube Channel.
I hope that you have found this post helpful, and that these tips will help you begin your journey in the exciting world of architectural photography.
Rick McEvoy ABIPP, MCIOB
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