Camera Settings For Architectural Photography – What I Do

Architectural photography is the area that I specialise in and is the photography that I enjoy the most.

In this post I will tell you what my camera settings for architectural photography are and explain each of them in detail. The main camera settings I use are

Aperture – f8 or F16

ISO 100

Shutter speed – AV Mode works this out. More on this later.

Tomorrow you will find 5 commercial architectural photos that I have taken, along with the camera settings used for each photo. After reading this post you will know how to set up up your camera to successfully take architectural photographs. Then all you need is to put yourself in front of some intreating architecture!

What about all the other settings?

There of course lots of other settings which I will go into.

But first a bit about me.

I am a commercial architectural photographer. I photograph buildings and their surrounding environments. I am professionally qualified not only in photography (ABIPP) but also on building construction management (MCIOB).

So, I know my photography and my buildings!

What cameras do I use?

I have been using full-frame Canon DSLRs for well over a decade now, and my work with my Canon 6D is what I referring to in this post.

This is the complete list of my camera settings for architectural photography

  • Aperture – f8 or F16

  • ISO 100

  • Shutter speed – determined by the camera

Here are the other things that I do and also stuff that can be changed on the Canon 6D

Camera stuff

  • Canon 6D

  • Camera mounted on a tripod

  • Canon 17-40mm lens

  • Focal Length 17mm

  • AF on lens on

  • AF – One shot

  • White Balance – Auto White Balance

  • Auto Correct Image Brightness – off

  • Custom controls – back button focus

  • Drive – 10 second self-timer

  • Metering – Evaluative

  • Auto Exposure Bracketing

  • Focussing – single focus point selected/ Live View

  • Viewfinder/ Live View both used in composition

  • Image size and quality - RAW

  • Camera level and vertical

  • I use an L Bracket so I can quickly swap from landscape to portrait orientation

  • Focus – selected for the composition

That is the summary - please read on for more details

I have summarised my camera settings for architectural photography. If you want to know more then please read on – I will explain all about each and every setting and why I use them.

But before we do anything else a word about exposure

Exposure – the three elements

There are three elements to the exposure a camera takes, which are aperture, shutter and ISO. These are known as the exposure triangle.

I won’t go into the exposure triangle here, there are lots of excellent resources that explain the exposure triangle in great detail. All I need to say is that these three elements work together to provide the correct exposure. If the light stays the same and you change the aperture to maintain the same exposure you have to change either the ISO or the shutter speed.

OK – let’s get back to the camera settings that I use

Aperture – f8 or F16

The aperture is crudely put the size of the opening in the lens that lets light through. Maximum aperture on my Canon 17-40mm lens is F4. That is called wide open, and this aperture lets the most light in.

The minimum aperture is F22, which is the smallest opening in the lens that lets the least light in.

F8 is the sharpest aperture on my Canon 17-40mm lens. It is the sweet spot on many lenses. I use this as my starting point on every shoot.

As I tend to shoot at the 17mm end of the zoom range a lot of the time I am not concerned about the depth of field, as I am shooting so wide it is not an issue.

If, however I am photographing an item in the immediate foreground and want the background in focus as well I switch to F16.

And if I want a starburst effect for that shot into the sun I will go to F22. But only for that effect.

ISO 100

ISO is the sensitivity of the camera sensor. It derives from the days of film, where you had to buy a specific ISO. Typically, ISO100 was for higher quality images in good light, and for example ISO1600 for photographing fast moving subjects or for use in low light.

With DSLRs the general principle is the lower the better. And ISO100 is the lowest ISO.

Shutter speed – determined by the camera

I use AV Mode on my Canon 6D. Remember the exposure triangle? Aperture, shutter speed and ISO are all interrelated.

And yes, as my aperture is F8 and My ISO is 100 all that is left to sort is the shutter speed.

This is why I let my camera choose the correct shutter speed to provide the correct exposure with the other two parts of the exposure triangle set.

Going back to the apertures, using the maximum aperture lets the most light onto the camera sensor. Change to the minimum aperture, the smaller opening lets less light in. Less light means a slower shutter speed.

That is exposure explained very quickly!

Here are the other things that I do and also stuff that can be changed on the Canon 6D

Camera stuff

Canon 6D mounted on a tripod

I always use a tripod. I only take architectural photographs hand held if I do not have room for a tripod or am just not able to use a tripod due to space or physical restrictions. I use a Manfrotto 055 tripod.

Tripod head

Talking of my tripod, I use an Manfrotto XPRO geared head. This allows me to make precise adjustments.

Canon 17-40mm lens

This is my go-to lens. It is very wide, small and light and produces great images. And they are not that expensive either!

Focal Length 17mm

I use this focal length for probably 95% of my architectural work. I only tend to use other focal lengths for external shots where I want a nice tight composition.

17mm is super wide but still looks natural. Sure, it is flattering to an interior space but not deceiving which is important.

AF on lens on

I have autofocus and always use it. My Canon 6D focusses much better than I do!

AF – One shot

I focus and the focus is done.

White Balance – Auto White Balance

Controversial one this. I shoot in RAW (more on that later) and process my images in Lightroom. I can change the shite balance at will in Lightroom

So why spend precious time on site doing anything other than this. Sure, there are people who will say I should get it right in camera, and they are of course correct.

But I have to get as many great compositions as I can in a very limited time. If I am changing things on my camera I am missing out on shots.

Auto Correct Image Brightness – off

To be honest I have never used this.

Custom controls – back button focus

This is an important one. Back button focus means that I do not focus using the shutter release button. I have set my camera so I use the AF-ON button on the back of my camera.

Why do I use back button focus?

I like to focus first and then take the image separately. This means that the camera will vary the shutter speed if the light changes between image captures. And focussing and exposure are separate deliberate acts.

Drive – 10 second self-timer

I used to use a remote release. And then it broke. And I realised I had just the thing built-in. I could use the Wi-Fi in my Canon 6D and connect it to my iPhone and use that to activate the shutter, and in some circumstances I have to do that.

But using the self-timer is dead simple.

And it means that the camera has 10 seconds to settle down after I have gently pressed the shutter release button.

This minimises the amount of camera shake which can cause blurry images.

Metering – Evaluative

This works for architectural photography and is seldom changed. Evaluative metering on the Canon 6D is basically the camera evaluating the brightness of a number of zones within the composition and using this data to calculate the correct exposure.

Auto Exposure Bracketing

Ah. Another one that causes an amount of controversy. This is HDR photography.

This is what I do.

I set my Canon 6D to take three exposures.

  • The first exposure is the correct exposure calculated by the metering system.

  • The second photo is 2 seconds underexposed – this is darker.

  • The third photo is two stops overexposed – this image is lighter.

  • If we go back to the exposure triangle principle this is how the shutter speed varies.

Remember that the ISO stays the same, so the only variables are the aperture and the shutter speed.

Why do I do this?

I do this so I capture more of the highlights and shadows than in a single image. And for scenes with a significant variation in the light levels this can be invaluable. I use this on all my interior shots, and also on my exterior shots so they all look the same.

Here is the final edited image – look at the difference between the first exposure and final image!

Viewfinder/ Live View both used in composition

I use both the viewfinder and the LCD screen on the back of my Canon 6D to create a composition - not sure why, it just works for me!

Focussing – single focus point selected/ Live View

I also both use Live View and the viewfinder window to decide where I am going to focus the picture.

And I focus using either as well – I will normally focus about one-third into an image unless there are specific reasons to do anything else.

Image size and quality – RAW

I only ever shoot in RAW. RAW captures the maximum amount of data in a scene that the camera can capture. I never use JPEG as this applies processing to the image which cannot be undone – it is baked in.

And with RAW I can change the white balance in Lightroom to my hearts content.

Camera level and vertical

Very important for me in my architectural photography work – getting the photos both vertically correct and level.

My Canon 6D has an electronic level which I use all the time. It does not have a vertical level for some reason, but I get by!

Talking of my camera being level – my L Bracket

I use an L Bracket so I can quickly swap from landscape to portrait orientation without losing either the composition or the correct position of the tripod head – if it the levels and verticals are correct when I swap from landscape to portrait and back again they still are correct.

This is an excellent example of camera gear that helps me work better and more efficiently which helps me take better photos.

Focus – selected for the composition

As I said this is typically 1/3rd of the way into a scene.

Why are these settings so important?

I know that the images that I take one day will be taken in the same way with the same camera settings the next day.

Quite often I photograph the same building on more than one day. Sure, the light will be different but everything else will be the same.

And this means that you cannot tell if I took the photos for shoot on the same day or not.

Apply that logic further and images taken from different locations on different days when out together look like a cohesive set of images.

Time constraints on site

Often I am photographing live construction sites, very often buildings nearing completion. I have to work fast – live construction sites are busy places and I do not have time to spare fiddling with my camera. I need to spend time on my compositions and virtually forget the technical side of things.

And that is what all these settings allow me to do.

Taking three photos and merging them together in Lightroom gives me a huge margin for error – I have a range of four stops of exposure to work with which again allows me to concentrate on what I am photographing and not how I am photographing something.

What if you don’t use a Canon 6D?

Well the exposure is relevant to any camera that has these adjustments, which is most mirrorless/ DSLRs. As is the exposure triangle.

As to the other settings each manufacturer has different names for the same thing, you just need to find them out for your camera. And if you don’t know them this is a great time to get to know them!

Not every camera will have all the features of the Canon 6D, but most will in one form or another. The Canon 6D is quite an old camera now.

Do I only use a Canon 6D?

No. I have just started using a micro four thirds camera, an Olympus OM-D EM10 Mk 2. I am using this in parallel with my Canon 6D at the moment - Once I had found bracketing and worked out the exposure I was good to go. This took me a matter of minutes to fathom out so regardless of your camera it should not take you too long.

And that is the point of this – the principles and most of the settings for taking architectural photographs that I describe in this post can be applied very quickly and easily to other makes and models of cameras.

When do I change from these settings?

I am in the main photographing things that are not moving. Buildings and the surrounding environment.

There are times though when I do have to vary things.

If it is windy and there are plants, grass and in particular trees in a photo then I will have to think about my shutter speed. If I am shooting outdoors most of the time I am shooting at F8. So, to increase the shutter speed I have to adjust the ISO. 400 is fine, well I can get away with ISO 1600 on my Canon 6D externally without too many problems.

Sometimes I will freeze clouds, but most of the time I like to get some natural movement into them.

Lightroom copes with these variations wonderfully well so don’t worry about that.

Just be aware of stuff moving in a scene and adjust what you are doing accordingly.

Travel photography

I also do lots of travel photography. For static scenes I work in exactly the same way. Obviously for stuff on the move I do not.

My tried and trusted camera settings have been applied in lots of different locations all over the world.

Tomorrow I will post 5 architectural photos that I have taken along with the settings used for each photo.

And here are links to my three online portfolios

Architectural Photography Portfolio

Landscape Photography Portfolio

Travel Photography Portfolio

Any questions?

Please get in touch with any questions by email or phone, or even using the contact form on my website.

Summary

I hope that you have found this post all about the camera settings I use for architectural photography. I will be posting images throughout the course of this week with the camera settings I used.

Thanks for reading this post.

Rick McEvoy ABIPP