One of the most exciting aspects of traveling is having the opportunity to explore other cultures, and just about every culture has its own unique style of architecture. Architectural photography can be tricky, but it’s my favorite way of remembering documenting and remembering my travels. I feel very fortunate that among all of the things to do in Cozumel, there are many, many interesting subjects to photograph – above and below the water!
No matter what kind of camera or equipment you have available at the moment, you don’t have to buy stunning architectural photographs from whatever region you’re visiting – you can simply take them yourself and your recent smartphone is probably more than capable of taking fantastic photos.
This article is part of my growing list of holiday and travel photography tips and collection of articles you might find really helpful to get the best photos possible during your next trip:
- Travel Photography Preparation and Basic Camera Maintenance
- Tips for Taking Photos of Drinks – Photographing Cocktails
- Taking Pictures of Animals – Pet and Wildlife Photography Tips
- Photographing Sunsets – Tips for Taking Perfect Sunset Pictures
- How to Take Photos of Lighting – Tips for Photographing Lightning
Here are my three of my favorite architectural photography lighting and composition tips…
1. CONSIDER THE WEATHER AND CONDITIONS
The difference between a sunny or cloudy day impacts more than just the backdrop of your photograph and as far as my architectural photography lighting and composition tips go, nothing is more important than light!
A cloudy or overcast sky can make a photograph of an otherwise less interesting building or structure very striking by diffusing the available light and creating softer borders.
For buildings that are more striking and colorful on their own, direct sunlight can create shadows and contrast that make that structure’s best qualities pop.
The weather outside also impacts interior architecture photography. A sunny day can create all sorts of depths of shadow and shafts of light that can make for a very appealing picture inside of a structure that otherwise seems drab and boring. Of course, lighting will drastically affect your production if you are shooting real estate video. Rarely does the unique lighting situations that add mystery or artistic depth to photos translate well onto video.
Another option is to wait until night falls. Many architectural wonders become a better version of themselves once the sun goes down and the artificial lighting takes over. The more impressive buildings are often set up with a lighting system that creates a spectacular display via shadowplay and contrast.
2. THE ANGLE MATTERS In architectural photography
You wouldn’t take a picture of a skyscraper by pointing the camera directly in front of you, as it wouldn’t capture the building’s most impressive quality. There are several ways to play up the structure’s best qualities, whatever it is you’re pointing your camera at.
For structures whose old age is significant, take your picture from far enough away to capture the entire structure and its immediate surroundings. No matter what’s around the structure it will be interesting–whether because of the historical significance of the environment or because of the contrast provided by an old building in a modern setting.
I find the increasing use of 360-degree videos and photography particularly amazing for travel and architecture! You can give your viewers an immersive experience that traditional aspect ratios are just not able to capture.
If your picture includes a big body of water, then that water line or horizon should be dead-level, no matter how cool you think the overall composition looks rotated at an angle. It’s jarring and not at all artistic to see unlevel waterlines.
Use any patterns inherent in the structure or setting to decide your angle. Simply creating a photograph that follows, say, a line of identical houses along a street, or panels decreasing in size as they go up the side of a skyscraper, let the composition of the building dictate the composition of your shot. Angle your camera to include as much of this pattern as possible.
If you have the time and means to do so, take at least one picture of the structure of interest from far enough away to get a straight-on shot instead of or in addition to one in which your camera is pointed up. The latter can be pleasing to the eye by virtue of movement, but may not entirely capture an impressive building’s presence. Give yourself plenty of space, enough that you can point your camera directly in front of you and still get the whole structure in the shot.
3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR SUBJECT’S INTERESTING QUALITIES
It can be easy to get burnt out on taking pictures of buildings when it feels like you’re just pointing your camera at a set of walls over and over again. In that case, start drinking and take photos of your cocktails. – Just kidding. Fortunately, just about any structure, you’d want to photograph has its own unique qualities that you can use to decide how to take your picture. I think that’s the primary draw to architectural photography for me.
Find a detail that’s interesting to you and focus on that. Perhaps it’s an old bar with the original sign still dangling over the front door. Give yourself some space to capture a full view of that sign as well as the building itself or get in ultra close using a macro lens.
One of the best architectural photo composition tips I was given is to look for “real-life frames.” This could be ivy wrapped around a doorway, an arch or series of arches leading into a courtyard, the view from a set of open gates or through a window. Take your picture to allow that whole physical frame into your shot. This is almost guaranteed to create a visually appealing photograph.
My last tip would be to not forget the “Rule of Thirds” when composing or editing your photos!
Do you have your own favorite architectural photography lighting and composition tips for me? How about a favorite photo or example of architectural photography? Share them in the comments below!