With so many different approaches possible, knowing what's your intent behind your pictures will help you figuring out how to shoot:
- Are you shooting stock, general, real estate, fine art or abstract architecture?
- Are you shooting a single building or buildings and their surroundings and environment?
- Do you wish to capture details or the general picture?
- Is lighting important to you? are the buildings lit at night? Does the sun brings out the texture of the building?
1- Quick tips before shooting
- Scout locations either in person or virtually with google maps and google street views.
- Bring your tripod especially if you're planning dusk pictures.
- Use a bubble level on camera. This will make sure your picture is levelled.
- Connect a GPS to your camera so that EXIF is recorded automatically on the pictures. Clients will love you for that.
- Bracket all your shots depending on the lighting conditions, especially if you're planning on processing them using HDR software.
2- Shoot wide or zoom
How you'll shoot the buildings will depend on your intent and on what the environment allows you to do. If a dramatic effect is what you're looking for and if you don't mind distortions, then shoot upward from a low perspective as wide (16-24mm) as possible.
- Corner store in Montreal at 69mm and 17mm: see how the same building looks totally different depending on the focal used.
Shooting wide is also useful to capture street scenes or buildings in their environment. If you keep your camera parallel to the floor or slightly looking up then distortions won't be as present .
- Olympic Stadium, Montreal at 16mm. In that example, the 16mm zoom was perfect to capture the Olympic stadium of Montreal and its garden without cutting any lines or curves.
- Sunlife building, Montreal at 16mm (with perspective correction). Not many options here to shoot the building while keeping this perspective showing the nearby park.
However, if your goal is to avoid distortions at all cost, then shoot no wider than 24mm (and do panoramas if needed). A 35mm is perfect to shoot buildings and facades.
- Old house in the town of Bodie, California at 25mm
- Colombus Avenue and Sentinel Building at 33mm
A longer zoom is perfect to capture details and abstracts.
- Hobart building taken in San Francisco at 75mm. In this example, the intent was to show the contrast between an old and classic building and a modern one.
- Top of EDF/GDF building in Paris La Défense district at 105mm. For this shot, I made sure to be at the middle of the building so I could have a perfect symmetry. The top of this building looks like a boat.
- Details of windows of a building in downtown San Francisco at 165mm. I used the vertical line at the bottom as a guide for composing. The pattern made by the repetition of windows is really interesting.
3- Shoot during the day ... or at dusk
Knowing how to light is so important in portraiture, it's even more important and challenging in architecture. Models move, buildings don't. There is nothing worse than having another building casting disgraceful shadows because of poor planning. On a sunny day shooting around 10-11am or 3-5pm is generally a good idea. Shooting at sunset or sunrise only works if the buildings are correctly oriented. In all cases, make sure that either the building is perfectly front lit and then bracketing for HDR is usually optional or the building is back-lit and then you'll probably need to bracket for HDR to capture the whole dynamic range of the scene.
- Typical houses of Plateau Mont-Royal in Montreal at 15mm. Taken at 10am, the sun lights up perfectly the building and shadows provide depth and volume to the picture.
- Typical houses of Plateau Mont-Royal in Montreal at 15mm: HDR processing (using 7 exposures ranging from -3ev to +3ev) was used to bring out the dynamic range present on the scene.
Snowy or cloudy weather is much less dramatic, however it's the best lighting for shooting buildings and facades in European cities where streets are narrow and light barely enters certain areas. Levels and curves adjustments may be performed during post-processing to bring out the texture and add contrast.
- Facade and windows on a cloudy day, taken in the town of Belves, Perigord, France at 33mm. Contrast was added in post-processing.
Shooting during the day is interesting, however shooting at dusk is even more exciting and challenging. It works really well for office buildings, hotels, restaurants and bars which are lit during the evening. Dusk is the best time of the day to get the right balance between indoor and exterior light. Unwanted reflections are less present and if you shoot a restaurant facade, you'll be able to capture the atmosphere inside too. However, because dusk only last 30 min, being prepared and plan in advance what you will shoot.
- An odd house of Penne d'Agenais, Lot et Garonne, France. These two pictures illustrate perfectly how a building can be perfectly lit during the day and also at dusk. In both cases, the lighting brings out details in the house.
- An old house of Monpazier, Perigord, taken at 54mm at dusk.
- Sunlife building in Montreal at dusk taken at 16mm: this example illustrates perfectly how shooting at dusk office buildings gives spectacular results.
quick tip: Avoid shooting buildings at dusk during summer. People are not working at 9pm and lights are mostly off.
quick tip: use a circular polarizer to increase contrast and/or get rid of unwanted reflections.
4- Correct perspective ... or not
One of the most important thing in architecture photography is having a picture that is correctly levelled and where perspective has been corrected. Making sure the image is straight is relatively easy if you use a bubble level on your camera and/or tripod (and even then, you'll end up more often than not correcting the centre vertical for 0.1 to 0.5 degrees). Now that Photoshop CS5 allows distortion removal right from Adobe Camera Raw, it also makes it easier to correct perspective directly from within Photoshop using the lens distortion tool. These steps are pretty much mandatory when doing architecture, especially if you can't afford a perspective correction lens yet. Clients will not tolerate verticals that suffer from barrel or pincushion distortion, images that are not levelled or perspective corrected.
- Facade of Dunn's famous deli at dusk during a snow storm at 35mm. Usually, I would position myself at the center of the facade, however, in this case, I had to walk a few steps to the left in order to be able to shoot the vertical sign on the right side of the facade.
However, sometimes, if the camera is tilted upwards too much, it just doesn't work. The example below involved a lot of perspective correction with the lens distortion tool in Photoshop and it's probably the maximum of perspective correction you'd be advised to perform. Correcting this much involves a lot of stretching of the pixels located at the top of the image, lowering its overall quality and details.
- Marriot Hotel and 1000 de la Gauchetière at dusk in Montreal at 16mm.
And finally, sometimes it's best to leave it as is.
- Dunn's famous deli in Montreal taken at 16mm, uncorrected.
quick tip: when shooting a facade straight on, make sure you're placed right at the same distance from each extremity of the facade or the frame you're shooring so that horizontal lines are indeed... horizontal. Check diagram below.
5- Editing workflow for architecture: overview
Finally, once you've got the pictures, editing is what will set you apart from the competition. An efficient workflow will also allow you to deliver your clients more quickly.
My workflow involves the following steps:
- RAW processing: White balance adjustments
- RAW processing: exposure tuning
- RAW processing: distortion and vignetting removal (Adobe Camera Raw - Photoshop CS5)
- Photoshop: Straightening of the image. This involves finding the center of an image and make sure the vertical is straight (before correcting perspective). A 0.25 degree difference will make an image look unlevelled.
- Photoshop: Correct perspective using the lens correction tool. Redo step 4 if needed.
- Photoshop: contrast adjustments using levels and curves.
HDR processing can be performed after step 3.
Thanks for reading!
© David Giral
About the Author
Born and raised in Brittany (France), David Giral is a young international photographer based in Montreal (Canada).
Fascinated since his young age by beautiful architecture, landscapes and people, he discovered his passion for photography in 2004 through Flickr, and after turning semi-professional in 2006, he is now a full time photographer since early 2010 and works between Montreal, Los Angeles, NY and Paris.
Through his landscapes and architecture photographs, he strives to capture a vibrant and beautiful reality. In portraiture, he is dedicated to create authentic, spiritual yet powerful portraits.
Using his experience in his previous careers as a geologist and test automation specialist for the financial industry and also hundreds of hours of viewing tutorials, he has developed a unique editing workflow which makes possible to deliver high quality portraits events and architecture photos efficiently.