How to Photograph Buildings

How to photograph buildings using people to add a sense of scale is a much loved technique of photographers.

Scale is an all-important concept as often what first attracts us to take a picture of a building in the first place is its sheer size.


How to Photograph Buildings: Handling Scale

In the photograph below, the castle is huge. It is bigger than any other man made object in the immediate environment and dominates the surrounding area due to its scale and grandeur.

The size of the castle is emphasized by contrasting it with the small figure in the foreground.

The woman in the foreground is not the only person in the photograph (there are many pedestrians crossing the bridge but they are small and unclear) however, she is the most prominent (due in part to the strong red  colour of her clothing) and acts as a still point in the multiple-layered composition. Without this still point the image might have appeared too detailed or confused. With it, the complexity of the rhythms created by the repeating elements is more enjoyable.  So including people in your pictures is a good way to give a sense of scale to the buildings and surroundings.

Additional tip: if you don't have a wide-angle lens you need to stand well back from the subject to avoid converging parallel lines. (The focal length of the lens for this shot was 55mm.) Also, be sure to keep the camera parallel with your subject as this also helps to avoid converging lines.

How to Photograph Buildings: Enhancing the Sky

Although this series of photography tips is not about skies, it is important here to include the use of a polarizing filter as the sky so often figures in a building shot. Using a polarizing filter will enhance the colour saturation of the blue sky which acts as a backdrop to your building.

The greatest effect is obtained at a 90 degree angle to the sun which means that if you plan to make a panoramic using several shots stitched together then it is not possible to use a polarizing filter as changes in the depth of sky colour will be all too obvious.

Polarizing filters absorb light so in situations where the light is low you will need either a slower shutter speed or a wider aperture to accommodate this. A 1.5 stop increase will be needed to offset the absorption of light by the filter. If you set your camera to automatic, you may still need to use a tripod to account for the slower shutter speed and to avoid blur.

Strong diagonal lines lead the eye into the picture and create a greater sense of 3-dimensionality in a 2-dimensional image.

How to Photograph Buildings: Finding the Abstract in the Concrete

Building façades and surroundings are often full of interesting shapes, textures and colours. Patterns in particular can make great abstract images.

In the above photograph, the pattern of the stone-work of the building is echoed in the stones on the beach, and the pattern on the door is echoed in the posts sticking out of the sand. Natural patterns and man-made patterns have combined in the picture giving a unified and ordered feel to the composition.

In order to make successful abstract photography, you need to see the different elements of the scene graphically rather than realistically. The lines, forms, patterns and compositional rhythm are more important than realistic elements and take precedence.

The way the elements fit together to make up the composition is of greater importance than a realistic representation. Although the boat in the picture is recognizable, it is of interest within the image primarily because of its colour and because the diagonal line that the pale blue shapes create add interest by breaking up the composition. It is the only diagonal movement in the whole photograph and without it the composition would be less interesting.

If you are interested in finding great books on how to photograph buildings just follow the link or if making your own search be sure to use the keywords 'photography architecture' as this will give better results.


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