Shooting buildings should be easy – after all, people far more qualified than you have done all the heavy lifting. Famous buildings have an inherent shape, beauty and balance provided by highly-sought-after architects, are finished by world-class tradespeople and often sit within already-iconic cities – all your job is as a photographer is to turn up and keep your exposures balanced – right?
As anyone who’s sat through Uncle Clive’s holiday snaps from New York will tell you, architectural photography isn’t as simple as turning up at a famous building and aiming your camera at it. Here, we’ll offer you a few tips that will help you come back from your next city break with something a bit more artistically meritorious.
PLAY WITH EXPOSURE
Days with blue skies make for the best photography, right? Only in some cases. Sometimes a stark grey sky is all you need to produce really striking images – but only if you know what you’re doing when it comes to exposure.
Any image with a lot of grey in the sky will fool a camera’s exposure meter, so you either need to be prepared, and set an over-exposure using exposure compensation, or you should get the hang of spot metering. Here, we metered off the grey sky and set a big (three stops or so) over-exposure according to the meter. The result – a blown out, stark white sky with a beautifully-toned Shard in front of it.
Olympus OM-D E-M1, Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12–40mm 1:2.8 PRO at 40mm, 1/200th, f/11, ISO 400.
A building owes its beauty as much to its location and surroundings as it does its design and execution. 30 St Mary Axe (the Gherkin, you philistine) wouldn’t be quite so striking in its curves if it wasn’t for its proximity to St Paul’s, for example. Here, Edinburgh Castle looks all the more imposing thanks to our position below the craggy outlook upon which it sits.
Olympus PEN E-PL2, M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R at 14mm, 1/250th, f/8, ISO 200.
Some buildings are so iconic that you don’t need to show the whole thing. Think St Paul’s in London, the Golden Gate Bridge or the Sydney Opera House. In those cases, looking for small details will reveal both the care put into such famous buildings by their architects and builders, as well as providing your audience with images they might not have spotted. It’ll also make your attention to detail stand out, and there’s nothing like looking clever when it comes to showing off your images. Take this swirly detail image of the Penguin Pool at London Zoo, for example – a classic example of European Art Deco architecture, it benefits from the close-up treatment both by showcasing the classic lines of the building itself, as well as framing out the hordes of nearby tourists. A double win!
Olympus OM-D E-M1, M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75mm 1:1.8 at 75mm, 1/250th, f/5, ISO 200
Got some decent architectural shots in the bag – or, more excitingly, are you about to go and take some? Upload them to our Flickr group, or tag them on Instagram with #OlympusUK and we’ll take a look.