Photo Tip – How to Photograph Architectural Exteriors

Posted by on Sep 8, 2015 in Architectural | No Comments
Architectural skyline of houston Texas

Image of Downtown Houston, taken from the Sabine Street bridge at dusk using a canon 24mm tilt/shift lens

Architectural photography is the photography of buildings and similar structures that is both an aesthetically pleasing & accurate, representations of the structures. Architectural photographers, are usually skilled in the use of specialized techniques and equipment.

As a Commercial Photographer, I have learned and created strategies & techniques  that support a process for capturing Architectural exterior elevations.  Following is a  brief overview of my recommendations.   With a littel practice, patience and some basic post production skills in Photoshop . . a motivated photographer . ..with a DSLR, Wide angle lens and tripod can create usable Architetureal exterior images.

Step One – Shoot:

  • Do a site visit and scout – Establish the best time of day to have light on the building facade – most buildings look better with early morning or late afternoon light.
  • Use a tripod i In this specific case, using a tripod allows the user to look at the scene, adjust the tripod position, attempt to correct for perspective, and find the most pleasing, views of the property. It also allows the user take several images from the exact same spot, wait for clouds to pass, or vehicles that may be in the scene to pass. Or just the freedom to wait and see how the light might look in ten minutes. The effect of the sun on buildings can change in a nano second.
  • Level & plumb – level the camera horizontally and plumb the camera vertically
  • Set the camera to record in the RAW file format – default is typically set to JPEG. Shooting In RAW will maximize your ability to adjust the image, especially regarding color temperature . .and sharpness
  • Set the ISO – ISO 200 is the best setting for bright sunshine. This will give the computer in your Digicam enough latitude to use a relatively fast shutter speed as well as a higher aperture to help with depth of field. And eliminate anh color nosie from using a higher ISO.
  • Use Aperature priority – use f11 or above to increase your depth of field
  • Use a wide Angle lens – a 15mm or the popular 16mm-35 mm canon sonm lens  on a full frame DSLR  is one way to go. If you’ve got a Nikon FX or Canon APC . . . the very popular 12- 24mm wide angle zoom lens . . . will give you sufficient coverage when used with a Nikon D5300 or a Canon Digital Rebel.
  • Take some test shots- If the weather is good you might get lucky and not have to make another trip.Take lots of pictures – You’ve gone to the trouble of driving to the site, why just snap one or two shots? As professional, I usually take 50 to 60 images from several angles just to insure that I get lots of usable images for my client.
  • .Architectural Details – Be alert for any signage, colorful plants, foliage or other architectural elements that might add visual interest, to include in your scene Be aware of how tilting the lens up or down creates converging or diverging lineslines.
  • PerspectiveBe aware of how tilting the lens up or down creates converging or diverging lines
Architectural perspective correction

Two images of the same building – Image on left was shot with lens tilted up – image on right has had the perspective corrected in PS

  • Download – Review & Choose your favorite shots. If you shot in the RAW file format, you can adjust the color temperature to remove red/amber and cool the image down a bit or slide it to the right to warm up the image. If necessary you can adjust the exposure, brightness, contrast and  *sharpness sliders to your liking. Use the Lens Correction feature to tweak lens distortion, and adjust horizontal & vertical *perspective, Hit OK, save as .DNG TIFF or JPEG .*

Perspective correction – Until digital imaging and Photoshop came into their own, many Pros use a level and/or an expensive shift lens or view camera to help control perspective. These days Photoshop CS has several tools that allow for perspective correction.

That said, I find that using a tilt shit lens saves me time and allows me the distinct advantage of raising my tripod, and shooting over an object or element in the scene wile maintaining perspective . . . while at the same time cropping out the ceiling in camera- to help emphasize the space.

* Sharpness – all prosumer DSLR’s are designed to make skins tones look good, so, the images for commercial applications will need sharpening.   Shooting the RAW file format will allow you to easily increase sharpness prior to processing the file to your final format

Sylvester Garza
Principal Photographer
Houston, Tx

Contact me to learn more.