Architectural photography doesn’t just mean the photography of new, modern skyscrapers. It is represented by all man-made structures including, buildings, bridges, lighthouses, dams, etc., etc. So it offers a fairly broad range of subjects to tempt and challenge our abilities. And due to the subject diversity, there will be many different ways in which we will need to approach each subject.
Because of this, just about all of your photo equipment could be put to the test - not to mention our ability and expertise. And whatever you have in mind that you would like to photograph will be determined by what equipment you have at your disposal.
All that taken into consideration, let’s look at how we might approach certain subjects.
We’ll start with modern skyscrapers
It is worth knowing here, that depending on the type of lens you are using, how wide it is, and how close you are to your subject, will determine how much distortion you will have of the subject in your photos.
It is sometimes best if you can use a long lens, or at least a zoom lens - including one that came as a package deal with your camera, if it allows a range from say, 25 - 200mm. Tilt-shift lenses are great but also quite expensive. By standing well back from your subject and closing the lens down, you will find there is less distortion than if you were closer. Although, at closer range, you can pick out certain parts of the building that might provide some good abstract shots, such as in the framework or the reflections in windows from other buildings. And for reasons of your own, you may want to purposely distort their shapes anyway. You are limited only by your own imagination to look at each structure on its merits.
Old buildings and ruins
Old buildings don’t seem to provide that modern architectural abstractness that new buildings provide, but they do convey a lot of natural, old world charm and character. Such as those in old townships that include churches, government buildings, etc. and the standard approach to photographing these sorts of buildings is generally the norm. They usually come with nice gardens and sometimes other buildings, annexes, etc., that are associated with them. Use the wider end of your lens with these subjects and when photographed in the right context, they can create their own little stories and conjure up memories and emotions of nostalgia in the eyes of the viewer. You may even find a very old building dwarfed by a neighbouring giant skyscraper. These too can evoke emotion in the viewer.
Best lighting conditions?
Lighting is a very important consideration with big city architectural photography. Ideally, good, clear, sharp light is preferred for any situation, but the air here can be hazy from vehicle emissions, etc. And dark shadows cast from buildings nearby creating exposure problems. Unfortunately, we cannot turn the buildings into the light, nor do we have the ability to change the weather on the day. Although, for certain scenes, it is always nice to have a bit of interesting cloud to take advantage of. But of course, a perfectly lit building would be one that is lit front on and slightly to the side to create sharpness, but also the extending shadows can bring on that well sought after 3D look.
As we cannot lighten an entire building, it is not advised to shoot a building that is in deep shadow with the sun ahead of you, otherwise, this will result in an underexposure, which is only useful of course if you wish to make a silhouette of your subject.
For photographing buildings at night, see my 'Night Light Cityscapes'