The Building Blocks of Architecture Photography: A Guide for Beginners

Architecture is everywhere you look — from the tallest skyscrapers to the smallest tiny home, from the Coliseum in Rome to the Mayan temples in Mexico — architecture is threaded into the fabric of our civilization. It’s practically everywhere you look.

What’s more, architecture is a popular subject for photographers because it never moves, every structure is unique, and it can look entirely different depending on the time of day, the weather, and your angle of approach. 

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about architecture photography for beginners. We’ll explain what gear you’ll need and give you some tips and tricks to get you started.

What is architecture photography?

Architecture photography refers to photography that focuses on buildings. The genre may have started as a way to document buildings, but it has evolved into its own art form. Architecture photography isn’t as simple as aiming your camera at a building and pressing the shutter. 

architecture photography

The photographer must be adept at exposure, lighting, composition, and even editing, to capture the essence of a structure, whether it is its strength, beauty, size, personality, or some other feature you want to portray.

History of architecture photography

This may come as a surprise, but architecture photography is one of the oldest genres of photography of them all. In fact, the oldest surviving photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras, is an architecture photo! It was taken by French inventor Nicéphore Niépce in 1827 and shows parts of the buildings and surrounding countryside of his estate as seen from a high window.

oldest surviving photograph
Enhanced version by the Swiss Helmut Gersheim (1913–1995), performed ca. 1952, of Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras, (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin)View from the Window at Le Gras, the first successful permanent photograph created by Nicéphore Niépce in 1827, in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes (Saône-et-Loire, Bourgogne, France). Captured on 20×25 cm oil-treated bitumen. Due to the 8-hour exposure, the buildings are illuminated by the sun from both right and left.

Types of architecture photography

You can break architecture photography down into two distinct types: 

  • Exterior: photos of the exterior, or outside, of structures. Photographers have the benefit of natural light when it comes to shooting exteriors.
Photo by Expect Best from Pexels
  • Interior: photos of the interior, or inside, of a structure. This can be more infinitely more challenging in terms of lighting and often require the addition of artificial light.
Photo by Vladimir Kudinov from Pexels

What’s the best camera for architecture photography?

Any camera is capable of capturing interesting architectural photos. However, if you plan to make a career out of it, you should opt for a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless digital camera. These give you the most freedom to choose your exposure settings; change lenses, and have large file sizes that allow for cropping.

Some great options include the Canon 5D Mark IV, Sony a7iii, or the Nikon d850.

What is the best lens for architecture photography?

When it comes to architectural photography, it’s best to have a variety of focal lengths at your disposal. That means you’ll need a few different lenses in your bag. You’ll need a wide angle lens to capture large exteriors and full interior shots. You’ll need a telephoto to shoot far away details. 

A tilt-shift lens is a specialty lens that’s commonly used by architectural photographers to avoid the perspective distortion caused by tall buildings. Photos shot with a tilt-shift lens can also take on a unique miniature appearance.

architecture photography
Photo by Daniel Tafjord on Unsplash

Other architecture photography gear

In addition to your camera and lens, there are a few other items you’ll need in your gear bag as an architecture photographer. These include:

Camera settings for architecture photography

The best thing about architecture is that your subject never moves. So you can take all the time you need to get your photo perfect. Use that time to scout the perfect location; nail your composition; make sure your perspective is perfect; make sure your lines are straight; and your image is powerful.

As far as settings go, that will depend on what you’re shooting and when you’re shooting it. However, architecture photos should be tack sharp, so put your camera on a tripod. Then, you don’t have to worry about your shutter speed — use it to control the amount of light that hits your sensor. Set your ISO to its lowest native setting. Set your aperture low so that your entire scene is in focus.

High dynamic range (HDR) 

High dynamic range (HDR) is used often when shooting architectural photography, especially interiors. HDR can help you overcome some of the challenges you might face when it comes to difficult lighting situations with interior shots. For example, dim light indoors and bright light shining through a window. HDR is certainly helpful if you choose not to use flash or other photography lighting when you shoot. 

Check out our guide on how to shoot in HDR for more information.

architecture photography
Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash 

Tips for architecture photographers

Get your know your subject

After you choose a building to shoot, spend some time getting to know it. Walk around the outside, explore the inside (if you can), and get a feel for it. Learn the building’s personality. What is the building used for? Does it have a unique history? What information can you use to bring interest to your photo or tell the story of the building?

architecture photography

Try shooting at different times and in different weather

If you want to vary the looks in your photography portfolio, make sure you’re not boxing yourself in by only shooting at the golden hour on a clear day. Don’t miss the drama of a dark and stormy sky, or the interesting textures of the windows soaked after a rainfall. Imagine skyscrapers whose tops are engulfed in a cloud of fog. 

architecture photography

Change your perspective

Rather than simply shooting a building in its entirety, try instead to look at it from a unique perspective. Shoot from a unique angle; focus on a single detail; create abstract shapes; fill the frame; or barely fill the frame; strive to create something different.

architecture photography
Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Include people

After all, people are the reason architecture exists. Including people into your images helps establish a relationship between the building and the people who use it. It also brings an element of softness to the scene. If the people in the image are too distracting, simply use a longer exposure so that they become a blur and are just the essence of people. They’ll convey the motion of the people in the image without the distracting detail.

architecture photography
Photo by Mick De Paola on Unsplash

Editing architecture photos

Post-processing is an important final step when it comes to architectural photography. Use a photo editing program, like Photoshop or Lightroom to make simple edits to white balance, correct exposure, crop, or retouch.

The amount of editing you do to an image will depend on what the photo will be used for. If it’s for your own purposes, as art, edit the image as you wish. However, if you’re hired by the developer to shoot the building for documentation purposes, it’s best to keep the building looking as realistic as possible.

Final thoughts

Practically everywhere you look, you’ll find architecture. That means there’s potential for you as an architectural photographer everywhere you look, too! No two buildings are alike, and the same building can be photographed a myriad of different ways. The possibilities are endless. So study the tips in this guide, get your gear out, and practice taking your photography to the next level.

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

Leave a Comment