Architectural photographs frequently call for wide-angle lenses, which lets you take in large expanses of a building and its surroundings without having to step back a mile or two. Indoors, the same wide-angle lens makes it possible to photograph interiors without having to step outside and
shoot through an open window. Wide-angle lenses also allow you to include foreground detail, such as landscaping, which can be an important part of an architectural photo.

On the plus side, the interchangeable lenses available for digital SLRs generally have a much wider view than you can get with even the wide-zoom model point-and-shoot digitals. Several non-SLR cameras from Nikon, Olympus, and others have wide-angle lenses that are the equivalent of a 24mm lens on a 35mm film camera or a full-frame digital SLR. However, those are relatively scarce, and frequently, that isn’t nearly wide enough. Only digital SLRs allow you to fit lenses as wide as 15mm for a true ultra-wide view.

Of course, the wide-angle perspective comes at a price, especially if you’re using a digital SLR that has the crop factor that comes with the territory in cameras that have smaller than full-frame sensors. On a camera with a 1.5X crop factor, a 20mm extra-wide lens becomes an ordinary 30mm wide-angle lens, and an 16mm ultra-wide optic has a 24mm view. Although you can readily buy true ultra-wide lenses for your digital SLR — including zooms that take in the equivalent of an 18mm full-frame lens, at the wide end, and fish-eyes — these lenses can be expensive. 

The following sections outline some of the details that you need to consider when shooting architecture, indoors or out 


Whether it’s a good thing, most people take photographs with the camera at eye-level and the back of the camera parallel to the plane of the subject, at right angles to the ground. I’m always harping about using interesting angles, both high and low, but most of the time, people take photos straight-on with little or no tilting in any direction.

Wouldn’t you know it? Camera tilts commonly come into play when the shooter is taking architectural photos. Outdoors, tilting the camera up is often necessary to photograph tall structures, which seems like a good idea until you see that the building appears to be falling back in the final picture. That little bit of tilt can make the picture look somewhat bizarre, thanks to a syndrome called perspective distortion. Fortunately, when you’re shooting interiors, unless you’re inside a cathedral or domed stadium, you probably don’t need to tilt the camera upward, so you can avoid the most common kinds of perspective distortion. 

The most logical solutions for this distortion outdoors don’t always work well. You can take a few steps back so that you don’t need to tilt the camera (or tilt it as much), but that often means that intervening trees, fruit carts in the plaza, and other obstacles now intrude on your photo. A wider lens some- times helps, although you waste a lot of pixels on foreground subjects that you end up cropping out of the picture.

If a handy building stands across the street, you might be able to ascend about halfway up, shoot out a window, and take in both the base and top of your target structure without tilting the camera at all, but you’ll rarely be that lucky.

Your digital SLR might be compatible with any of the available perspective control lenses, which can move their optics off center enough to take in more of a subject in any one direction without the need to tilt. However, perspective control lenses can cost a bundle, might not be available for your camera, and are tricky to use.

Your best bet might be to do the best you can and then use your image editor to correct the perspective dis- tortion. Photoshop CS4 has a handy Lens Correction tool,  (choose FiltersDistort to open this tool). 

The Lens Correction tool can fix per-
spective distortion, correct chromatic aberrations (color focusing errors), and mend
pincushion distortion and barrel distortion (the tendency to bow vertical and horizontal lines inward or outward, respectively). If you apply this corrective filter, you can end up with a distortion free image. 

Light in Architecture

Architectural photos, indoors or out, can suffer from lighting problems. Like with other types of photography, one of the main challenges for you, the photographer, is to make sure that the lighting helps render your subject in the most suitable way for the particular type of photograph you’re taking.

In Figure 10-9, for instance, I decided to let uneven lighting work for me. The bright area at the bottom of the spiraling staircase naturally leads the eye through the image. In most cases, though, you’re not so lucky. But you can turn to Table 10-1 for solutions to many common lighting problems. 

Taking care of Common Lighting problems

Problem Solution

Too little light: If you’re shooting outdoors at night or indoors, you very likely don’t have enough light to make a proper exposure with the camera hand-held. 

Provide extra lighting (by using a flash, perhaps); mount your camera on a tripod to allow a longer exposure; or use a technique such as painting with light, in which you leave the shutter of a tripod-mounted camera open in a time exposure while you illuminate the subject with repeated electronic flash bursts, a flashlight, or another light source. 

Too much light: Having too
much light is rarely a problem. Architectural photography usually is friendly toward bright (but not harshly lit) environments that allow you to use short shutter speeds and/or small apertures that provide a lot of depth-of-field. 

In very bright situations, you may need to use a neutral density filter to cut back on the amount of light. 

Harsh lighting: You might find your- self in a situation that has glaring, contrasty, and harsh light. 

You may need to soften the lighting by intercepting direct illumination so that it bounces off reflectors. 

Uneven lighting: Harsh lighting can be uneven, but uneven lighting isn’t necessarily harsh. You simply might find yourself with plenty of suitable illumination in part of your frame and not enough light in other parts. 

Break out the electronic flash or reflec- tors to cast a little light in the gloomy por- tions of your subject. 

Mixed lighting: Indoors, you often have multiple light sources illuminat- ing your room. Space located near windows might be lit by outdoor light that’s quite bluish, compared to the warm interior light. These mixed light sources can give you a fairly ugly photo if you don’t modify them. 

Pros do things such as draping orange filter-like material over windows to give the sunlight coming through the same color as the interior light, or filtering their electronic flash so that it matches the room illumination. You might draw the blinds or turn off the interior lights and stick with the window light and perhaps a few supplemental electronic flash units that have the same white balance. 


Most kinds of photography benefit from building a visual frame around your subject, but architectural photos benefit more than most. If possible, frame your main subject by using doorways, windows, arches, the space between buildings, or the enveloping branches of trees as a pseudo border. Usually, these frames are in the foreground, which creates a feeling of depth, but  if you’re creative, you can find ways to use background objects to frame a composition. 











Man-made structures and buildings can provide unique challenges—simply because you have far less control over the picture than you do with some other subjects. You cannot move them into position—and you are forced to make do with the existing light. Your main chance of getting an interesting composition is to change vantage points—but since buildings are so often in built-up areas, the number of places you can choose to stand or place a tripod is severely limited.

Architectural photography frequently means that normal wide-angle lenses are not sufficient to fit the whole structure into the frame. Not only are buildings big, but you frequently have to stand relatively close to them. This means that wide- angle converters or super-wide-angle lenses are useful—and for interiors, even essential.

Using a wide-angle lens in these circumstances does have disadvantages. Because you are forced to tilt the camera upward, vertical lines that should appear parallel seem to converge. The effect can, on occasion, be dramatic, but it is not always welcome. It is possible to correct this optical distortion on a computer (see page 225). However, you can minimize the problem at the shooting stage—stand farther back if possible, to reduce how much the camera needs to be tilted. Alternatively, find a higher vantage point facing the building you want to photograph.

Although there are no rules, the style of architecture inevitably influences the photographic style that is more likely to work most successfully. Classical styles use strong forms that suit being photographed in sunlight, from an angle that provides a compromise between the detail of frontal lighting and the shading of sidelighting. Older architecture is also full of interesting elements that can easily be picked out with a telephoto lens. Modern architecture uses glass and steel to make huge blocklike structures—which provide a good basis for abstract shots showing pattern



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