The ups and downs and ins and outs of photographing buildings


From ancient monuments to towering glass and steel constructions, we've got your building photography covered.

Photographing a building doesn't have to mean affixing a wide-angle lens to your camera and then panicking about the keystoning effect in post-production. Great architectural shots can be taken with any lens and from almost any angle. 

1. What's the story?

There's going to be have been something, some spark or glint, that caught your eye and compelled you into wanting to take a photo of that building. Maybe it was the contrast of the blue roof tiles against the perfect white-washed walls of a Greek hillside village, or perhaps it was the reflection of the sunlight in the Gherkin's construction? It might have been St Paul's cathedral's iconic dome. Whatever the inspiration, this is the story that your photo is meant to be telling. Identify it and narrate it.

 Cloud over St Paul's Cathedral

Cloud over St Paul's Cathedral

2. Time of day

 07:00 at the Bell Tower of Pisa's Duomo

07:00 at the Bell Tower of Pisa's Duomo

Stone glows during the golden hour. Distinctive buildings look imperious as silhouettes. Sometimes, a black sky and twinkling lights are the perfect foil for architectural photographs.

 A stormy sky made a beautiful silhouette in Edinburgh

A stormy sky made a beautiful silhouette in Edinburgh

If you don't just happen to be passing, do think very carefully about setting up your shot to get the best light for your building. It might mean getting up early or staying up late, but it will be worth it.

 Sydney Opera House by night

Sydney Opera House by night

3. Leading lines

Whether you use the building's own geometry to draw the eye into the photograph, or make use of the environment to direct the story, look for lines to compose compelling images. 

 Perfect leading lines on Valencia's waterfront (photo by Haje)

Perfect leading lines on Valencia's waterfront (photo by Haje)

4. Pattern and repetition

The eye loves pattern and repetition and buildings are frequently plastered with both. Keep an eye for them and make the most of what they offer. 

 Ancient-style repetition: the Decumanus Maximus, Volubilis

Ancient-style repetition: the Decumanus Maximus, Volubilis

5. Symmetry

When a building presents you with a case of perfect symmetry, who are you to decline it? 

 Paris by night (photo by Haje)

Paris by night (photo by Haje)

6. Reflections

Puddles, lakes and rivers, or other buildings: all of them can cast reflections of the star of your architectural show and it is always worth giving them top billing. Apart from their ability to create atmospheric photos, they can also present you with the opportunity to photograph all (or nearly all) of a building without too many optical traumas.

 The Monument, reflected in the walls of a public convenience. I kid you not.

The Monument, reflected in the walls of a public convenience. I kid you not.

7. Natural frames

Windows, doorways, trees–any and all of them can act as a natural frame for your building, which ensures that it is the centre of attention. 

 The perfect natural frame adds the perfect sense of depth

The perfect natural frame adds the perfect sense of depth

8. Angles

When you're confronted with a tall building, it can be an immense struggle to fit all of it into the frame. By the time that you've moved back sufficiently far to account for the key-stoning effect, you might be 10 streets away with a great many other buildings in between. An alternative? Get really, really close and shoot upwards. If you use a telephoto lens, you'll enhance the building's height, too.

 One of my favourite buildings in Dubai. And no, it isn't the Iranian hospital. It's down a backstreet, over the creek.

One of my favourite buildings in Dubai. And no, it isn't the Iranian hospital. It's down a backstreet, over the creek.

9. Juxtaposition

The City of London is a glorious juxtaposition of ancient and modern. Standing across the street from 30 St Mary Axe (better known as the Gherkin) is the fourteenth century St Helen's church. Nestled up against the twentieth century Lloyd's building is a beautiful neo-classical facade. Across the river from the Tower of London (building commenced 1070) is City Hall (building commenced 1999), and on Tower Hill there are fragments of London's Roman city wall, built around 300 CE. All of this works together to capture the vibrancy and history of the city, but at the same time, contrasting one against the other creates beautiful images.

 Steel, glass, and concrete, versus the rise of the young saplings

Steel, glass, and concrete, versus the rise of the young saplings

It doesn't have to be old against new, though. Think colourful against grey; plant against concrete; stone against water. 

10. Abstracts

There doesn't always have to be context for a photo to have meaning. Try pitting the building against itself for an intriguing image. Play reflections and details and symmetry and patterns off of each other and see what you get!

 1 London Bridge: river and sky; steel and glass

1 London Bridge: river and sky; steel and glass

11. Specific detail

Photographing a building doesn't have to entail attempts to scoop all of it up into one frame. Rather, focusing on some of the specific detail in the architecture or construction can make for a strong image. These details can, after all, be what makes the building admirable in the first place. So rather than a vain try at a complete picture which doesn't say very much at all, make a bold statement.

 Detail from the Duomo, Palermo

Detail from the Duomo, Palermo

12. Lens corrections

If your buildings are leaning backwards, fire up Lightroom (or just about any other serious editing package), head to the Lens Corrections panel, and put things to rights. 

Don't let anything hold you back, from the weather to your choice of lenses. If there's something worth photographing about a building, you'll manage it!