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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

8 tips for better photos of buildings

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

A photo of Clovelly by Devon photographer Gary Holpin Photography

1. Lighting is key

Although this is true for most types of photography, if you're taking photos amongst buildings, where the sun is in the sky is even more important. If you're taking photos of buildings and facing the sun, parts of the buildings are likely to be in very deep shadow, making it difficult to take a decent photo unless you know what you're doing (such as how to take High Dynamic Range images). The easiest way to deal with this is simply to arrange to visit your favourite village or thatched cottage when the sun will be somewhere behind where you will be standing. Pro Tip! You can use one of many free phone apps (such as 'Ephemeris') which allow you to see where the sun will be in the sky at any location and time in the future - a great way to check before you turn up at your favourite building!

2. Keep the camera level!

One of the main challenges in taking photos of buildings is trying to keep walls vertical! I'm sure we'll all seen photos of buildings where the walls are leaning in from the sides of the photo; this is caused by the way lenses work, and the effect is especially acute when using a lens with a wider angle of view. The easiest way to prevent buildings lean is simply to make sure that your camera is level when you take the photo. A simple and easy way to achieve this is to ensure that you have grid lines switched on (most cameras, even phone cameras allow you to overlay a grid of vertical and horizontal lines to help with photo composition). Then, simply move the camera to ensure that the vertical grid lines line up with the vertical walls of the building before taking the photo, and this should ensure that everything is straight! Pro tip! If you still have walls that lean, most post processing applications allow you to warp perspective to force verticals to be vertical, however you are likely to lose some of the photo on the edges, so it's always better to get it right in the camera!

3. Shoot in raw not jpeg (Pro tip!)

If you are going to post process your photos in software such as Adobe Lightroom, then I would strongly encourage you to head to your camera settings and choose to capture images in RAW format rather than (or as well as) Jpeg (some phone cameras even have this option). Although RAW files are large and can't be immediately viewed (e.g. on social media) they do retain ALL of the information that the camera captured. This is unlike Jpegs which lose lots of information in order to keep the file sizes small. This is especially important when photographing buildings, where you are very likely to have areas of deep shadow; keeping the RAW file gives you much more chance of being able to lighten shadow areas when post-processing than if you only have the Jpeg file.

4. Use a wider lens (Pro tip!)

This is only for camera users (although it is possible to get add on lenses for some camera phones!). Using a lens with a wider field of view allows you to capture more of a building if you're not able to shoot it from further away (e.g. if you're in a street, or inside a room). The human eye sees a field of view of around 50mm; any lens that has a field of view less than 50mm is termed a 'wide angle' lens. When photographing buildings (especially interiors of buildings) I tend to use a 12-24mm lens, which gives a very wide angle view and allows me to capture more of the view when I'm unable to do that by moving away from it (e.g. when indoors).

5. Look for details too

As well as taking photos of the whole building / street or village, don't forget to look for interesting photographic details, too. A blue door on a whitewashed house surrounded by summer flowers; the peeling paintwork of an old barn window, or a beautiful old chimney stack, all provide great subjects for interesting photos.

6. Use panorama mode

If you're photographing a large building, such as a castle, or want to take a photo of a whole row of houses, it's unlikely to be possible to capture the whole scene in one photo. One way of doing so is to take a panoramic photo. Most camera phones, and many cameras will have a panorama mode which allows you to take a shot of a wide view. Usually this is done by sweeping the camera slowly from left to right over the scene; the camera takes a sequence of photos and then at the end stitches them together into a photo that covers a much wider view. So, have a look at your phone or camera and see if it has a panorama mode.

7. Shoot during golden hour

As with landscape photos, photos which include buildings will look different in different light. One of the most pleasing types of light for any type of photo is when the light is soft and golden in the so called 'golden hour'. This light occurs when it's not cloudy, in the hour or so before the sun sets, or the hour or so after the sun has just risen. So, if you have a favourite building, street or village, try visiting it during the golden hour, and see just how magical it can look in the right type of light.

8. Shoot at night (Pro tip!)

Although a bit more technically challenging, taking photos of buildings (streets, towns or villages) at night can be very beautiful and rewarding. Streetlights and light in windows provide pops of light in the darkness, and moving lights from cars can produce beautiful light trails. Due to the lack of light, you will preferably need to know how to shoot on Shutter Priority or Manual mode, and will either have to use higher ISO if you want to freeze motion, or longer shutter speeds if you want to blur motion, and you'll also need to use a tripod to prevent camera shake. Although taking photos after sunset requires a bit more technical knowledge, it can produce some stunning results.

Want to learn how to take photos like a pro?

If you want to learn more, why not consider one of my one-to-one courses, or if you're not local to Devon, or a weekend residential workshop?

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