Architecture Photography Intro – gear, settings, tips

WE Energies Pavilion, Lincoln Park Boardwalk, Studio Gang Architects
Blue Abstract

So…I typically despise talking about photo gear and settings and anything at-all related to the technical side of photography. Partially because I find it dreadfully boring and partially because I’m really not that good at it. Don’t get me wrong, I know what I need to accomplish what I want, though I should probably experiment with the technical stuff a bit more. But I recently had someone who is newer to architecture photography ask me to go over some of this stuff as a little intro. Despite how much I don’t care for talking about this stuff, it is part of the process and if you’re new to architecture photography a basic guide certainly helps. So here it goes…
First, the equipment. I really don’t think it matters what kind of camera you use, I know architecture photographers that use DSLRs, mirrorless, iPhones. Really, who cares, unless you’re shooting commercially, which I don’t do very often. If that’s the type of architecture photography you’re looking to do, that’s a whole other blog post, or check with my friend Michael Muraz, who shoots commercially all the time. So, pick whatever camera you like if you’re shooting for yourself or for artistic purposes.
I shoot with the Nikon D810 in case you really need to know. My favorite lens is the 24-70mm f2.8. Basically a carryover from my years shooting portrait work, but it’s really a fantastic all-purpose lens. And, for about 3 years it’s literally the only lens I ever shot with. A side note on that, limit yourself – equipment-wise, subject matter, location, etc. …the more limitations you put on yourself the better your shots will be. I promise. Only having that one lens for so many years helped me more than I ever imagined. I had times where I really wished I had another lens with me but by having no choice I was forced to seek out shots that I could make work, it pushed me to be more creative.
I’m not saying don’t experiment, because that can lead to new ideas. But, don’t burden yourself with too many options at one time.
Even after close to 6 years of focusing on architecture photography, I still set up a number of limitations each time I go out to shoot. First in my gear. I really do try to choose 1 camera (it’s all I have other than my backup which sits in a backpack in my closet), 1 lens, 1 building. Or if I’m working on series it may not be one building I focus on but it is that one project and that one particular type of shot I’m looking for when I go out – the Urban Quilt or Cloudscrapers series are examples. I try not to get distracted by things other than whichever limitation(s) I set up.
urban quilt

So, pick one building and try to see it in as many ways as possible. Search for the less obvious shots. We all create the easy ones, those more “iconic” versions of our subjects first…it’s easy, they’re pretty, and that’s fine, get them out of the way. But, everyone’s done them, it’s kinda boring. Look harder, spend more time seeing, find something unique. This is also why revisiting your subject at different times of day or on different days when your mood has varied can result in completely different perspectives. Push yourself.
walt disney concert hall
Or, even if you’re not working on a series, pick a theme. Pick the color red, or shadows, or reflections, or a mood and seek out images that fit within that theme, trying to ignore everything else. I find the problem with not setting limitations in this way is that when the entire world is an option I see nothing but surface images, the things that are jumping out at everyone. By creating limitations I start seeing things I never would have seen had I not been on the lookout for them. After-all, being a photographer is about being observant and seeing things that, perhaps, the general population just passes by.

Okay, so most of what I just said has absolutely nothing to do with technical stuff, but it’s most definitely what helped me start seeing in a more interesting and unified way. But, if you feel you really need all that technical stuff, here it is.
Camera: seriously, whatever you want to shoot with (I know, not helpful). I shoot with a full-frame DSLR, again the Nikon D810.
Lenses: 24-70mm is my favorite, a wide angle 14-24mm is certainly good, and if you like abstracts and details like I do the 70-300mm is great.
Tripod: only when absolutely necessary, so for me, almost never.
Settings: I shoot aperture priority typically around f8-f11, adjusting ISO as necessary and sometimes the aperture, really depends on lighting and how important everything being sharp is…which is completely up to you in terms of artistic expression.
Metering: when I shoot abstracts I typically spot meter, if I’m shooting wider I’ll do matrix metering. I also typically expose for the highlights. Again, a preference because I like a more dramatic mood within the image and if I lose detail in the shadow I don’t care as much. It’s also easier to bring those details back out than it is to recover blown out highlights.
Post-processing: I think this is too much to get into here but I’m pretty basic with this. Basic LR adjustments – WB, exposure, shadows, highlights, contrast, clarity, lens & perspective corrections. Then PS for BW conversions, I use actions most of the time…saves time and I don’t love the whole post-processing process, so simple is better.
Does this help…anything I’m missing? All of this is covered when I teach workshops or give presentations but in far more detail. Michael and I will be hosting a 2-day workshop in Los Angeles on February 4 & 5 in case you’re interested. We cover a whole lot more in terms of the artistic side of creating architecture photographs but we’re certainly there to help guide in the technical as well. We only have a couple spots left, so if you’re considering attending sign up soon. Here’s a link with more details if you’re interested. But please let me know if there’s anything I missed or other questions you may have. Always happy to help if I can.



0 Responses

  1. THANK YOU! This is so helpful because after I heard you interviewed by Valerie Jardin, I checked out your work and was knocked out. Then I started researching "architectural photography gear" and quickly became discouraged that I apparently needed to invest in a $2400 tilt lens, which I honestly did not even know existed. And, I'm so happy to learn that you're not a tripod snob! I've already got a 24-70 and a d750, so I should be good to go for starting out. Your advice about limitations is something I'm just beginning to appreciate and a theme I hear Valerie emphasize regularly with street shooting. This is a fantastic blog post. After shooting a wedding tonight in Virginia Beach, I'm going to put these tips into practice this weekend. Should be lots of Christmas red out there! Hope your family enjoys a wonderful Christmas.

    1. Hi Jim! Sorry for the delay in replying. Glad you found it helpful. With commercial architecture photography a TS is necessary but I've only ever used it for commercial work and have rented one, don't own one at this point. For more abstract architecture or even when you want the straight lines you can make almost any lens work, might need some cropping but why not?! And, I literally despise tripods. Only on commercial shoots or a rare night cityscape. You'll be perfect with the 24-70 and zeroing in on individual limitations when you go out each time to shoot. It's really amazing how something that seems constrictive actually ends up opening up far more creativity than endless options. Took me a long time to appreciate that myself. Keep me posted and I'd love to see some of the work you make 🙂 Have a wonderful New Year!

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