Tips & Tutorials

Architectural Photography #1: 3 Basic Concepts

Buildings—they are a common subject of photography, be they beautiful modern works of architecture, or grand stately buildings full of history. In each part of this 4-article series, get ready to learn different techniques for capturing photos of architecture. Part 1 introduces the basics of architectural photography, using photos taken around the Tokyo Station area in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo, well known for many buildings influenced by classical Western architecture. (Photos by: Takeshi Akaogi, Edited by: Etica)

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 44mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/8.0, 1/40 sec., EV+0.7)/ ISO 250/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Bright but cloudy/ Location: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Marunouchi, Tokyo

 

Check your camera settings

When photographing the facades of buildings, you will want to capture sharp images of the entire building. We recommend using Aperture-priority AE mode and using an f-number slightly on the narrow side (such as f/5.6), which will not only solve the issue of weaker resolution in the image peripheries, but also make any peripheral light fall-off (vignetting) less obvious. If you are capturing a close-up shot of part of the building, using Aperture-priority AE mode also allows you to widen the aperture to create a bokeh effect in the background for a photo with more impact. (We will show you how to do so in Part 3 of this series.)

It should be no problem to use the Auto White Balance (AWB) setting. New camera models have outstanding AWB capabilities, and can depict colours almost exactly as seen by the naked eye with performance rarely affected by weather or subject matter.

 

Basic concept 1: Be aware of your horizon

When photographing architecture, it is very important to ensure that horizons are properly horizontal. If they are not, the photo will look unstable to viewers. To check on the horizon, display the grid in the LCD monitor/viewfinder when you shoot.

Images with a straight horizon look clean and well composed, and are therefore better able to convey the beautiful structures of buildings just like the ones in the photographs below.

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 59mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4.0, 1/50 sec., EV±0)/ ISO 500/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Bright but cloudy/ Location: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Marunouchi, Tokyo

 

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/250 sec., EV+1)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Bright but cloudy/ Location: Meiji Yasuda Seimei Building, Marunouchi, Tokyo

 

How to display the grid
Press the MENU button and select the “Grid display” option (differs depending on camera model).

 

Basic concept 2: Use exposure compensation to adjust the brightness

Apart from when you are shooting in manual exposure (M) mode, the camera will altomatically set the brightness (exposure) for you. However, this does not necessarily result in an image that has the same brightness as what you see with the naked eye—you may sometimes end up in a photo where areas that are originally bright end up looking dark, and vice versa.

To achieve an image that that more closely depicts actual conditions and therefore gives a more accurate representation of the building, make use of the exposure compensation function. In a bright room with lots of white light, use positive compensation; and in a darker room, compensate to the negative.

 

Before (No exposure compensation)
As this is a bright location, the camera automatically set a darker exposure, resulting in an image that was dark overall.

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/15 sec., EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Bright and indoors/ Location: Tokyo International Forum, Marunouchi, Tokyo

 

After (Exposure compensation +2)
Applying positive exposure compensation results in a brighter looking image which is much more representative of the actual scene as seen by the eye.

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/60 sec., EV+2)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Bright and indoors/ Location: Tokyo International Forum, Marunouchi, Tokyo

 

Before (No exposure compensation)
As the location was dark, the camera automatically set a bright exposure, which resulted in a bright image.

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 35mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4.0, 1/30 sec., EV±0)/ ISO 3200/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Dark and indoors/ Location: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Marunouchi, Tokyo

 

After (Exposure compensation -2)
Shooting with negative exposure compensation resulted in a darker image, which was much more representative of the actual scene as seen by the eye.

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 35mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4.0, 1/30 sec., EV-2)/ ISO 3200/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Dark and indoors/ Location: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Marunouchi, Tokyo

 

How to set exposure compensation
Turn the Quick Control Dial towards “+” when you want a brighter exposure, and towards “-“ if you want a darker exposure.
*Actual operations may differ depending on camera model.

 

Basic concept 3: Use a symmetrical composition

Whether you’re photographing a building in its entirety or just one part of it, take care of the composition. One composition you can use to highlight the building’s design is symmetrical composition, which gives a sense of order and also leaves a striking impression—perfect for architectural photography.

EOS M/ EF-M55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM/ FL: 100mm (equivalent to 160mm in 35mm format)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/160 sec., EV+1.3)/ ISO 250/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Bright but cloudy/ Location: Tokyo Station (Marunouchi Exit), Tokyo

 

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/40sec., EV+0.7)/ ISO 2500/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Dark and indoors/ Location: Meiji Yasuda Seimei Building, Marunouchi, Tokyo

 

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/40sec., EV+0.3)/ ISO 3200/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Bright and indoors/ Location: Tokyo Station, Marunouchi, Tokyo

 

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EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM

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EF-M55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM

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Takeshi Akaogi

 

As a photographer, Akaogi works mainly for magazines and writes books introducing photography and practical tips. He also teaches at photography workshops.

http://www.flipphoto.org

 

Etica

 

The team behind Japanese camera magazine,“Camera Biyori” as well as numerous other books. Also organizes events and runs the "Tanoshii Camera School", a photography school.

https://etica.jp.

 

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