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Architectural Photography #3: Effective Composition Techniques

To capture stunning shots of buildings, composition is also important as it determines how a subject is placed in the frame. In Part 3 of this 4-part series, we take a look at effective composition techniques that will make your subject stand out. (Photos by: Takeshi Akaogi, Edited by: Etica)


Include people in the scene

Even though you might simply want to photograph the building on its own, most tourist destinations will inevitably have people around them. Hence, while there are times you might need to wait until no one is around, you could also consider including people in your shots to create a great finish to your photos. They could quite effectively provide a sense of scale of the building you are photographing, so aim to photograph them when they in a position that does not obstruct the view of the building, or when someone is striking an interesting pose.

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


Use a telephoto lens and put the building in the background of the image

A telephoto lens is a lens with a narrow angle of view that captures a portion of the scenery. After deciding on your main subject, the way you include the building in the background will differ greatly depending on where you are standing and the angle at which your camera is positioned. For example, making the flowers in front of the building the main subject while incorporating a distinctive part of the building in the background enhances the building’s appeal.

To learn more about the characteristics of telephoto lenses, check out this article:
Lens FAQ #7: What is the difference between a 200mm and 300mm telephoto lens?

EOS M/ EF-M55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM/ FL: 100mm (160mm at 35mm film-equivalent)/ Aperture-priority AE (f/5.6, 1/125 sec.)/ ISO 2500/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Bright but cloudy/ Location: Tokyo Station, Marunouchi, Tokyo


EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 44mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/4.0, 1/40 sec.)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Bright but cloudy/ Location: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Marunouchi, Tokyo


Capture motion-blurred images of people with a slow shutter

When people are included in the frame while photographing a building, if they dominate the foreground, there is a tendency for the viewer's eyes to hone in on the people's faces. At such times, try using a slow shutter speed. With the people blurred out – i.e. when they are captured as blurs of motion – you can prevent the viewer from being drawn to any one person in the crowd, making for a more impressive shot of the building. And because camera shake can easily occur at slow shutter speeds, when doing handheld shooting, set the shutter speed to around 1/4 second at the slowest, and position the camera securely.

For more tips on using slow shutter speeds to create intentional blur, read:
Camera Settings to Use for Awesome Slow Shutter Shots!

EOS 6D/ EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 35mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/22, 1/4 sec.)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto
Shooting conditions: Bright but cloudy/ Location: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Marunouchi, Tokyo


Settings for shooting at slow shutter speeds

For beginners, I would recommend using Aperture-priority AE (Av) mode, as setting a high f-number (such as f/22) and low ISO speed (ISO100) will result in a slower shutter speed.
(Learn about the various Auto Exposure modes in this article.)

On the other hand if you want to set a specific shutter speed, use Shutter speed-priority AE (Tv) mode. Once you have decided on the shutter speed (such as 1/4 second), the camera will automatically determine the ISO speed and f-number.


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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.





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.