Introduction: How to Take Good Pictures of Buildings

A guide to architectural photography

Step 1: Shooting

The key to good architectural photography is to point the camera straight at the subject. You don't want to shoot as an angle. That's about it-- if you shoot straight, 95% of the job is done. No special lens is required. Shooting straight requires:

1. Ideal shooting position is halfway between the top and bottom of the building (or area of the building). This, of course, requires a ladder, or shooting from the building across the street. Horizontal position is obviously directly opposite the middle of the building, which is often helpfully marked with a door or window. A ladder isn't necessary if you have a Tilt/Shift lens (24mm" works well in many situations), but these lenses are expensive, and aren't available for all lines of SLRs (Canon has a good one, but it's $1100+). TS lenses straighten the converging lines effect that you get if you shoot up at the building from the sidewalk across the street-- you can do a lot of the same thing in Photoshop (see editing step.)

2. Hold the camera with the image plane (back of the camera) exactly parallel to the building. This is tricky and takes some practice. On a positive note, you don't have to hold it perfectly still, because the building is happy to sit still for you.

3. Often, a picture is a bit more exciting if someone is walking by, or if there is an object to grab the eye in front of the building. In the picture illustrating this step, the lamp-post adds a little something extra. If you're going for something in the foreground, make sure to use a smallish F-stop to keep the depth of field deep (F8 or above usually works fine from across the street). This way everything will be in focus.

4. Avoid any distracting elements-- that include:
-- lampposts (almost never look good unless they are at the edges, and then only if they are distinctive)
-- cars (death to most photographs because they destroy that "what year is it?" quality, and tend to block the front of buildings)
-- strange things in the background or foreground, like wires or satelite dishes

5. A word on lighting: buildings always look best an hour before sunset or an hour after dawn, and generally look better on slightly cloudy days. Bright light, particularly in the afternoon, will cast harsh shadows that make buildings look bad. Avoid shooting at noon at all costs. Avoid any shot where you can see clearly delineated shadows, unless they really work.

Step 2: Editing

Once you've taken your picture, you'll need to do three things: crop, color, and sharpen.

1. Crop: A good photo of a building puts the building in a prominent spot in the image (not necessarily the center, but that's where I like it), and keeps the lines straight. Your best tool in this effort is perspective crop in Photoshop. That's the normal cropping tool, but with that little checkbox for "perspective crop" in the toolbar checked. Once you check it, you can drag the four crop lines at skewed angles. The trick is to line each line up with the right side of the building (top line with top of building, left with left side of building, etc.) You also want to maintain the basic dimensions of the picture, and you can't pull the lines too far off 90 degree angles without some major distortion. It's a bit tricky, but practice makes perfect.

1a. Re-crop-- sometimes the Perspective crop screws up the dimensions of the image. If you want to, you can recrop the image to 4.5x3, 4x3, 1x1, etc.

2. Color-- here, I like to use Photoshop's curves (slight s-curve to increase contrast, or rounded middle to brighten midtones, depending on the situation.) You can also use levels, selective color, or hue/saturation, but most pros I use stick to curves.

3. Sharpen-- best to always resize to your final dimensions before sharpening (for instance, I put up 900x600 on my website, so I resize to 900x600 before I do anything else.) Then, if you can, view actual pixels (100% magnification.) Then apply your favorite sharpening method. I use unsharp mask, or lab sharpening (you can look both of those up on photo sites.)

4. Final prep: sometimes you'll want to add a bit of hue/saturation to bump up the colors a bit more, or tool slightly with the contrast, but basically you are done. Save and go home!

Comments

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JaseLloyd made it! (author)2015-01-18

This is only for small buildings : /? What about skyscrapers?

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bmikev made it! (author)2006-07-31

"You don't want to shoot at an angle." I dont know if I agree with this. You can loose alot of the 'art' of a picture if you limit yourself to only shooting straight. I have always looked for extreme angles and differant perspectives for my photos. This sets them apart from the average everyday shots. I agree with what you say about other points. I have attached a picture of a building I took. I set the angle of my tripod to 25 degrees. This is called a dutch angle and can be very useful. It can empart a completely differant feel to your exposure.

angles.jpg
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Reiff made it! (author)Reiff2012-12-05

I think why he said not to have an angles because all those photos are buildings that are blockish and not very tall and wide. If you have a building like yours, then I can see why you would say that though.

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jick made it! (author)2007-07-29

I completely agreed with AidanG's point of "Good how? In what context? For who?" and also how the pictures worked very well for me, specifically because of the color in them. THEN I noticed bmikev's comment and attached photo and realized (no offense bmikev) that I am totally bored with "extreme angles". It seems, to me, that a great deal of amateur photographers use these types of angles in an attempt to overcome the fact that the object they're shooting is a weak one. Great job, especially on the explanations, of a seemingly simple instructable.

author
SpikeEvolution made it! (author)SpikeEvolution2007-11-23

I agree with the angles to overcome their weak shooting comment. Angles can be good, but being able to shoot good images straight on is better, since you are not using simple perspective tricks to really max out the photo, it should speak by itself. Good Instructable.

author
AidanG made it! (author)2007-06-10

As someone who works with achitectural photos every day for work, I have a couple questions about this Instructable: Good how? In what context? For who? For my work, flat images suck. Angles rule all. Intruding elements can make the difference between good and boring crud too - trees, lampposts,and people all add life, especially if the shot is flat (straight on). The example photos, that said, are great - color can make a huge difference when it comes to boring angles. And the tips on lighting and the PS tips are very handy. Well, if you didn't know them already! :)

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sdtacoma made it! (author)2007-02-14

Good instructable, but, it would be nice to see what you are actually fixing. How about a before and after picture?

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Robb made it! (author)2006-10-15

i have cs2 and it was free! (steeling is wrong)

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tucker made it! (author)2006-08-04

relax spinach_dip, i have photoshop CS, and i'm 16. I live in a tiny little house under the powerlines.

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savagenarce made it! (author)2006-06-16

And now I just need the sequel: how to take good pictures of your mother-in-law. :)

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jakedobkin made it! (author)2006-06-11

i've updated the shooting and editing pages with more detailed instructions-- thanks for the tips!

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fungus amungus made it! (author)2006-06-03

For simple straightening of photos without dealing with a perspective change I'd recommend Google's Picasa. It's free and has a pretty fluid interface. As I recall, the perspective work in PS is pretty straightforward. Have to check on that.

author
fungus amungus made it! (author)fungus amungus2006-06-03

Ah, right. The perspective crop in CS2 is simply selecting an area for cropping the area you want and then clicking the perspective box that appears on the top of the screen. You can also check out Filter/Distort/Lens Correction for some fun toys.

author
spinach_dip made it! (author)2006-06-02

This isn't a tutorial in any sense of the word. "To straighten the lines, use the perspective crop utility in Photoshop." Great I'm sure that helped out a lot of people. (And ok let's be honest. YOU have the money.)

author
radiorental made it! (author)2006-06-02

This is a good instructable, I'd like to know more details about the work in photoshop (I can follow.. but it owuld be nice to see)

Tips: ALT & PRT SCN (print screen) on the pc to take a snapshot of the active window. Or Shift + control (not CTRL) + 4 on macs and drag a selection over the area you want to take a snapshot of. Then in instructables you can select an area of a picture to add a picture note.

eg:https://www.instructables.com/ex/i/CFA61FEA9EAE10288767001143E7E506/

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