Learn how to create a more diverse architecture photography portfolio that challenges your creativity.
Most photographers will try their hand at architecture photography at least once. Photographs of architecture will likely last far beyond the photographer's lifetime, while the buildings may be preserved for decades. Nonetheless, your architectural photography doesn't have to be static — you can add some fresh perspectives to your portfolio while still honoring traditional methods used to portray structures and their individuality.
1 Add atmosphere and the human element
There is more to a building than merely a carefully constructed structure born out of an engineer's blueprint. If you feel your architectural photos lack life, look at buildings from a grounded, humane perspective. Step away from the traditional fine art or commercial approach and observe the scene throughout different times of day and note what makes the building come alive.
For urban photographer Alexander, two aspects give life to an everyday architectural scene - the atmosphere during the "blue hour," shortly after the sun has set and street lights begin to shine, and the interaction between people and the structure. The building becomes a part of a living, breathing, and evolving urban ecosystem. Some people may live there while others may merely stroll past it.
"When a person is against the background of architecture or some object, especially where there is a large space, this conveys the scale of the place itself, which allows you to compare a person with a nearby object." Alexander tells us. "Another human factor in the frame causes dynamics and gives more life to the picture."
You can add human elements by hinting at their presence, such as a shadow or a light in a window. This approach also introduces storytelling into what can be considered a strictly technical genre. It will tell a different story for each person who looks at your photo.
2 Change your perspective
Photographing buildings head-on was popular when architectural photography first developed as a genre. As time went on, photographers began to use more dynamic compositions, allowing viewers to appreciate the architecture from a unique perspective.
Instead of looking ahead, look up. Even though tilting the camera up towards the sky may seem unnatural, doing so is a great way to see architectural abstraction and symmetry that others -- including you -- might otherwise not see.
This is what photographer Dave Mullen Jnr. learned during a trip to New York City. "There are amazing photographic opportunities in every direction in a city like New York, but as a designer, I'm drawn to minimalism, shape, contrast, constraint, white space," he explains.
"So, looking up helped me find interesting compositions that often have clean lines, gradations in light, and patterns. It's always compelling to me because from ground-level, looking up at architecture presents so many opportunities to compose scenes of symmetry, balance, and abstraction."
After identifying a theme, Mullen Jnr. explores it within its limitations to create a large body of work adhering to it. A good example is his symmetrical square series documenting the corners of many buildings worldwide. The collection now includes photos submitted by other architecture photographers who followed the same concept as part of a larger project, The Geometry Club.
"It's surprising how much is revealed or concealed within a few meters when you're right under a building," Mullen Jnr. adds. "So I'm always mindful to keep moving and capture those variations, which gives me more to work with when I come to the selection and editing process."
3 Exclude more than you usually do
If you usually frame architecture shots with the entire building or most of it in the frame, try the opposite. The ability to exclude parts of a building and still capture its essence takes time to master, but the more elements you remove in the framing, the more abstract and surreal the image becomes. Doing so will not only elevate your architectural photography to a whole new level, but you will learn to recognize more framing possibilities when you go out shooting.
For photographer Armando (artistic name – Deeno), honing in architectural details helps achieve the desired minimalist style he finds so appealing. "By making an overly simplified photograph, I aim to elicit an emotional response by producing a unique visual experience." he explains.
"The elements and the composition must be reduced to a minimum, practically leaving the viewer to imagine what lies beyond what he observes - it is a visual research that wants to expose and reflect on how many redundancies surround us and how they can be managed differently."
Armando uses silhouettes, shapes, and simple, flat backgrounds, mostly framed vertically, to achieve a minimalist style that emphasizes details. The ample use of vibrant and pastel colors in his editing gives an impression of a surreal finish far removed from real life.
You can start with a simple exercise of picking one building and shooting as many different compositions as you can. Observe how different elements of its architecture interact with each other through your viewfinder and step further back to create white space with the help of the sky in the background. Remember, cropping and spot-healing distractions can also transform your final photo.
4 Let go of crisp details and perfection
A combination of HDR photography and advanced camera sensors can give the impression that every architectural photo must be sharp and detailed. There is no doubt this leads to some photographers examining pixels up close. However, getting lost in the search for technical perfection can cause you to lose sight of the creativity and playfulness of photography.
Instead, pick up a camera that lacks many modern features we are accustomed to. This could be an expired disposable camera or an older digital or film camera with a fixed lens. Your equipment should have as many limitations as possible since it will force you to improvise and take creative risks. It is an excellent way to test your abilities and vision as a photographer.
Next time you're planning a shoot, try one of these ideas for a different take on architecture photography. It may not always work as intended, but it flexes your creativity muscle, an invaluable exercise for every photographer.