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Achieving Balance in Architectural Photography

Achieving Balance in Architectural Photography

Photographing architecture is a wonderful exercise of vision and visual artistry. Architectural photography takes many forms and styles depending on the artistic intent of the photographer as well as the purpose of the photograph. Some architectural photographs are taken simply to document the current state of a building or structure. Others are taken to showcase the intricate design that was put into concrete and steel.

The ultimate goal of an architectural photographer, however, is to both document the artistry of the creator of the structure while also infusing their own mastery in interpreting the image. Much like any other kind of photography, it is about finding the best way to portray the subject which includes finding the right angle and capturing the structure in the best light and environmental condition that complements the design. 

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An effective formula for compelling architectural photography is being able to satisfy the craving of the eyes of the viewers. It is said that when we look at photographs we automatically seek patterns and figures. Satisfaction comes from being able to identify such patterns and see the entire frame as one coherent flow of patterns. Part of visual design in architectural photography is in fact achieving balance in various aspects of the image through framing and visual weight, contrast, and of course exposure. 

What is Visual Weight? 

Think of how you perceive parts of an image. You can either see it as empty or full, smooth or rough, busy or serene, chaotic or organized. The features that govern this perception are of course brightness, texture, and contrast. Each visual element in the frame, as well as empty spaces, have visual weight and the key to a satisfying image is achieving perceptual balance from one side to the other. 

Visual Weight in Architectural Photography

Balance in Photography Through Framing

Framing is perhaps the most basic sense of composition in photography. It is basically what we put within the frame and consequently what we exclude. This also governs where in the frame we put our subjects or visual elements and how all other objects in the photograph interacts with the main subject. In architectural photography, it is not just about being able to put a building or structure within the frame.

While the most common requirement is to be able to capture the entire structure, framing and composition also includes where you place the structure and how you use space around it to complement it as a subject of a photograph. The proper use of empty spaces also contributes to how your audience perceives the size of the structure and how it relates to the environment around it. 

Filling the frame with the structure often gives the impression that it is big as it takes up a lot of space in the frame. Putting other visual elements around it, specifically ones that have certain standard sizes gives the image a sense of scale. For example, capturing a tall building with the figure of a human within it gives a clue of how big the structure is.

On the other hand, using a lot of empty space in the frame allows the negative space to overpower the structure. This gives the impression that the building is relatively small compared to the environment around it. By being able to achieve a certain balance in the use of space, one can give the right perception about size and scale. 

negative space in architectural photography

There are various ways to both create and reduce negative space. This can be done through proper use of exposure techniques that will help you manage the amount and impact of negative space to the entire photograph. When photographing buildings that are already occupied, foot traffic not only causes a lot of visual clutter in the scene but also takes away the intended effect of negative space.

To manage this, long exposure images can be done. By placing your camera on a tripod and allowing it to capture long exposures as people walk around the frame, the permanence of the background or the pavement takes precedence in the shot over the transient foot traffic. The duration of your exposures should depend on two things; how quick is the movement of the people walking about, and how bright are they compared to the background. Slower movement and brighter visual elements would mean a need for longer exposures to virtually erase them out of the shot. 

long exposure in architectural photography

On the other hand, you can also use the same principle to fill some empty spaces. This is a handy trick that can allow you to seemingly brush in detail with the use of slow shutter techniques. With a similar setup of having your camera on a tripod, you can make use of brief movements of people within your frame to use them as subtle details that will occupy an empty space.

At the same time, you can also use this to cover unwanted clutter that can be distracting to the overall visual design of your architectural photograph. By taking exposures of about 2 to 8 seconds long depending on how fast the movement is, you can use the moving element to leave a short trail that will emphasize a certain flow in your composition. This trail can also serve as that brush stroke that will cover up the unwanted clutter in frame. This can also be done by using other moving elements such as vehicles to leave a subtle trail.

clutter in architectural photography

To be able to achieve either, a few key tools are essential. For one, a camera with manual functions will be the most beneficial as it can allow you to manipulate the exposure settings and achieve the right effects. A sturdy tripod is important since doing long exposure images have to be done with absolutely no movement from the camera. To be able to do slow shutter exposures, a 3 or 4-stop ND filter is needed to allow the camera to shoot relatively longer even with the overabundance of daylight.

On the other hand, a 10, 12, or even 15-stop ND filter will come in handy when doing exposures of 30 seconds, one minute, or even longer. For a more efficient foolproof shooting process, using a camera trigger will be very beneficial. A camera trigger would allow you to remotely start your exposures without risking any camera shake from pressing the button. Smart camera triggers such as the MIOPS Smart+ and MIOPS Flex would allow you to use your smartphone as a way to control your camera and set it to precise exposure times through various long exposure modes. Both triggers also have different sensor modes such as a light sensor, sound sensor, and a laser sensor for automated exposures. 

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Balance in Photography Through Contrast 

Another aspect of achieving balance in photography is through contrast and texture. This is also closely related to the use of negative space. For a certain structure to standout in an image, it has to be surrounded by portions of the frame that are not as detailed and as textured as it is. Otherwise, the structure would just blend with whatever is around it and emphasis will be lost. Framing the shot so that a structure would be distinguishable from others around it is a basic requirement. On the other hand, other visual elements and surfaces can actually also reduce the contrast in frame. For example, rough textured clouds and turbulent water surfaces would have the same visual weight as the heavily textured architecture. This is where long exposure, again, plays a role.

texture in architectural photography

By using long exposure techniques to allow motion to render smooth textures onto the surface, contrast is achieved. This can be by softening the texture and getting rid of ripples in surfaces of water or by letting clouds scud to achieve a brushed-like appearance in the sky. By having a smooth surface complement the solid structures, you can give more emphasis to the architecture and even guide the eyes of the viewers as they experience the photograph.

Balance in Photography Through Exposure

Exposure is also one aspect of an image that requires balance. Photographing the exterior of buildings means having to deal with all the variances of lights and shadows in the scene. At the same time, shooting the interior details of a building also requires being able to manage the difference of the bright outdoors as seen from doors and windows, and the much dimmer indoor environment.

HDR in architectural photography

These imbalances in exposure are caused by limitations in dynamic range. Dynamic range is the range of light in the visible spectrum that a camera can record in just a single exposure. Any camera, no matter how advanced, has a much more limited dynamic range than what our eyes perceive. This is why whenever we photograph buildings with a bright sky in the background, we either get a silhouette of the building that is devoid of details, or an overexposed sky. In the same way, this is why shooting interiors with open doors and windows during the day would often yield images with the outside details blown out.

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Shooting and processing HDR images can be a solution to this problem especially when you are not able to wait for the right time-of-day to take a more balanced shot. Shooting HDR means taking 3, 5, or 7 consecutive exposures with varying levels of brightness. By combining these exposures, you can extract as much detail as you need for certain portions that would otherwise be too dark or too bright in a single exposure process.

The MIOPS Smart+ camera trigger also offers an automated way of shooting HDR images that is controlled by a smartphone through the MIOPS Mobile app. You can set your baseline settings and how many exposures you want the camera to take, as well as the difference in brightness of each shot. The MIOPS Flex camera trigger offers the same function as well. However, it has the added benefit of being able to process the HDR image and show you a real-time preview of your output on your smartphone and even save that result onto its own memory card.

balance in architectural photography

Visual design in architectural photography is almost entirely reliant on balance. The goal of the shot is always to showcase the beautiful man-made structures. Given an unpredictable environment, the challenge is to make the surroundings of that structure complement and give emphasis to the structure as a subject. By using compositional techniques, exposure techniques, and high dynamic range methods, one can achieve better balance in photography. 

Blog Credit: Nicco Valenzuela

Nicco started his photographic journey in 2007 practicing the craft as a hobby. Currently, he shoots for various local and international architectural firms and construction companies. Out of his love for sharing his knowledge, Nicco began writing about photography and various pieces of gear.

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[faq q1="what is balance in architectural photography?" a1="Part of visual design in architectural photography is in fact achieving balance in various aspects of the image through framing and visual weight, contrast, and of course exposure. " q2="what is visual weight in photography?" a2="Think of how you perceive parts of an image. You can either see it as empty or full, smooth or rough, busy or serene, chaotic or organized." q3="how to negative space in architectural photography?" a3="using a lot of empty space in the frame allows the negative space to overpower the structure. This gives the impression that the building is relatively small compared to the environment around it."]

10 Tips For Breathtaking Interior Photography

10 Tips For Breathtaking Interior Photography

The amazing interior photography shots you see in magazines may seem impossible to be taken by a non-pro photographer. However, that is not true! Let’s dive in and walk through these short tips. Soon you ’ll start creating magazine-worthy interior photography in no time.

room full of plants

Get your gear

  • Camera - It doesn’t matter which system you choose, despite what the internet will tell you. All the major camera brands are very similar in terms of quality and it will come down to what you feel most comfortable with.
  • Lens - For your first interior photography lens, I would be looking for something which covers a range of focal lengths. Something like the 24-70mm or 24-105mm.

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  • Tripod - You’re going to want to grab yourself a sturdy tripod to hold your camera and lens steady.
  • Shutter release - To avoid having unnecessary shaking and to ensure a solid-crispy image. Check out MIOPS remote devices to control your camera remotely. 

Clean-up and stage the space

If you want a space to look appealing, it has to be clean. Wipe down everything. For some reason, tiny things like smudges, greasy spots, and dust don’t look so bad in person but then look glaringly awful in a photo. Cleaning can seem like a pain, but 20 minutes of cleaning can save a ton of Photoshop work later down the road

white room

Stay in-line

When you are doing a series of photos in one single interior, shoot them from the same height. It creates a more balanced overview of the space, and that’s a lot easier on the eye going through the photos. Otherwise, the viewer will feel like he or she is hopping up and down through the room when looking at the pictures.

Watch out with your lines

Keep your verticals vertical and, when shooting a one-point perspective, your horizontals horizontal too! Our brain is capable of realizing that doors are vertical even if we see them from an angled view, but the camera is not. Using a tripod and a tripod head with bubble levels makes it easier to keep the lines straight.

Shoot with layers

You’ll want to do several bracketed shots at varying exposures. This way, you can layer them for a subtle natural-feeling HDR final image when photo editing. Try to bracket 3-4 exposures for any shots that include windows.

room full of people

Don´t shoot too wide

In real estate photography, you’re often shooting wide shots at about 16mm. For interior photography, you won’t want to go wider than 24mm, normally.

If you have enough room, distance yourself further from the composition and use a tighter lens such as a 50mm or 70mm. This minimizes any possible lens distortion as well.

Use natural light (when possible)

Turn all the lights off. Light bulbs cause terrible shadows and color casts. As human beings, we are very capable of interpreting the yellow color cast of incandescent bulbs or the dull green of fluorescent lights as white light, but the camera has no brain to understand colors as we can, and the results could be messy.

Create depth of field

Creating depth with styling items and furniture placement is crucial. It will add interest and a luxurious feel to the place. Also, make sure that your f-stop is consistent with what you want to have sharp in the photo. Interior photos have f-stops that are in the f8 to f16 range.

Composition is all

In learning how to photograph interiors, the composition is what guides most shots. This means that you need to brush up on the basics, from balance, color, leading lines, depth of field, contrast, etc.

Hopefully, you’ve found these tips helpful for getting started doing interior photography. Remember that practice, consistency, and preparation are more important than any gear you could carry on your assignment.

room shot from angle

Manuel Delgado is an award-winning photographer with a specialization in travel and documentary photography. He writes for Contrastly and is a Mentor for NGO Photographers Alliance, having led workshops in Africa with a focus on ethical and humanitarian photography. His work has been exhibited in Europe and the Americas.

Driven by an innate curiosity for his surroundings, Manuel´s process is mainly focused on capturing people in their natural environment; translating through his lens the subtle threads of daily life that are shared across cultures, borders, and races. Depicting people from diverse backgrounds, his work is united by a shared aesthetic that serves to tell each individual’s story. Manuel is currently living in Düsseldorf, Germany. 

Manuel Delgado Instagram Profile

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