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Getting Into the Finer Details of Architectural Photography

Getting Into the Finer Details of Architectural Photography

Theres more to architectural photography than simply taking a photograph of a building or structure. This genre of photography is perhaps one of the few instances wherein appreciating, seeing, and interpreting a particular work of art is a form of art itself. The structure is the architect’s creativity and design materialized in concrete and steel and the work of the architectural photographer is to transcribe it into a photograph that will complement and highlight its intricate detail. 

Photographing details and textures in architectural photography is pretty much like approaching it with a macro photographer’s mindset. These details that can often be overlooked because of the more obvious larger form and design often requires a unique touch in order to give justice to the architect’s brilliant creation. Whether indoor or outdoor, every architectural project interacts with an environment that is part of the creator’s vision and the goal of your work as an architectural photographer is to put the structure and the environment together in a photograph that immortalizes the design. Your visual design in architectural photography should put the spotlight on the beauty of the design and make use of everything around the structure to complement it, 

There are various challenges to overcome when it comes to photographing and interpreting architectural details. Much like any other kind of photography, being able to capture the proper details and portraying it in the best possible way isn’t always automatic and obvious to an untrained eye. Limitations on perspective, luminosity, and optical obstructions can make the task more complex but with the right tools and approach, a skilled photographer can infuse life into an inanimate structure. The following tips are helpful approaches to solving problems and achieving masterful visual design in photographing intricate details in architectural photography. 


Long Exposure and Architecture

Just like any other kind of photography, long exposure has many applications in photographing architecture. From solving problems in low light situations, to reducing clutter, and as well as achieving a visually balanced image. Long exposure can solve some of the most common problems in photographing architecture and at the same time visually enhance the resulting image. 

Architectural Photography Details

Architectural photography can be done both outdoors (outside the structure) and indoors (shooting the structure from within) and in both scenarios, there can be limitations when it comes to ambient light. For example when shooting outdoors at night, to be able to get the structure with enough luminosity and detail, long exposure is the most obvious and ultimately the easiest approach. On the other hand, whether during the day or at night, photographing architectural interiors can be faced with scarcity of ambient light and the same solution applies. 

Architectural Photography  LongExposure 2

When shooting large structures, whether to capture the entirety of it or getting down to the smaller details, especially when photographing buildings that are already occupied, it is common to find yourself having to deal with unwanted clutter. In most cases, this is in the form of foot traffic or simply people walking around the structure. These visual elements in your frame can be quite distracting especially when particularly close to the camera because they take significantly more space in the frame. A simple way to deal with this challenge is to shoot longer exposures. This can either be done with an exposure of 1 to 4 seconds wherein the moving element is given just enough motion blur to leave a subtle trail, or much longer (30 seconds or even minutes long) to be able to virtually erase the moving person out of the shot. 

On the other hand, long exposures can also be used to illustrate how the structure interacts with the outdoor environment. Approaching architectural photography like a landscape photographer allows you to bring out the best possible “portrait” of a building. As conflicting as that statement seems, it simply aims to capture the structure with the best possible environmental factors available around it and the aim of doing so is to achieve balance and visual harmony within the frame. Dynamic environmental elements in and around the architecture can be used to create more appealing images of the structure and of course much of that is achieved with long exposure. For any composition that uses the sky as the structure’s background, using long exposure to create smooth brushed clouds in the sky not only makes the shot more interesting but also evens out the image’s contrast. Most architectural details are often made of fine details and sharp edges and having them dominate the frame can be quite overwhelming to the eyes. By complementing these rough textures with scudding clouds in the sky, balance can be achieved which would in turn guide the eyes to see the details better. In instances where the structure is accompanied by flowing water that can be placed in the foreground, or even heavy foot or vehicular traffic, motion blur can also be used not just to create complementing textures and contrast but also to create visual paths that would lead the viewer’s eyes through the architectural photograph. 

Architectural Photography  Long Exposure 3

To be able to do long exposure, there are some essential tools that will ensure the success of the architectural photographer’s workflow. High resolution cameras with high optical performance lenses are obviously a must in order to have the best outcome possible especially for commercial purposes. A reliable sturdy tripod with considerable height is customary not just for the sake of shake-free long exposures, but also to be flexible in terms of shooting from the necessary height to maintain proper perspective. When doing long exposures during the day, neutral density filters will be necessary to cut down the light and slow down the shutter speed. Graduated neutral density filters will help in dealing with a sky much brighter than the ground, and a circular polarizer can manage reflections and glare especially those coming from reflective surfaces.

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For more intuitive and foolproof long exposure workflows, an intelligent camera trigger simplifies the task. This can be as simple as remotely triggering an exposure from a distance or from an unusual angle, or computing and holding the exposure for a precise and specific amount of time. The MIOPS Smart+ and MIOPS Flex are examples of smart camera triggers that offer convenience and automation in long exposure and other complex photography techniques. The Smart+ can be used either as a standalone trigger on the camera or as a smartphone controlled remote. The MIOPS Flex is a smartphone activated camera remote trigger that doubles as a secondary monitor and control panel. Through the MIOPS mobile app, these camera triggers can wirelessly control your exposures,  automate your long exposure, and seamlessly shoot your time-lapse videos. 

Dealing with Dynamic Range

Since architectural photography often deals with the outdoor environment and ultimately, the sun, dynamic range is a common root of many exposure challenges in photographing architecture. To be able to showcase the intricate details of a certain part of a building, it is important to capture it in the most beneficial way but at the same time making sure that the exposure is balanced within the frame giving proper luminosity to both the details and the outside environment. For most shooting scenarios during the day, the difference between the luminosity of the outdoor environment and the details on the surface of a structure can be drastic which is why high dynamic range or HDR workflows can come in handy. 

Architectural Photography HDR

Exposure bracketing is the process of shooting multiple consecutive images with varying levels of luminosity while keeping camera position and framing constant. The goal of the process is to capture the scene entirely in as much detail as possible by harvesting all the details that are seen in various levels of brightness to later on combine them and produce an image that shows sufficient details in both the brighter and darker parts. This is done by shooting consecutive images with the exact same framing in various intervals of brightness. The images taken can range between 3 to 9 different levels of brightness to cover the entire dynamic range. On post processing, all these details can be fused together to create one image that shows all the details and colors properly. 

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The MIOPS Smart+ camera trigger offers on-board HDR exposure bracketing that can be controlled either through the device menu or through the MIOPS mobile app. Either way, it lets you set the luminosity intervals and how many exposures will be done. The app also lets you control this process wirelessly for an even more foolproof shooting sequence. The MIOPS Flex offers the same amount of automation with the use of the MIOPS mobile app on your smartphone. However, it has an added benefit of being able to create a preview of your resulting HDR image in real time, in addition to acting as a remote secondary monitor and backup storage. 

Architecture and the Night Sky

In architectural photography, the use of various natural visual elements can create a visually dynamic result. The use of motion blur on clouds creates the impression that time passes while the concrete structure is perfectly still. Another possible background element is the visible night sky. This can be in the form of star trails which are shot through time-lapse photography workflows, or simply having constellations like the milky way galaxy in the background. This way, you are able to photograph the architectural structure’s interaction with the environment beyond the usual sunrise or sunset. A unique but subtle use of night sky elements can definitely complement the beauty of an architectural design. 

Architectural Photography  Long Exposure

The MIOPS camera triggers, Smart+ and Flex, are both equipped with modes perfect for photographing the night sky and shooting star trails. Both devices act as camera remotes with the use of the mobile app which can help simplify the process of shooting long exposures to capture the stars of the night sky, time-lapse interval shooting to capture star trails, and even automated HDR time-lapse shooting that combines interval shooting and exposure bracketing, to help you achieve balanced exposures of both the sky and the building to create a highly detailed and dynamic image. 

Photographing architecture is creating art with already existing art. The use of various exposure techniques allows you to infuse your own creativity in how you see the existing architectural wonders and solve problems caused by ambient light. With the right tools and technical skills, your photographs of architecture can go beyond the limits of traditional 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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