We are often impressed by beautiful buildings but when we lift the camera (or our smartphone) to capture what it is that has impressed us, the result is often a little flat. James O. Davies gives his best tips to taking architectural photos so that the next time you snap, hopefully you’ll come away with something that may even be worth framing.
1. Before taking a picture, walk all the way round the building, acquaint yourself with the site.
James O. Davies is Head of Photography at Historic England and has over twenty five years experience of photographing historic buildings.
2. Decide exactly what you want to say about the building, what it is you want to communicate through the photograph.
3. Use the ambient light and time your photograph accordingly. Watch how a building responds by the way light changes from dawn till nightfall.
4. Try to keep the composition simple. Try not to over complicate the frame. Remove unwanted clutter and remove superfluous items.
5. Look for even illumination across an elevation and beware the elevation that’s half in shadow. Try to shoot either early morning or late evening when the the light is more sympathetic.
6. If shooting whole elevations, don’t truncate the building, step back, use space and let the building breathe.
7. Photographs don’t always have to taken from eye level, look for elevation, this will give a better sense of proportion.
8. Keep looking. Your initial ideas and viewpoint may well encompass everything you want to say, but don’t rely on it. By changing position and watching how the light changes other shots may present themselves.
9. Be persistent. Successful photographs take time, so slow down and never rush a photograph. If the conditions are against you don’t succumb to the act of taking the image, return the next day, the next week; the building and architect deserve the best.
10. Shoot RAW files, use a prime aperture, use a tripod and endeavour to keep verticals true. Use your eyes and feet to compose the image before setting up the camera.
Remember, the perfect picture doesn’t exist, but you can get close!
The first major book to explore English architecture between 1945 and 1975 in its entirety is published today. Written by Elain Harwood and illustrated by James O. Davies, this book reveals the logic, aspirations and beauty of hundreds of England’s post-war buildings. Read more