Architectural Photography Tips from 3 Top Photographers

Architectural Photography

Buildings have always been a fascinating subject for photographers. In fact, the first-ever permanent photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras by Nicéphore Niépce, was also the first architectural photograph with a view of buildings. While there are many disciplines of photography that usually overlap and make it hard to distinguish, architectural photography is very different, as it is not only the art of creating a great picture but also entails to capture its form and function with minute detailing.

Architectural photography is photographing built structures. The definition cannot change but the interpretations can be many like process (construction), materiality (brick house, stone structure, glass building), function (office, residence, retail) and context (urban, rural, terrain specific)- Sebastian Zachariah, Creative Director, PhxIndia, Mumbai

Sebastian Zachariah, Creative Director, Photographix India (PhxIndia), Mumbai (L); Photograph of Guggenhiem Museum Bilbao by Sebastian Zachariah (R)
Architectural photography is the photographing of buildings and structures that are both aesthetically pleasing and accurate representations of the subjects. -Prashant Bhat, Prashant Bhat Photography, Mumbai

Prashant Bhat, Prashant Bhat Photography, Mumbai (L); Project by Open Atelier Mumbai; Photograph by Prashant Bhat (R)
Every architectural image is an artistic image while the same cannot be held true vice versa.

Since architecture deals with designing spaces for human experiences keeping in lieu of the facts like materials, design, form, and function, these become obvious requirements of architectural photography. It is not only the depiction of a structure from various angles and in different lights, but an architectural photograph is also a means to create an ex situ experience for the people who may not be able to visit the place in his or her lifetime. It is a powerful medium of documentations to expand our architectural vocabulary

Architectural photography is the art of translating the built environment into an image. It’s not only about capturing the tangible quality of a space - such as its layout, materials, scale or volume but also about observing and showcasing the intangible characteristics that make each structure distinctive. - Kunal Bhatia,Studio Kunal Bhatia, Mumbai
Kunal Bhatia, Studio Kunal Bhatia, Mumbai (L); Project by Soyuz Talib Architects; Photograph by Kunal Bhatia (R)

When It Comes to Creativity, Instincts Rule

According to Kunal Bhatia, there is no set pattern for architectural photography. He says, “Because each architect’s approach to their work and the resulting architecture is unique, there is no set format for architectural photography either. My process is to first understand the intent of the architect behind the design of the project as well as any preferences that they might have regarding the photography. Alongside my own creative inclinations, these aspects inform the approach to each project - from planning and executing a photoshoot as well as in the subsequent editing stage. Thus, each shoot that I take up is quite a collaborative endeavour between the architect and me.”

Just like any other medium of photography, light plays an important role in understanding and capturing the details of the subject. More often, photographers take light for granted since the image is mostly captured outside in the natural light which is the best photographic medium. However, the play of light and shadow are very crucial in capturing the detail of any structure. Therefore, experts always advise taking the image during different hours of the day as your subject might not move but the detailing can. In the case of interior photography, external lights and shadow sensors are used to create artificial illumination.

Much of architectural photography is about sunlight. A building does not realise how beautiful it is until its hit by sunlight! Knowing the sun path and planning your shoot according to the sunlight play is crucial for any good architectural photographer as a rule. But rules have exceptions and as Gilbert K. Chesterton explains - All architecture is great architecture after sunset; perhaps architecture is really a nocturnal art, like the art of fireworks.

With great advances in lighting design, architectural lighting has come a long way and is in itself a specialisation that demands attention. 

Ensuring that you realise the design concept is key to capturing the project well. Forms, massing, volumetric ideas and design intent based on functionality are the right aspects to focus on. Scale and materiality have also been interesting photographic stories to pursue. One thing that I believe in is that if you can touch upon the Emotional Quotient in the architectural picture — you have hit a sweet spot. This kind of work usually happens at the amateur level as it’s more free-flowing than a professional assignment, according to Sebastian Zachariah.

Design by Thought Parallels; Photograph by Prashant Bhat

The More You Will Know Your Equipment, The Better It Is

Understanding your camera and lens is crucial since it allows you to capture dynamic images. Large format, DSLRs, Mirrorless systems etc. along with Prime lense, zoom lens, and the latest Tilt-and-Shift lenses eliminate perspective distortion and provide great sharpness. Tripods are also an essential element since it holds the camera still, helps in image fusing by holding it at the same place while not tiring your arm.

According to Prashant Bhat, “When it comes to Architectural photography, a wide-angle or ultra-wide angle lens is the best option. These types of lenses allow you to get a dramatic composition and provides you with the ability to fit the entire building into one shot. However, not all buildings will fit into every shot. This is where a camera with a panoramic format can be beneficial. While some cameras offer in-shot stitching of panoramic views where you click a lot of images which are stitched later by using the software.”

Learning about your subject must be the primary concern of any architectural photographer.

Unlike any other mode of photography, here you are dealing with a still subject which is full of exposed as well as hidden details. Unless you will keep a keen an inquisitive eye, you may miss some of the details.

Design by Arch Group; Photograph by Prahsant Bhat

Design by Open Atelier Mumbai; Photograph by Prashant Bhat

Have an Eye for Detail

There is a very fine line between a good image and a good architecture image. With the advent of smartphones equipped with high quality cameras and DSLRs, taking a good picture is no longer a difficult preposition; however, taking a good architectural image is a different ball game, one that requires an eye for detail as Kunal Bhatia says, “When one is an amateur in the genre, it’s more important to focus on the creative and technical aspects of photographing rather than worrying about one’s equipment. Many phone cameras today come with a wide-angle lens and have a great image quality too - one just needs to develop the skill to make the best use of it.”

You may love an artistic picture of a building but it will not be an architectural image unless it becomes an identity to its creator or architect and not the photographer.

The intention of the photographer and her/his ability to embed that into their photography makes the difference.

"One should remember that he is creating architects profile and not his own hence it’s important to display architects' creativity without overlapping. It’s also important to realize that each structure looks different at different timings, Shooting a series of images during different times of the day, or even in various weather conditions, can help to paint a fuller story,” quips Prashant Bhat.

Project by The Evolution Bureau; Photograph by Kunal Bhatia

Project by Atelier Landschaft (L); Project by Group Satellite; Photograph by Kunal Bhatia (R)

Architectural Photography in India

Architectural photography is still a relatively newer concept in India, as many architects and designers, especially the ones who belong to the past generation are still not comfortable enough in showcasing despite doing such good work. Nonetheless, thanks to the advent of the digital age, they are getting more aware of publicizing their work with the new breed learning to do the photography themselves. Today we see many architects and designers who are good photographers as they very well understand the subject and giving the profession the much-needed boost.

Prashant Bhat shares, "There is a fair demand for architectural photographers in India now. The new generation architects are considering Photography as a carrier option, but at present, there aren't many photographers in this field. I won't say Architectural photography is at a nascent stage but neither it’s fully developed. With more and more architects taking documentation of their projects seriously the demand for Architectural photographers is increasing by the day, to uplift this field we need academies which exclusively teach Architecture photography."

Seconding his opinion, Kunal Bhatia adds, "Like with architecture, I believe that architectural photography in India is in its developing stage too. There’s a lot of interesting work being built across the country and photography forms the foremost medium via which it can be communicated to a larger audience. Architects and photographers collaborating more often while respecting each other as fellow creative professionals lead to the most interesting results."

With more and more architects taking documentation of their projects seriously the demand for Architectural photographers is increasing by the day, to uplift this field we need academies which exclusively teaches Architecture photography. A different perspective is shared by Sebastian Zachariah who says that:

Before encouraging architectural photography, we must first learn to save our heritage.

He points out, "The common man in India has no love for or interest in architecture. In this day of digital imaging, how many people capture buildings when they’re visiting, say, a place of historical significance? Not enough? It’s all about selfies rather than the built structure. Then there’s religion. Ancient/old buildings/structures are often treated as icons of a certain faith rather than gems from the past. The government too doesn’t treat architecture with the respect it deserves. This explains why — unlike, say, Europe — we do not have many old heritage structures despite the fact that we are older people with a richer past.

We do not believe in conserving and preserving our architectural heritage and will happily demolish a heritage structure to allow more construction (and revenue). So to change the apathy towards architectural photography — we must change attitudes towards built structures first and learn to respect the secrets they hold and the stories they have to share. Education about architecture — and that too from primary or secondary levels — will help the next generation see buildings as representations of a certain time. Then they might appreciate/fight to preserve great works in this field and that will bring out architectural photography to the fore."

Devi Rasa Jaipur, Photograph by Sebastian Zachariah

Mumbai Airport T2, Photograph by Sebastian Zachariah

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