You give up a lot of control when shooting the outside of a building. “The challenge with creating high-quality architectural images is knowing when and when not to shoot a certain structure,” says Ulivieri. “You're at the mercy of the building’s design, the location, the shadows, and the weather.” In some forms of photography, you can control the environment to get the right shot, but with most architectural subjects it’s all about your ability to adapt.
The first thing any interior photographer needs to do is prepare the space. Most homes, offices, or other lived-in buildings won’t be set up to look their best in a photo. They’ll be set up for daily use. A good interior photographer knows how to fix that. “It’s a running gag with interior photographers,” says Waltz, “but our biggest job is moving furniture.”
Interior photographers should also be prepared to bust out the cleaning supplies. “Everybody’s got toothpaste on the mirror,” says Waltz. “It doesn’t matter who you are, or how expensive your house is, there’s toothpaste on the mirror. Be ready to clean the space.”
Once the place is prepared, get low. Shooting from a lower height can make a shot more about what’s actually in the room. “I like to shoot from kid height,” says Ulivieri. “My camera is maybe two-and-a-half to three feet off the ground. If you shoot lower it helps you focus on the details of the space.” That lower vantage point allows chairs, sofas, and tables to take prominence in the shot. A little higher up, and you’re mostly focusing on walls and doors.
Weather can still be a factor with interior photography. If you’re shooting a property on a dark or rainy day, you will have to be prepared to deal with whatever natural light (or lack thereof) is coming into the space. “You can work on composition regardless of how well or poorly lit a space may be,” says Ulivieri. High-end equipment like off-camera flashes can also correct for poor natural lighting, but good composition will go a long way.
It doesn’t take much to get into architectural photography, but you’ll want more than just a DSLR camera to get truly great shots.
- A tripod is essential for both interior and exterior architectural photography of all sorts. A photographer will often take several shots of a subject at the same angle and height, and then composite the best parts of the different photos together. “A lot of times if I’m shooting interiors, it’s very rare that I have a final photo that is one single frame,” says Ulivieri. Be ready to take a lot of photos and stitch them together in post-processing.
- Wide-angle lenses are especially useful for interior shots. Without a wide-angle lens, rooms can often appear to be smaller than they really are. Good interior photography shows the potential of the space, and a wide-angle lens takes it all in.
- Tilt-shift lenses can be very useful when taking exterior shots. If you’re photographing tall buildings from a distance, the vertical lines of tall buildings can appear to fall away or forward. A tilt-shift lens allows you to maintain straight lines and perspective. If you don’t have a tilt-shift lens, it’s also possible to adjust perspective in Photoshop.
- Drones are sometimes useful for those exterior shots that don’t offer a convenient vantage point, or you need to photograph out-of-the way architectural design elements at different angles.
Even with all the right equipment, the most important thing for any architecture photographer is patience. “You cannot rush these things,” says Waltz. “We might do an entire day and walk away with ten photos.” Be willing to work with the environment, weather, and the building itself. It can be a slow process, but one that makes amazing images of everything from residential real estate to the biggest structures on the skyline.
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