Thumbing down your Instagram feed, you’re bound to pass by a few beautiful cityscape photos, which have become a hallmark of the photography sharing platform, and some of our favorite Instagram shooters got their start by exploring urban areas and experimenting with the limits of iPhone photography. Los Angeles-based architect and professional photographer Taiyo Watanabe walks us through some need-to-know pointers to help you develop your eye for beautiful architectural photography.
Check out these tips, then get to ‘snapping.
For more architectural content, read our Complete Beginner’s Guide to Architectural Movements.
Get Your Alignment Right
Architectural photography requires precision when it comes to perspectives and vanishing points. Though it’s common, this style of photography isn’t limited to the single perspective shot and you should try to play around with multiple vanishing points.
Alignments are very important. To help with this, turn on the grid on your iPhone while shooting and look for the horizon. I usually try to find points of reference in the frame that help me better guide my alignments. For example, if I’m shooting an exterior facade, I’ll try to first line up the edges of the building parallel to the vertical grid lines and then look for floor or window lines that help align to the horizontal grid lines.
Landscape or Portrait?
Since mobile phone cameras don’t come with the functionality of a tilt-shift lens (yet), it’s sometimes easier to shoot vertically in order to get flat elevational shots of tall buildings. If I can’t get the building level and fitted in the frame, I’ll compose it as close as I can and cheat a little by perspective correction apps to get it straight (more on that below).
Nail the Perspective
Before I use color correction apps such as VSCO, I use SKRWT to fix perspectives. The key is to try to get it right in-camera as much as possible since perspective correction via editing software deteriorates image quality by stretching and shrinking pixels. Also, overdoing it in software makes images prone to looking fake and unnatural.
All in all, my work photos usually require me to take really coordinated and considered shots, and they don’t tend to allow for experimentation. Shooting on iPhone, as well as using Instagram and VSCO grid, allows me to be a little more spontaneous and carefree with my intent, which is more fun in the end.
Look for the play of light and shadows, as this is what makes architectural photography come alive. Since you can’t move a building, you might have to put in the extra effort; it’s pretty normal for me to wait hours so the light quality is just right, or the shadow line is in a place I like. But since most people don’t have that kind of time, you’ll be surprised at how much a building changes just by moving a couple steps or climbing a wall (legally and safely, of course).
Once you move into your editing app of choice, experiment with shadows and highlight to strike the perfect balance.