Fine Art Architecture Photography is not a simple term to grasp. It’s bulky and entails two separate concepts that aren’t used together very often: architecture photography and fine art. Before we get into the details, let’s dig in and actually figure out what it means first.
First of all, it involves mostly images of buildings, including both interiors and exteriors. Images of facades, windows, columns, staircases and other architectural details all belong to the architecture photography category.
Fine art means presenting an object in a way that focuses primarily or solely on its imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual side.
Put together, fine art architecture photography presents the buildings that surround us in a beautiful, harmonious and often surprising way. In many cases, architecture photography can be pretty abstract.
The Oculus. New York, USA. © 2018 Daria Huxley.
For me, taking artistic architecture photos is a captivating journey. At the start I often do not know how it ends – there is always excitement in it.
The starting point for me as a photographer is always the subject, and I move from the geometries and lines towards emotion and meaning.
Let’s jump into it and explore what actually makes some images in the Fine Art Architecture Photography domain stand out from the rest.
1. How to Choose What to Photograph
First and foremost, preparation is key. Think about what surrounds you. Where do you live? Did you make some travel plans or going on vacation soon?
Look up online the place where you are or where you’re going and see what has already been photographed in your area. There is a good chance somebody else has done this before you, but visual research would give you an idea of interesting subjects within your reach.
Find a building that has interesting lines, perhaps even something unusual about it. Is there enough space around the building? Is it accessible from multiple angles?
As soon as you find a worthy subject – pick the right day and venture out!
2. Light Is Your Best Friend
A particular time of the day is not as important in fine art and abstract architecture photography as it is, say, in landscape photography. However, try avoiding the strong midday sun with its high contrast shadow casts.
One of the advantages of fine art photography is that a lot of work can be done in post production to enhance the look and feel of an image you take. You can even allow for some minor imperfections while shooting. However, the goal is to have good material to work with later.
The general rule of thumb is to basically avoid over- and underexposed areas in your frame.
Flatiron building. New York, NY, USA. © 2015 Daria Huxley.
3. How to Choose the Right Camera Settings
Regardless of which type of camera you are using, don’t simply rely on luck to take a good photo. There is a number of steps you can take to increase your chances of taking a great fine art architecture photograph digitally.
First of all, make sure your shutter speed is fast enough. You don’t want to come home later, open the image in full size on your computer, zoom into it and realize it’s blurred. Use precautionary measures. If you are planning to shoot in low light bring a tripod along with you.
Fine Art is all about high quality. There is no better way to achieve that than having enough flexibly that comes with RAW file format. If you don’t own a camera that is able to shoot in RAW, you should get one.
I always recommend shooting in RAW, but in fine art architecture photography this might be one of the most important pieces of advice to follow. Speaking from experience, shooting artistic architecture is extremely difficult in JPEG.
If you don’t shoot RAW, you limit yourself to more or less the exact result you see on your camera display after you take the picture, leaving little room for any creative interpretation. This is the case when technicalities do matter.
4. How to Find a Balanced Composition
If there is one thing that can make or break your Fine Art Architecture Photography, it is the composition. It is basically the most important feature of an image – composition in artistic architecture is the image itself.
Castle of the Knights Templar. Tomar, Portugal. © 2011 Daria Huxley. Fine Art
Everything that has been written in books, articles and magazines about balance, direction, off-centered placement and golden rule is true!
A sense of composition in photography develops with experience over time. A good way to facilitate the process is to read art books, study nature and look through many, many photos and work of others.
When you are out shooting your subject is it good to move around. Look at your subject from every possible angle. Sit down, climb up, experiment with both vertical and horizontal camera orientation. This is when the magic happens!
Take many photos from every interesting angle you can find. It is always better to have more options to choose from later, than to miss discovering an often surprising side of your subject.
5. Less Is More for Architecture Photography
As in photography in general and in Fine art Architecture Photography especially, it’s important to have a simple idea behind your image.
Cut off anything that doesn’t belong in the frame.
Downtown. New York, USA. © 2018 Daria Huxley.
Cluttered subjects are messy and distracting. Any banners, ads, identifiable faces and text should be excluded. Focus on clean lines, balance between light and dark areas and overall harmony. In the end, fine art is about aesthetic beauty.
6. Experiment With Focal Length to Avoid Distortion
It is advisable to use longer focal lengths when photographing artistic architecture. I use a 135mm prime lens frequently for this purpose. This way you can avoid distortion and pick up details that are not necessarily visible to the eye from the distance.
Wider angles can be used to capture building as the whole, or to show the scale of the scene. For wider looks I use 35mm lenses.
Very often in fine art architecture things tend to be more on the abstract side – and that’s our next point.
7. Make It Abstract
Fine art architecture photography frequently goes hand in hand with abstract architecture photography.
Cutting out any objects that we are used to in our daily lives leaves us with mystery and surprise.
Manhattan in fog. New York, NY, USA. © 2017 Daria Huxley.
Rotating your camera upside down and finding unusual angles is just one of the techniques to turn a casual architectural photograph into an abstract piece. Look closer, pay attention and have patience.
You can discover a new surprising side in a wide range of subjects. This is what gives architecture photographs their distinctive look: they just become slightly unreal to the viewer.
8. Try Shooting Black and White Fine Art Photography
This might be a matter of preference but I do shoot fine art architecture almost exclusively in black and white. To me it just makes sense to always have the composition in the spotlight.
While colours can help tell a story and deliver a message sometimes – in abstract architecture they are only complimentary and often can be left out.
In the end, it is all about what you want the viewer to focus on – and colors can be distracting. However, some light split toning techniques can add a nice touch to a finished image, if you choose to do so.
What About Post-Production?
While what you do when shooting abstract fine art architecture is important, post production is a big part of the process as well.
There are lots of technical details to talk about, but for the purpose of this article I will highlight two of the most important and helpful general tips.
9. Use Multiple Layers to Work With Light
For fine art architecture pieces I always use Photoshop when editing. It is the most powerful tool that allows you to dramatically enhance your images in a myriad of ways.
While this is a big separate topic for another tutorial, the main advice would be to duplicate and save information about the image that you already have.
Make sure you always have your base layer locked in the background as a reference.
Museo Soumaya. Mexico City, Mexico. © 2018 Daria Huxley.
I always make at least one copy of my base layer and only after that I begin the editing process.
I usually start with overall brightness and exposure adjustments and then slowly move on to the local areas. The main idea is to highlight the lines that you’d like to be the centre of attention and get rid of the objects that are distracting.
Using layers is great for this as it allows you to mask the areas you would like to leave unaffected and focus on specifics. This part reminds me of painting and here architectural photography truly becomes artistic!
10. How to Add Your Personal Touch to Your Fine Art Photos
Fine art is still art so don’t be afraid to add your own personality to your work. This is not documentary photography and it doesn’t need to be objective.
Use your own perception to add touch ups to complete your image. Adding accents – for example birds, planes and other aerial objects can add depth to the image and provide a scale reference.
Don’t be afraid to try something new to deliver your idea or message. Sometimes one little thing can make the image travel far and beyond your own imagination.
Courtyard. Rome, Italy. © 2016 Daria Huxley.
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