What Makes a Good Architectural Photo? ZAC and ZAC

An interesting structure or beautiful interior deserves not only to be accurately represented but viewed in its prime. While a picture is in essence flat, the best architectural photographers can create a sense of perceived dimension and identity by employing a number of skills and techniques. So what makes a good architectural photo – the kind that stands out from the rest?…

What makes a good architectural photo?

The old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, holds a great deal of truth here. It’s possible to tell a detailed story via a photo that was captured in seconds through the lens. However, while the act of capturing it may be brief, the work leading up to, and afterwards, will not be. Usually, many years of training and expertise – not to mention innate talent – are responsible for that magical framing of a moment in time. It’s certainly not a case of luck, or of hoping for the best.

Effective and creative architecture photography

In an era where visuals lead and media content is abundant, it’s crucial to grab the viewer’s attention – and fast. Whether you’re seeking exterior real estate photography for your architecture website, an interior design photo shoot for your portfolio, or modern architecture photography for a publication, it needs to be on point. 

Planning the property photoshoot

A good architectural photographer won’t simply turn up, point the camera and go. Firstly, an evaluation must take place as to how the building can be showcased at its finest. The shot should be actively designed. And rules that might apply to an animated photography subject are often different with a static construction. For example, where architecture is concerned, verticals must be kept vertical in the image, otherwise, it can look like the building is falling over!

Good lighting 

Natural light is by far the preferable option. It’s more attractive, and of course, attempting to rig lighting around a large or multiple storey building poses a significant challenge. A professional commercial photographer understands that natural light is most effective when directed from the side to create contrast. When the light comes from behind the camera, it can actually flatten an image, creating a far less favourable outcome.  Ideally, shoots will be planned during prime weather conditions too. Although if this is not possible due to the client’s schedule, rest assured there’s much that can be done in post-production to improve on nature’s offering. And the use of lighting equipment can be implemented to enhance nature’s offer, add atmosphere and drama, as well as balancing the existing available light.

What Makes a Good Architectural Photo? ZAC and ZAC

Timing

As natural light plays an integral role in capturing the perfect property photo, it follows that the best architectural photographers will pick their moments wisely. Sunrise, sunset and twilight photoshoots can proffer some of the most effective opportunities to create atmospheric and evocative lighting effects. 

This means being ready when the sun may be exactly the right spot. It may be a case of waiting a long time. As the peak moment can last for only a few minutes, the exterior photographer has to be prepared for it – and fast in capturing it. This ties into the planning stage. By ensuring everything is in place, a few fleeting seconds of magical lighting can be harnessed, resulting in that breathtaking shot. 

Balance

Using the correct lens for the specific space is crucial. And getting it right comes as a combination of experience, skill and an inherent eye for visuals. Framing just that little bit too widely or too narrowly can affect the impact of the shot. Wide-angled, standard-zoom and tilt-shift are all commonly used in this type of photography. But within these categories, there is a range of options in terms of size, quality and branding. 

Minimal distortion

When photographing a building, it’s important that it’s accurately represented, as opposed to forming an artistic impression. While architectural photography can be beautiful and creative, it must also be true to the real-life form. 

Distortion is an optical aberration, where straight lines can appear bendy. A certain degree of distortion can be inevitable due to the curve of a lens, and in more abstract photography it’s useful as an effect. But excessive distortion doesn’t make for a good architectural photo. 

A professional property photographer will always carry a large range of lenses as part of their photography toolkit and may employ the use of a rectilinear lens to ‘stretch’ the subject if distortion is occurring. Distortion may also be unrelated to the lens in use; perspective distortion can occur if the camera is too close. 

Leading lines 

Leading lines are a frequent element of good exterior architectural photography in particular. This is a technique whereby the eye is drawn to a specific point. It’s achieved by framing the shot using lines within the subject area. An example of this may be lining up the edges of a doorway, to lead the viewer’s eye toward an unusual staircase, view, or a person framed within.  

What Makes a Good Architectural Photo? ZAC and ZAC

Composition and symmetry

An interior shot will contain various elements. And unlike (in most cases) exteriors, these elements can physically be rearranged by hand. But in terms of outdoor settings, there are still many options; how the shot is framed and lined up and what is included. The arrangement of these subjects is known as composition. The photographer may choose to ensure there’s symmetry in the arrangement of objects, buildings or scenery, or they may incorporate juxtapositions. By breaking a single frame down into grid-style sections, sections of symmetry can be introduced, contributing to a more complex, yet visually pleasing whole. 

Tips from the best interior photographers 

Architectural photography encompasses both interior and exterior settings, each with its own challenges and opportunities. The best architectural photographers will always work with the end product’s intended audience and purpose at the forefront of their minds. 

Warmth and life

Bringing warmth, softness and a sense of presence to the setting is particularly relevant when shooting indoors. Often the purpose of interior shots is to bring the room – or rooms – to life, presenting an enticing, appealing and often aspirational interior. In much the same way you might dress a property for sale ahead of viewings, the best interior photographers will look for ways to bring animation to the space. If there’s a fireplace, we may light it. Animals like cats and dogs can be introduced, especially when working within a home. And having human beings in the shot is a useful way to bring perspective and a better understanding of the feelings being conveyed.

What Makes a Good Architectural Photo? ZAC and ZAC

When the photo tells a story

Bringing people into the shot also helps to tell the story of the setting. A photo can have a distinct emotional impact on the viewer, conjuring a range of feelings. And by introducing models, or real-life residents, an instant sense of humanity is introduced. This makes the space relatable, possibly even familial, imparting its purpose and helping the viewer to form a connection with it. 

Realistic styling 

While every endeavour is made to ensure the setting is attractive and presented compellingly, it’s also important to style the space in a manner that’s realistic. If the photo’s purpose is the marketing of a home, for example, it must be relatable and a focus on cosiness or family-friendliness may be the priority. The best interior photographers will work to understand the project’s audience and intention, then create imagery that’ll be in keeping with them. 

Emphasis 

Along with identifying the story, the professional interior photographer will seek out possible areas of emphasis. This could purely be to aesthetic ends, or it could be to highlight the photo’s objective. Strong focal points like a stunning piece of furniture, an epic view, artwork, feature lighting or a person add visual depth when emphasised. By having items in the foreground as well as the background, the photograph takes on detail and interest, creating the ‘world’ of the photograph. This draws the viewer in and encourages them to look a little closer. 

What Makes a Good Architectural Photo? ZAC and ZAC

USPs

A building or room’s unique selling point/s may well be a source of emphasis. These could be existing features. Or the photographer may choose to shoot from particularly unique angles or perspectives, to add an interesting and unique element to the photo. This is particularly handy when covering more functional spaces – like commercial manufacturing units or office blocks – perhaps lacking in immediately obvious USPs. 

Skilled post-production and editing

Of course, the process doesn’t end with the photo shoot. The final photos may still have a long way to go in post-production. Much can be achieved in the editing process. The latest, greatest software (such as the Adobe Creative Suite) is of course key in the best architectural photographers’ arsenal of equipment, as is skill in editing. At this stage even quite major changes can be made – objects like TVs and cables can be removed from the image if desired, colours and exposure can be corrected and the photo can be sharpened. 

What Makes a Good Architectural Photo? ZAC and ZAC

Property photography near you 

If you’re seeking architectural photography in Scotland, an interior photographer in London, or help with a project elsewhere, ZAC and ZAC offer international property photography to meet – and exceed – your individual requirements. Do contact us to find out more about bespoke commissions

Many of the techniques we’ve discussed are niche and nuanced – almost impossible to pick out purely by looking at a picture. As with many art forms, a great deal of work goes on behind the scenes to create what appears to be the effortless result of a great architectural photo. But it’s these subtleties that make all the difference to the final article, taking what might have been a sub-standard or average picture, into a shot that truly has the wow factor. 

Related Questions

What is the purpose of architectural photography?

There can be a number of reasons a photographer is hired for a shoot. It might be for marketing purposes, to create inspiring imagery for the architect or firm’s website and advertising materials. It could be with a view to selling or renting a property. Or it might be to illustrate the details of a particular project in a magazine. 

What is a golden hour photo?

The periods just before sunset and just after sunrise are especially significant. Both of these timeframes are referred to as the ‘golden hours’, and serve as an optimum time to achieve beautiful shots. This is due to the quality of natural light displayed, not least on gloriously sunny days. 

How do I find the best architectural photographer for my project?

Your clients are far more likely to see photos of your architectural designs, than the real thing. So it’s important you find a super interior photographer who will be able to capture the essence of your work and show it off. Do your research by checking out the property photographer’s past projects, chatting to them about your needs and following their output on social media/ websites.