You want to become an iPhone architecture photographer, but always struggle to create inspiring photos? If you can’t express the scale and character of architecture, it’s probably not because of your equipment. The iPhone is one of the best mobile cameras on the market. You’re probably one step away from mastering the right shooting techniques. In this article, you’ll learn how to use external factors, such as lighting, weather and time, and internal elements such as patterns and shapes, as well as shooting techniques to take incredible photos of architecture with your iPhone.
Table of Contents
- 1. Study the Lighting
- 2. Shoot at Sunset
- 3. Shoot at Night
- 4. Shoot in Different Weather Conditions
- 5. Try Different Perspectives
- 6. Use a Wide-angle Lens
- 7. Explore Details
- 8. Look for Shapes and Patterns
- 9. Include People as a Storytelling Element
- 10. Add a Sense of Scale
- 11. Use Simple Composition
- 12. Clear the Stage
- 13. Use Negative Space
- 14. Use Framing Elements
- 15. Fill the Frame
- 16. Find a Reflective Surface
- 17. Shoot in Black & White
- 18. Be Steady and Level
- 19. Research the Building
1. Study the Lighting
Lighting is the most important factor in any type of photography. You want to assess the source, direction, and strength of light because light changes the mood and atmosphere of the architecture. The light that’s cast on a single spot draws attention to a specific space or structure. The light that’s spread more evenly will create a flatter looking image. Also, different light sources (such as the sun or street lights) interact differently with the architecture. Knowing where the light comes from makes you think how the contrast, shadows, and textures can play a role in the shooting.
2. Shoot at Sunset
When the sun goes down, a new style of architectural photography comes up. When the sun is near the horizon, it is the time to capture a silhouette of the architecture against the sun. You will get an atmospheric image because the silhouette strengthens the architectural structure. You want to deactivate the flash and expose for the sky so that the building becomes dark against a lighter background. Make sure there’s still some light and color in the sky to illuminate details in the backdrop. If the foreground is still too bright, you can darken the image using the exposure slider in the Camera app.
3. Shoot at Night
The dazzling urban lights from windows, street lights, and neon lights make architecture come to life. The lights and shadows add ambiance and vibrancy to the building that you don’t see during the daytime. The trick to a perfect night shot using your iPhone is to use a tripod to avoid blurry images. A tripod (and a remote shutter release) will be your best friend for sharp night shots. You also want to set a low ISO and long exposure to bring down digital noise to a minimum. The native Camera app doesn’t allow you to control the shutter speed and ISO, so you want to download a third-party app (such as Camera+ or Slow Shutter) to enable these manual controls.
4. Shoot in Different Weather Conditions
Weather can set the atmosphere. Unlike other forms of photography, architectural images in different weather conditions express different stories of the building’s relationship with the environment. Think about shooting a building on a clear day. The blue sky gives the building a clean backdrop, but the final image is a bit bland. If you shoot before a thunderstorm, the thick cloud over the building will set a depressing atmosphere. Or if you shoot after a heavy rain, the soil underneath will make the building look refreshing. By revisiting and shooting the same building in different weather conditions, you can select how to want to express the building in your photograph.
5. Try Different Perspectives
Architectural photography is all about the lines. The straight, curved and spiral lines define the depth and texture of a building. You want to use those lines to lead viewing perspectives and bring your shooting subject to life. The first thing to do is walk around the architecture in search of the perfect location. Then you want to find a unique, engaging angle for telling the story of space. Avoid eye-level shots because this angle produces flat and bland images. You can try shooting from the bottom up for taller buildings. The worm’s eye perspective brings out the magnitude and size of the architectural structure. While your iPhone can’t work as a drone to get a bird’s eye perspective, you can shoot from a higher vantage point, such as a nearby building, to build an elevated perspective of the subject. You can also take some steps from the building to add some distance between yourself and your subject. This helps to straighten the distorted, converging lines. Take your time to find a missed or overlooked angle, and this different perspective may give rise to another level of beauty for the architecture.
6. Use a Wide-angle Lens
Your iPhone camera has a fixed aperture, so you may not capture the whole scene when you stand too close to the subject. Also, when you point and shoot in front of a building, the vertical lines tend to move inwards. The general rule of architectural photography is to keep vertical lines straight because these distorted converging lines will inaccurately represent the building structure. So if you are shooting a subject on one side of the street, you can walk across the street to get a less distorted picture of the building. However, as you move further away from the subject, you will notice more distractions in the scene such as moving cars and power lines. If you want to encompass the whole picture and keep the scene clean, you can add a wide-angle lens attachment to your iPhone for less distortion and environmental obstacles.
7. Explore Details
While using a wide-angle lens give the shot a whole view of the architecture, intricate details are lost in this entirety. Small-scale details, such as ornate windows, spiral staircases, and even cracks on the wall can reveal the character of the architecture. You can highlight the shapes, lines, and patterns to add texture and depth to the building exterior or interior. The textured details look more intimate and hold the viewer’s attention for longer.
8. Look for Shapes and Patterns
Architectural photography is great for abstract shots because buildings are often built with a regular pattern. You can capture the shapes, patterns, and textures to bring out the essence of architecture without including every feature of the building. You want to look out for repeating patterns and fill the entire frame with the pattern to create an abstract image. Leave out unnecessary details from the frame for a clean abstract architectural shot. Shapes such as circles, squares, triangles, and leading lines make powerful abstracts. Once you begin to pay attention, you will notice unique features that can produce great abstract shots.
9. Include People as a Storytelling Element
Unlike environmental obstacles that add distractions, few people in the frame will make the final image look more dynamic. For rigorous architectural photographers, including people in architectural photography contaminate the pure beauty of the subject. You, as an iPhone photographer, can break this trend. The spirit of mobile photography is to snap quick shots of transient moments in your life. You are not shooting those buildings for commercial purposes, and it is great to feature people in your shot. Their presence and interactions with the building add a vibrant tone to the final image.
10. Add a Sense of Scale
You may find it difficult to express how grand a building is. A useful trick is to compare the size of the building to that of a smaller object. You can include a person, bicycle or post box next to the building. The comparison creates a sense of scale to emphasize the height of a tall building. Next time you want to shoot the vast size of a building, look around for an object of a known size to include in the scene.
11. Use Simple Composition
Lines and patterns make aesthetics of architecture. You want to use leading lines to guide the attention from one point to the other. The key to an aesthetic mobile photograph is to keep things simple and focus on the line. If you don’t know where to start, walk around the building to look out for converging lines, parallels, zigzags, curves, circles, and spirals. The more angles you explore, the more likely you will find lines and shapes that define the structure and character of the building.
Other than lines, the scale is also important to consider. You can include a reference point like a person or still object in the frame to give the viewer an understanding of the magnitude of the building or the size of a space. The comparative perspective creates a dramatic effect and tells an engaging and appealing story of the building or space.
12. Clear the Stage
If you want the architecture to be the focus, you need to remove as many distractions as you can. A crowded frame with various colors, lines, patterns, and objects will divert the viewer’s attention from the architecture. The absence of debris leaves the attention on the architecture. However, it’s up to you to decide what to include and what not to. As mentioned above, human or natural elements can create contrast or a frame to the building you shoot. This doesn’t contaminate the architectural aesthetics. Rather, adding few objects can sometimes make the shot more interesting.
13. Use Negative Space
Negative space refers to the empty space around the subject you shoot. Having a lot of negative space in the scene creates stunning minimalist images. Why? The clean backdrop with few or none competing objects draws the attention to the main subject in the frame. This technique has a powerful artistic effect. One of the ways to produce a minimalist architectural photo is to point your iPhone camera upwards and shoot just the top of the building against the sky.
14. Use Framing Elements
A framing element is an object in the scene that acts as a frame around your shooting subject. Windows, doors, and alleyways make perfect frames in your iPhone photos. You can stand inside the building or on the one side of an alleyway, then include the window, door, or alley in your photo. Using a framing element will draw the viewer’s attention through the frame to the scene beyond. This creates a stronger focal point and adds depth to the image.
15. Fill the Frame
If you can find a framing element in the scene, you can move close enough to fill the entire frame with parts of a building. This is a helpful technique for shooting a busy urban scene. By eliminating the surrounding distractions your frame will be filled with just the details of the building that you want your viewers to see. If you can’t get close enough to completely fill the frame, you can attach an iPhone telephoto lens, or crop away the edges in a photo editing app.
16. Find a Reflective Surface
Architecture is built on the principle of symmetry. Using reflection to mirror the subject not only creates a symmetry but also adds an extra dimension to reinforce the subject. In urban environments, you can find a multitude of reflective surfaces: windows, puddles, wet streets, sunglasses, and rivers. I took the image below after a thunderstorm. I spotted a car next to puddle and wanted to use it as a reflective surface. I positioned my iPhone close to the ground and captured the inverted car and apartment reflected in the puddle. You can definitely experiment this technique with any type of building.
17. Shoot in Black & White
When you photograph architecture in black and white, you accentuate the line and patterns of your subject. If you want to shoot a building on a busy road, use a photo editing app to convert the image to black and white to minimize distracting colors and moving objects. With black and white, you will worry less about the surroundings and leave the center of attention on the architecture. You can add a polarizing filter in a photo editor (such as VSCO) to draw out the contrast between the highlights and shadows.
18. Be Steady and Level
If you want a sharp shot, you need to hold your iPhone camera still. This is very basic and not new to you. However, if you shoot at night or from a very low perspective, you may want to use a proper tripod to stabilize the camera to reduce blurry images resulted by camera movement. If you want to shoot the façade of a building, make sure you turn on the rule-of-thirds grid (and use a tripod) to level the camera parallel to the horizon.
19. Research the Building
You’ll be surprised how little background information can fuel your big inspiration. You can learn about the history and context of a building before your first visit or your next revisit. A quick-and-easy online research will tell you some interesting aspects that the general public may not notice. The discovery helps you think about how you can find a unique perspective to express the essence of the architectural merit without duplicating a photograph that you can find everywhere on the Internet.