Architectural photography - tips & techniques please? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hi all,

I've just been asked to do some architectural photography work. I don't have much experience in this area (I did some with a Sinar monorail about 12 years ago and that's it) and would appreciate any of the architectural photographers or others with architectural photography experience giving me some tips on what works best for you, lenses, technique, etc, can you recommend web references or some good books on the subject?

Is 4x5 or 6x9 the preferred format? I have a Sinar zoom back. I'm currently using an Ebony 45 S which has;

front: rise 50mm , fall 25mm, shift 38mm+38mm, swing 45 + 45, center tilt 20+20

back: rise 50mm, shift 60mm + 60mm, swing 20 + 20, center tilt 20+20

Will these movements adaquately to cover most situations? Lenses I have are Nikon f4 65mm, S/S f5.6 110mm XL, Fujinon f5.6 135mm & Fujinon f5.6 210mm - would I need something in the 72-80mm range or could I get by with using the 65mm with the 6x9 mask to cover that f/range?

The subjects are unlikely to be higher than 10/20 floors high (no skyscrapers) and there is interior work involved as well. Quite a number of the buildings are situated on fairly steep hillsides. These jobs may expand into more full-time work for me, so any help will be greatly appreciated.

Kind regards

Peter Brown

-- Peter L Brown (, January 06, 2002


Photographing Buildings Inside and Out By Norman McGrath. (AFAIK one of the bibles in this field)

-- Josh Wand (, January 06, 2002.

Yes, I second the McGrath book - definately a good basic handbook.......

Also, go grab some copies of Architectural Record, Architecture etc (try find a couple of European ones - the US publications can be a bit staid at times...)i.e. the ones the Architects read (NOT Architectural Digest etc, which is for frustrated Interior Desecrators!.............

See how people are shooting. This is what the Architects see most often. (but of course, bring your own flair...)...........

Also - are you working directly with the architects? Client? Try and do a walk through/around with them - try and see how they see the building - what are the important points to them, what were they doing with the design, how do they see it.............

If you are ambitious, even if they don't ask for it, try and do some B&W and throw it in for free - a few nice prints. Most architects love it - it says class and style to them! (take a look at Schulmans [sic]books) - that has brought me repeat work more than once...........

Gear wise I prefer 4x5. you might want something in the 72 - 90 range. I find I shoot with a 90 more than anything else (the 110 may do okay) I use my 75 when it's tight. But too wide looks a little weird to many architects. And isolating detail with the 210 is good (I often shoot a bunch of out of reach detail in 35mm in Velvia as an addition). That's Interiors - the whole range can work outside, depending on the shot. That time just when the light is low, but still enough to illuminate the exteriro, and the interior lights are on is great. I often end up going back at several different times of day (lots of early rising...) to get good exteriors - know where E an W are!.........

I find I don't use a huge amount of movements most of the time - you should be fine with the Ebony (and the client will probably admire it!).........

One tip - I find many architectural shots are taken right at eye level - the camera on the tripod. Sometimes it makes just enough difference by shooting very slightly lower -- not much - about 5' up. Just enough to give you backache at the end of the day.........

The big bummer is lighting indoors. Where I work, most of my clients aren't willing to pay me for a whole day for just one shot that includes 20 lights and/or gelling all the 30 windows in a room, 3 assistant and re-arranging everything. As a result I've educated them that we can't always deal well with daylight, tungsten and flourescent in the same shot. I've worked around it by finding film and filters that work well together, and by using Fuji NPS, which works wonders in mixed light (I normally use transparency film)..........

Part of the trick is learning how architects see buildings (read those magazines too...) Being married to one, my eductaion started on our first trip together - "hang on honey, I just want to look at the detail on that disabled persons elevator.... cool, look what they have done with the space here... it's only 50 miles out of our way to see Frank Lloyd Wrights Marin County Civic Centre... can you photograph that door handle detail for me....Hey - they told me you couldn't get those style fire door push bars!!"..........

Remember, it was an architect that said "God is in the details" but it was a musician who said "Architecture is music frozen in time". Somewhere between those two is how you get a good architectural photograph... (Mies van der Rohe and Stravinsky btw).......

-- Tim Atherton (, January 06, 2002.

Josh, thanks for the link to the Norman MacGrath book, I have ordered it.

Tim, thank you very much for your detailed reply, lots of great ideas there. I've worked a lot in advertising photography and from your suggestions it seems that architects also enjoy having their ego gently massaged, just like art directors ;-)

The suggestion to give out some B&W prints is an excellent idea - I like it!

I have the Horseman reflex viewer, so this may work well for the . ."very slightly lower" [than eye level] viewpoint which you recommend trying.

I was thinking of getting the SS 80XL this year, so I may just have to push the purchase time forward a bit, as this would fill the gap between the 65 and 110 quite nicely.

Being married to an architect would certainly have it's advantages for some "insider information" but I'm not sure my girlfriend would approve of me taking that route ;-)

- thanks for the ideas.

Kind regards

Peter Brown

-- Peter L Brown (, January 06, 2002.

I second/third the recommendations of Architectural Record and the McGrath book. I'm still learning, but those two things have helped me more than anything else (aside from actually putting theory into practice). I guess I really don't have a lot to say in addition to what Tim said, though I agree with all of it. I also find that I shoot a lot from eye level, though for me, unfortunately or unfortunately as you please, 5' is just about eye level, so those back aches don't really become a factor for me....hehe. I may not be married to one, but it does help to talk to architects and learn about architecture. My best friend is an architecture major a few hours away, and whenever we're on break we're always in downtown Cleveland exploring the local architecture. Just looking at things and discussing buildings with him has helped me out a lot. Good luck.

-- David Munson (, January 06, 2002.

Happy new Year Peter,

I strongly advise AGAINST the SS-XL 80mm for full frame 4x5 architecture - you will run out of image circle in a minute.

72mm SA-XL or most 90mm lenses would be preferable in my experience.

Certainly the Norman McGrath book is a must, there are also books of architectural photographs by Cervin Robinson and John Szarkowski - not how-to's but great examples.

Relevant magazines in Oz are Monument, Architecture Review, Inside, Belle etc.

Sounds like holiday condominiums or hotels you're leaping into up there so keep the end use in mind when determining what to shoot.

While centre-grads are a bone of contention I use them always for 4x5 architecture on anything shorter than 120mm (for 4x5) and I can't recommend highly enough a set of ND Grads .3, .6, .9 and some 81 series warm-up filters.

McGrath possibly does more overlighting than would be necessary for Australian tastes and budgets.

In excessively contrasty sun try using Tungsten film and filtering it back to daylight - there is a longer tonal range and surfaces like Colorbond will look very plastic and creamy.

If you're lucky they won't want talent in the pics. They can be a real pain.

See ya ... Walter

-- Walter Glover (, January 07, 2002.

The 65 should do fine with exteriors but a 90 will surfice for interiors. As far as the film size goes, what does the client need? What are the uses? Typically, for catalogue work, 4x5. You need to have alot of lighting (I have used up to 4 Dynalite 1000 packs and eight lights on some jobs) for interiors or appropriate filtration and sometimes both! Good luck

-- Scott Walton (, January 07, 2002.

David and Scott, thanks for your input, I appreciate it.

Walter, thanks for the Australian perspective - I'm sure there are subtle differences which need to be taken into consideration, particularly as you say with lighting. Thanks for the OZ magazine recommendations also.

I've considered the 72XL but thought that either a 75 or 80mm would better suit my other work, where IC is not as critical, but size and weight are. Still, I'll give it another look.

As far as "talent" goes, I've always thought that was a bit of a misnomer - nearly every time I've used "talent", there's always been a serious lack of it ;-)

I hope the smoke's not getting in your eyes and happy New Year to you too.


-- Peter L Brown (, January 07, 2002.

I once spoke briefly with Julius Schuman- I'm pretty sure he told me that he has been shooting Architecture on 35mm for the last 20 years! This does make sense in one way- sharper lenses; easier film handling; and fine grain films rival 4x5 especially if it is just for magazine quality reproductions

-- Jack Nadelle (, January 07, 2002.


A big thanks for the line about the smoke in my eyes. Since i read that I've got the "Platters" crooning in my head and can't get to sleep.

I'm sending you a post off line about some local news.

Good night ... Walter

-- Walter Glover (, January 08, 2002.


For some other books, try two from Michael Harris. "Professional Architectural Photography" and "Professional Interior Photography." Both of these books make good companions to the McGrath book.

In 4x5 I use a 75mm and 90mm as my wide angles for architecture. Be careful with the 65mm, round objects on the edges will be distorted, but I think a 65mm would be useful for tight spaces. I think you will see many examples with a 65mm in McGrath's book. Soon I will be trying a 125mm lens on interiors, but no experience with it yet. Lots of examples of a 120mm Super Angulon in his book also.

My experience using medium format for interiors/architecture is with a Mamiya 645 - so no movements. My most commonly used lenses in that format were 35mm and 55mm, with a 150mm for details (Approx 21mm, 35mm, and 90mm in 35mm formmat). I used the 645 when no movements were required, and the images were used in a catalog and some brochures. I was happy with the quality of the medium format images. (Films were 120 Kodak E100S and 160T, or Fuji Provia 100.

-- Dave Karp (, January 08, 2002.

65mm on 6X9 masked to 6X7 will look almost identical to 110 on 4X5. If you do look at 90's, yes the 4.5 grandagon is big and heavy, but the extra photons TTL are awful nice indoors. And the big circle is nice too. One of those cake and eat it too arguments. I wound up with a little Congo 90 for the walkabout duties and the Grandagon for the other times. Don't tell my wife. Can't really justify either.

-- Jim Galli (, January 08, 2002.

Peter, Here are a few thoughts for you - and some comments on some of the other threads. I've been photographing architecture exclusively for 25 years. Since 1984, it's been with a 6x9 Arca Swiss. The most practical lens for that format is a 65. A 47XL is wonderful for interiors and tight spots. Keep your eye level as low as possible to avoid foreground distortion and shoot on axis if at all possible to further reduce the possibility of distortion. A 90 and a 120 work well for details, vignettes, and landscape. If you already have 65, you might consider a 75 which has a wonderful aspect, particularly for interiors.

Forget 35mm (even if Julius Shulman says he uses one). The prime rule for competent architectural photography is that the verticals are kept parallel to the picture plane. Even with a 28mm or 24mm PC lens in your bag, the compromises in using a 35mm (or any) camera without complete perspective are too great. Your compositional flexibility is simply too limited. And, you will waste a lot of time repositioning your camera to get your ultimate composition (which changes the relationship of all the elements in the photograph), instead of simply moving your rear standard to get a bit more sky, or ground, etc.

The best education for depicting architecture and interiors can be found not in photography books but in art history books. The compositional paradigms for rendering architecture are found in the work of the late 16th-, 17th-, and early 18th- Century Dutch and Italian viewpainters such Saenredam, Piranesi, Canaletto, and DeHooch. You can learn the basic photographic techniques in a relatively short period of time. It's your compositional decisions that will separate your work from others. Study the work of the viewpainters; the roots of this discipline lie there.

As for the industry magazines, Architectural Record, Architecture, and Interior Design are fine. Within the past few years, however, they have become overly desgned, making it difficult to see the photgraphy through the clutter of the type and graphics.

Looking through Architetural Digest is a must -- and here's why. Whether or not it's your or your client's taste in design is not important. Whether or not architects read it is not the issue either; a great number of architects are, in fact, closet readers. Many of the projects I have photographed for architects such as Robert A. M. Stern, Michael Graves, and Hugh Newell Jacobsen have appeared in Digest, and they were happy to have them there. In my opinion, the quality of the photography is the best in the industry. Yes, some of the interiors may be overly dramatic (that may be the designer's choice, as well), but most of the photographs are excellent. The magazine uses the best ink and paper and the art director does minimal cropping and uses very few insets; in most cases you see the work as it was shot - and the work is good.

Hope some of this is helpful. Steven Brooke Miami

-- Steven Brooke (, January 23, 2002.

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