Natural Frames: Architectural Photography

When photographers set out to find the perfect picture, rarely do they simply focus on the subject. They aim for mood and atmosphere, ambiance and emotion; they aim for what surrounds the subject as much as the subject itself. However, architectural photography is a completely different discipline. When photographing pictures, the goal is to capture the feeling of being in or around a certain structure, not to capture an aesthetic feeling or ornate delight. In fact, if the building is old or decrepit, or elicits uncomfortable feelings, all the better; the photography may not be attractive, but it will definitely bring to life the true essence of the structure, even if that essence is negative. Architectural photography is an art of lines and design, of angles and planes: the building, in minute detail, is brought to life, and the rest of the world is forgotten.

Life from Lines

Architectural photography is as much a science as an art form. It takes an understanding of design and drafting, geometry and construction; in order to see an opportunity, the photographer must notice it first. Most amateur photographers will take pictures around buildings, or delegate them to the background; in architectural photography, the structure is the picture, nothing else. There are a few tips to keep in mind when photographing buildings, as the style and composition is such an inverse from typical photography. A picture of a building can bring to life the soul of the building, but also the heart of the photographer, the feelings of being in the presence of such structures, and the relationship between the big and the small.

While newer, more modern structures can be photographed in detail, architectural photography actually focuses on bits and pieces of the overall building, older barns and houses should be photographed from a distance. In this case, the context of space, the relationship to the environment, is necessary in understanding the age and mystique of these ancient structures. Usually, however, buildings will be photographed so that the structure is the middle, top, bottom and sides of the picture; it is the picture, and nothing else is present to deflect focus. Telephoto lenses are perfect for creating composition and perspective; the distance, compressed into a single spot of focus, creates patterns and contrasts otherwise lost to the naked eye. Telephoto lenses bring abstraction to life and challenge the mind; with architectural photography, the sums of the parts are often larger than the whole.

Weather and fences, shadows and sunlight can add elements to architectural photography without changing the focus of the images. The structure will still remain the central figure, but the environment, changing around the building, will also affect the building and, consequently, the photograph. In other words, even though architectural photography often does not include anything beyond the borders of the building, the unseen can still directly influence the finished product. A single building photographed in different seasons, at different times, in different eras, can produce an endless amount of different pictures.