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Architecture photography, Part 1 (02/20/2005)
By Tom Hirsch

For many of us, the best part of returning from a vacation is getting our pictures back from the photo dealer or putting them on the computer and looking through them several days after we've returned from a trip. The real thrill was actually being there and taking the pictures, but now we have visual reminders that can bring back fond memories for years to come.

Although we're pleased with the results, we might ask ourselves such questions as, "Couldn't I have zoomed in to enlarge that clock in the steeple?" Or, "Gosh, why didn't I move around and shoot that building from a different angle so I would have avoided those high line wires?"

The answers are quite simple: Famous or interesting buildings and monuments are usually photographed while we're on the go. We might stop at a structure for a few minutes, or even an hour or so. Occasionally, though, several hours, or even days, are needed in order for us to become familiar enough with an area or a structure that all factors can be considered. But with a few ideas in mind, the time available can be used to good advantage.

The best way to start is to begin with an overview. Move back and use the wide-angle lens. Photograph the entire building, including its surroundings. This will establish the location by showing the structure within its environment. If you can take wide-angle shots from several angles, all the better.

After that, take the middle ground. Look for aspects of the building that capture the essence of its style. This might be an archway, an ornate door, stained glass windows, or that clock in the tower. If possible, move in and shoot from interesting angles. The use of the wide-angle lens will emphasize the sense of depth, and the middle focal length range can be used when you can only shoot from a distance.

Now move in for tight shots. Record the minute details that make the building unique, such as fine detail in relief work or an interesting lock on the gate. This might mean having to use the telephoto lens. Remember that for these shots, you will need absolute camera steadiness.

If a building or monument is architecturally very formal or classical, such as the Taj Mahal or the Lincoln Memorial, shoot from directly in front of the structure rather than at an angle. This will accentuate its formality and strengthen the image.

During the daylight hours, buildings and monuments are most photogenic when the sun is shining. Sunlight can accentuate texture and shape, and enhance color. Sunlight is especially desirable when it produces dramatic shadow effects. If you are not too rushed, try to anticipate when the sun will be striking an interesting side of the structure from a forty-five to sixty degree angle. If this happens to be fairly early or late in the day, the warmer rays of the sun will help warm the pictures.

If you are able to return to the structure after dark, you might be in for a special treat. Many buildings and monuments are illuminated by floodlights at night. This can provide a new and different perspective. Be sure to bring the tripod along.

If possible, try to take pictures at a time when the fewest number of cars and buses are obstructing the building. This might be before or after business hours, or on a Sunday morning. As for highline wires and other obstructions you can't control, if its not possible to eliminate them by changing your location or shooting angle, try to incorporate them into your pictures. The wires can make terrific leading lines. 


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