Architectural Photography / by Harminder Singh

Objectives of architectural photography

Architectural photography comprises photography of exteriors and interiors for the purpose of promotion and documentation. Many Industries ranging from IT, real estate, hospitality and commercial benefit from these images in numerous ways. The requirement of each industry is unique in purpose.

Hospitality Industry

New hotels require images of its exterior, different type of rooms, lounging areas, restaurants, spas, banquet halls, conference rooms, gym, pool etc. that exist.

Many international brands of hotels have a set rule and style in which their properties are photographed. Before undertaking such assignment, the photographer should visit their websites and understand the style. I have always paid attention to this important fact. Usually the headquarters of these hotels have a dedicated agency and favorite team of photographers who do their jobs.

Often virtual tours are also created. Virtual tours are very helpful in projecting the 360 view and can be used in their websites. The hotels use these images on hoardings for local publicity and print brochures for distribution amongst its corporate clients during presentations.

Open restaurants are a difficult to shoot as there is a lot of movement. Lighting can also pose a challenge as there are bound to be areas of illumination and shadows outside the acceptable curve suited for CCD sensor (Contrast ratio of more than 6). Hence shadows will have to be filled up with just enough light to bring down the contrast. Maintaining natural light effect is crucial. The natural feel of illumination is of essence in all interior photos.

Commercial buildings photography

Commercial buildings represent shopping malls, Information technology (IT) parks. These spaces are leased out to the various occupants of diverse or common activities.

The space provides great convenience to clients where all their requirements are met and are very efficiently maintained right up to housekeeping needs.

These are photographed to show the infrastructure, open spaces, parking areas, interior spaces and facilities. These are important from their client’s perspective who is in the process of investing huge sums of his money for running his business.

The infrastructure should be well built, pleasant for employees and visitors having all the comforts , conveniences and backup services.

Real Estate photography

Residential properties are places that people want to live in. These places require to project the size of the project with great emphasis on basic infrastructure and common spaces provided for children to play, health club, swimming pool, clubhouse, walkways, parking areas for residents and guests.

A great representation of the property has tremendous scope for global investors who are looking for a value investment.

Apartment sizes of different types, ideally that are furnished for show-casing called show apartments are mostly used now days. These should be photographed in a manner that projects openness, ample daylight and airiness., using open windows and exterior views. 

Fine overall finish in various forms. Quality fittings and well appointed kitchen space is an important part of good apartment. Vivid and inviting photographs of the apartment can stimulate the buying feeling in the buyer.

Understanding architectural photography

The core objective of the photographer is to project the structure through the mind’s eye of the architect and present the structure in the most flattering manner. Key characters of the structure should be covered without distorting the structure. Distortion simply means distorting the facts in the structure.

Important aspects of great architectural photography

Many times the architect is not present to guide you and highlight the key features of the structure. It is here that the unsaid communication between the two comes into play. It comes from regular interaction with the architect and self education. Self education comes from observing work of famous architects in books and journals.

Archis, Architectural Digest, Design Architect, Building, Metropolis are a few that are a great source to polish oneself.

All structures, interiors and exteriors present themselves differently at different times of the day.

Raghu Rai, the stalwart of India, has covered the Taj, in it’s beauty at various times of the day. It is a great study in itself.

The photographer should visit the location and study the structure at different times of the day from all the angles. He should make mental or written notes on various observations like camera viewpoint and lens selections, sunrise and sunset time with directions on the compass to plan the shots. In today’s day and age, any decent camera can produce decent photographs, but Camera is just a tool. Thorough knowledge of the subject with an artistic flair will set apart a professional photographer from an amateur.


Today the 35mm DSLRs are capable of producing excellent images but still, In my opinion, they simply cannot match the high quality images of specialty PRO equipment.

My advice to upcoming photographers who are limited in resources, is to hire PRO level equipment and learn to use it.

Architectural cameras such as view cameras are specially designed for architectural work and wide angle cameras like Horseman SW-II, Alba or Hasselblad X-pan albs a part of the kit.These are designed to give excellent results with great detail and no distortion.

The right lenses

For digital imagery one should use Apo digitars or digital lenses. For further understanding you can check this link

Lenses that are most common to use are short focal length lenses, though there are many visuals that require medium and long focal lengths.

Fast lenses- these are lenses that allow enough light to form a bright image on the ground glass for proper composition even in low light situations. Highly corrected lenses that give distortion free images from corner to corner. Cheaper lenses cannot capture images with details across the frame. Usually they create soft corners.Using cheap lenses against light causes flare and loss of detail.Lenses should have a very high resolving power.

The best lenses are from Schneider and Rodenstock from Germany and if you buy the digitar series or Apo series you will get all the above mentioned benefits. It is good to invest in top quality lenses as they can give you unsurpassed image quality in terms of detail, contrast and color.

Digital backs

Digital backs are manufactured by very few companies in collaboration with Kodak, Dalsa and Philips. These are the only three companies who produce serious CCD chips that are used by Phase One, Leaf & Mamiya.

All backs offer different minor differences. The most significant character in choosing the back for architectural photography is its ability to produce very fine detail during long exposures without any noise. In this case the King of the backs is P45plus from Phase One that produces a 40 megapixel image with incredible detail in low light and long exposures.

Use of a tripod - a must for all photographs

 It enables use of small apertures with long shutter speeds – to lend great DOF*.

  Low ISO setting – to get images without noise.

  Levelling by spirit level – for straight vertical lines.

Large DOF means small aperture. A small aperture with slow film demands a long shutter speed, too long for steady hand holding. Therefore a professional architectural photographer carries a tripod.

*DOF- depth of field, an area that is rendered near sharp in front and behind the actual point of focus.

It is prudent to invest in a high quality tripod and head. A cheap tripod and head combination will be shaky and create unsharp images during long exposures. The head should be smooth and lock precisely when locked in position even under heavy load of view camera.The most respected names are Gitzo (Italy) for tripod and Cube (head) from Arca swiss. I use these mainly for mounting Arca swiss, Horseman and Hasselblad.I also use Manfrotto 058 with pan & tilt OR ballhead head, when using lighter camera system. The ball head and panorama head are used with manfrotto for creating virtual tours.