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A buying guide for serious shooters
If you're getting serious about architecture photography, you will need to make some investments to get professional quality results.
Here are ten suggestions for aspiring architecture photographers:
1. Tilt-Shift (AKA Perspective Control) lens: This may be the most important investment, besides a camera, that an architecture photography will make. A Tilt-Shift lens projects an image that is considerably larger than the area covered by the camera's sensor. The front elements can be shifted so the center of the lens's imaging circle moves away from the center of the camera's sensor, and can be tilted to selectively focus the image. When photographing architecture, a photographer shifts the front element to get rid of the "falling backwards" effect that occurs when shooting up towards a tall building, and uses the tilt feature to control depth of field.
Both Canon and Nikon make Tilt Shift lenses, all available at Adorama:
- Canon 17mm TS-E F/4L
- Canon 24mm TS-E F/3.5L II
- Canon 45mm TS-E f/2.8
- Canon 90mm TS-E F/2.8
- Nikon PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED
- Nikon PC-E Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED
- Nikon PC-E Nikkor 85mm f/2.8D ED
2. Wide-Angle Lens: Another, more limited way to handle perspective control is to shoot with a wide-angle lens, shooting with the sensor surface parallel to the building you are photographing. The building will appear on the top part of the frame, and bottom of the frame may need to be cropped out, but the there should be no keystoning effect. The catch? You'll only use approximately half of the frame, and because it will be cropped, the image quality won't be quite as good. If you're shooting for smaller prints or for the web, that may not matter. Also in a tight space, you may have no other choice but to use a wide-angle and shoot at an angle, and then fix the inevitable distortion later in Photoshop. Consider an ultra-wide Prime such as a Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM or Nikon 14mm f/2.8D ED AF Nikkor, or a wide zoom like the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, Nikon 16-35mm f/4 AF-S ED VR-II, or Pentax 1-17mm f/3.5-4.5(IF) if you own a Pentax DSLR. All of these lenses are available at the Adorama DSLR Lens Department.
3. Tripod: Architecture photography is about control over the image, and that includes stability. You may need longer exposures where no amount of image stabilization will be reliable. Using an appropriate tripod head and level, you can prevent unwanted tilted horizons while maintaining exact compositional control. Hint: If you are photographing a space with a lot of people moving around, you can shoot using a long exposure to make the people in motion "disappear." The Flashpoint F-2127 Version 2 Carbon Fiber Tripod is a lightweight but sturdy model that is well-suited for architecture photography. See all the Tripods Adorama offers here.
4. Panorama Head: A sub-specialty within architecture photography is immersive panoramas of spaces. This is especially useful when photographing real estate, but you need an appropriate head for natural-looking images that can be stitched together and posted on specialized web sites that display immersive images that viewers can pan or enlarge. You can buy a simple manual panorama head, or a mechanical one such as the inexpensive Lenspen Panamatic PMTC-1 (well-suited for small-camera panoramas for Realtors), the Manfroto 303Plus QVtR Panoramic Head (designed for pro-level DSLRs) or the automated Gigapan Epic Pro Robotic Panohead.
5. Bubble Level: Use this simple, inexpensive device to prevent accidental diagonal horizons. There are several models that can be inserted into your camera's hot shoe, and all cost less than $35. The LensCoat 3-Axis Bubble Level, for instance, lets you fix vertical, diagonal and horizontal positioning, and costs $21.95 at Adorama. View all hot shoe bubble levels at Adorama.
6. Full-Frame DSLR: If you're going to get serious about architecture photography, get the camera that is going to deliver the best overall image quality, since you never know how much intricate and subtle detail and color you may need to capture. In general, full-frame DSLRs such as the Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 have outperformed APS and smaller-sensor cameras in independent image quality tests.
7. Color Calibration Setup: Architecture photography is both an art and a science, and while there are times when the color is open to interpretation (especially when shooting in mixed light), getting color fidelity that is faithful to the original architecture is often a client requirement. Color calibration systems such as the X-Rite ColorMunki Display/ColorChecker Passport BundleDatacolor Spyder 4 Capture Pro or the have tools that will keep color accurate from in-camera capture through monitor display, while the Datacolor SpyderPRINT Spectrocolorimiter will help you create accurate printer profiles.
8. Polarizing Filter: When photographing architecture, there are times when what's reflected in mirrors and windows is part of the story you are telling about the space you are photographing, but there are other times when you need to eliminate reflections in windows. Tried and true (and, in the grand scheme of things, relatively inexpensive) Polarizing filters will do the job. Find over 600 of them in the Adorama Polarizing Filter Department.
9. Adobe Photoshop: As much as I'd like to encourage you to do as much as possible in-camera, inevitably, you'll need to tweak your images and perhaps fix keystoning. Emulating those lens tilt effects is something Photoshop is very good at doing, if you know the right steps.
10. Your own light: While using natural ambient light is ideal, sometimes you need to carefully supplement it. That may be the subject of its own article (or several articles) but do bring a bunch of flash units that you can operate wirelessly. Use them very selectively to emphasize existing light. Here's a good example.
Your turn: What gizmos and gadgets to you find to be invaluable for doing architectural photography? Leave a comment below!