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Shooting Buildings and Monuments - get a new perspective!

By Marc B

Shooting buildings and monuments can be very challenging to get right.  It’s easy to stand in front of a building and snap off a few shots, but what does it take to get a truly exceptional photograph?  There are many things that need to be considered when it comes to this type of photography, not least of which is location, light and perspective. 

The best part of the photo taking process is actually finding either a building or monument to photograph, and finding a different perspective than anyone else.  This involves a bit of walking and looking.  You don’t need to shoot a well-known landmark or building; indeed they have all been photographed to death, so it’s good to find something a little out of the way that may not get the attention it deserves.  I have seen amazing photographs of drains, old petrol stations and even car parks. The limit here is your imagination and skill in capturing a compelling photo of what could normally be considered a ‘boring’ subject. 

Canon 5DMk2, 50mm, f5.0, 1/125 second. Shot in Hamburg, Germany

Here is the real challenge.  Getting the lighting right is really what photography is all about, but how do we control the light on something like a building?  A little bit of patience is required as you will need to wait until the light from the sun (or moon!) is at just the right angle for the photo you want to achieve.  There are a few Apps that you can get for smartphones that can tell you where the Sun will be at any time on any day for the chosen spot. Knowing this information will help you plan your timing to be on location.  A nice technique is to wait until ‘Golden Hour’ which is a time just after sunset where the sky takes on a nice deep blue - this lasts for varying amounts of time depending on the time of year and your location.  The lighting of ‘Golden Hour’ adds great colour to the sky while at the same time leaving enough light to have some details in the shadows of buildings.  

You will definitely need a steady tripod for this kind of work as your shutter speed will be quite long, particularly if you are using a low ISO (which you should be).  Also a cable release would be very useful here.

Canon 5DMK2 70mm, f2.8, 0.6 seconds. Shot at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Change your perspective
Here is what almost everyone does: they see something that looks like it would make a good photo and they lift the camera to their eye and take a shot.  This ends up looking like every other photo of that building (or waterfall or whatever) ever since cameras where invented.  This is where you need to get creative.  Think about the perspective you want to use to make your photo different (changing lenses does not alter your perspective; it changes your angle of view only).  Can you get up high and take a photo from a nearby building?  Can you find somewhere that allows you to lie flat on the ground and shoot up at the building from an extreme low angle?  Try to think of anything that will give your shot a wow factor that is different from the standard point and shoot mentality.  Lens selection is also important. Do you shoot with an ultra-wide angle?  Stand back and shoot with a standard lens and get straighter vertical lines?  If you have the time, try as many options as you can.  

Above all you will need patience - finding the location, working out the best time of day for light and then nailing the perspective will take time. But in the end you will end up with a photo like no other - one with some thought and planning behind it, which will stand above the average snapshot.  Get cracking!  Feel free to share you results with us and remember that the first 10,000 shots are the worst!

Recommended equipment:
  • Lenses of varying focal length but particularly wide and mid-range lengths such as 10-22mm, 24-70, 18-55
  • A sturdy tripod (essential)
  • A cable release for your camera
  • Filters like a Cir-Pl, ND and graduated ND filters are great for certain situations (take a look at our recent blog on the Benefits of Filters)
  • Lens hoods can be helpful when shooting outside
  • A torch if you’re shooting at night
  • A weather resistant camera bag


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