Taking good architectural shots is not an easy task. When you photograph a 3D object, you’re trying to capture the likeness of a 3D form in a 2D format. Because of how perspective works, often it looks like tall buildings are leaning toward one another. Shooting at night adds another layer of complexity to the task. There is definitely a curve to mastering nighttime architectural photography. It’s well worth it for the results you’ll produce.
With these 4 tips I put together for you, you’re going to learn how to sharpen your architectural photography and also how to take great photos at night.
What are the Advantages of Shooting at Night?
Sometimes it may seem like it’s more trouble than it’s worth to create nighttime architectural images. You have to find time for an outing when it’s dark out and choose the right location to set up your tripod. If you aren’t comfortable with your camera settings, you’ll spend a lot of time fiddling with knobs in the dark.
So why bother? You can create architectural images after dark that simply aren’t possible during the day. Buildings take on a whole new life at night. When they’re lit up, they look completely different, transforming an ordinary scene into a visually thrilling scene.
Nighttime shooting also offers the potential for spectacular long exposures. Car light trails, a blurred fountain flowing in the background, and light painting with a flashlight are just a few possibilities for nighttime architectural long exposures.
Invest in a High Quality Tripod
A good tripod is a must for nighttime architectural photography. Even when you aren’t shooting long exposures, a tripod will greatly increase the range of possibilities for nighttime architectural photography. When you shoot with a tripod, you can bring your shutter speed below 1/60 second, which allows you to lower your ISO.
You’ll create much cleaner, brighter images. Select a tripod rated for outdoor use that’s sufficiently sturdy for crowded urban locations. I recommend the Manfrotto Befree tripod for a portable and professional solution. You can find it on Amazon at a very reasonable price.
If you’re looking for a less expensive solution, I can’t believe how affordable is the Neewer Alluminum tripod it offers a 2 in 1 tripod and monopod solution.
Be aware that not all locations allow tripods. Some buildings and events only allow tripods at certain times, such as one evening per week dedicated to photographers. Be respectful of these restrictions.
Select a Fast Lens
With a fast lens, you can shoot wide open and keep your ISO low, reducing noise. Most photographers prefer wide-angle lenses for architectural photography. Prime lenses are a good choice because you get a fast lens with stellar image quality at a low price point.
If you love Micro Four Thirds and want an ultra-wide angle professinal zoom lens, think about the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8, or a good lens for full frame cameras at a very reasonable price is the Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8.
Many architectural photographers also love tilt-shift lenses. If you’re serious about architectural photography, it’s worth the investment. Take a look at the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Tilt-Shift on Amazon.
Compose Your Images With Care
Composition is key for creating outstanding nighttime architectural images. It’s very easy for tall buildings to look heavily distorted, especially when you’re shooting with a wide-angle lens.
You want to capture the entire building as accurately as possible without any weird distortion or angling. You also have to take into account the most difficult lighting situation. The task becomes even more tricky when you’re working with a tripod.
Give yourself lots of time to experiment with different angles. It will take practice and trial and error to determine which angles work best for your preferred shooting style and favorite locations.
Dial In the Proper Camera Settings
The following camera settings provide a good starting place for your nighttime architectural images. You’ll need to tweak them accordingly for your specific setting and the aesthetic you want to achieve.
- Shoot in RAW format
- Keep the aperture at the len’s sweet spot. Start at around f/5.6 and work your way up to f/11. If you’re shooting with a prime lens, you may be able to open up more without compromising sharpness.
- Set the ISO as low as possible, ideally at 100 or 200. Use the base ISO
- Activate long exposure noise reduction, unless you’re shooting light trails or fireworks or you’re image stacking
- Switch off the image stabilization for tripod use
Study the best architectural photographers you can find, and practice as often as possible to improve your technique. I recommend following a handful of great architectural photographers on Instagram. Consider why their images are strong and how you can use these assets to better your skills.
What tips and techniques do you recommend for nighttime architectural photography?
Are there any urban locations you love for creating your images?
Stefano Caioni is the founder of Pixinfocus. His passion for photography helps him discover new places and live new adventures.