8 Must-Have Accessories for Architectural Photography

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Architectural photography is both an art and an exacting craft. Unlike most genres of photography, in which level horizon lines and correction for keystone and parallax distortions are secondary issues, architectural photography requires a disciplined workflow and a keen sense of design.

The following eight items are tools I find extremely valuable for photographing the exteriors and interiors of homes and commercial buildings. This list is by no means complete, but it does cover a range of essentials. As for camera format, bigger is always better but, regardless of how large or small your camera sensor may be, the rules and tools of architectural photography remain the same.

1. Tilt-shift, perspective control (pc), and wider-angle lenses

Architectural photography inevitably involves working in tight spaces, which require the use of wide-angle lenses. The best lenses to invest in for architecture are tilt-shift and perspective control lenses, which enable in-camera keystone and parallax corrections when photographing tall structures and high-ceilinged interiors. You can post-correct these “leaning building” distortions, but it’s always better to do it at the time of capture.

The widest tilt-shift lens made is the Canon TS-E 17mmf/4L, which has a whopping 104° Angle of View (AoV). Nikon and Canon manufacture 24mm (84° AoV) and 45mm (51° AoV) tilt-shift lenses. Nikon also produces an 85mm (28° AoV) tilt-shift, while Canon produces a 90mm (27° AoV) mid-range tilt-shift lens.


Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens

A selection of premium tilt-shift PC lenses is also available from Schneider in a number of mounts and focal lengths. And, for shooters on a budget, Samyang and Rokinon manufacture 24mm tilt-shift lenses with mounts for Nikon, Canon, Pentax, and Sony E-mount cameras.

Tilt-shift lenses aside, you should also include an ultra-wide-angle lens when packing for an architectural shoot. The widest rectilinear lenses currently available for mirrorless and DSLRs are 14mm (114° AoV) and they are available from Nikon, Canon, Bower, Rokinon, and Samyang.

Voigtlander produces rectilinear 15mm (110° AoV) and 12mm (121° AoV) lenses in a choice of lens mounts, and an even wider 10mm rectilinear ultra-wide (130° AoV) is expected in the latter half of 2016. If you’re looking for an ultra-wide-angle lens that also shoots life-size close-ups, you should check out the Venus Optics Lauwa 15mmf/4 Macro lens (110° AoV), which is available for Canon EF , Nikon F, Sony E, Sony A, and Pentax K lens mounts .

Lastly, it’s also worth noting there are typically a number of current and older-style used PC and shift-shift lenses in the B&H Used Department that can be adapted to many newer cameras.

2. Graduated neutral density filters

Graduated Neutral Density (ND) and Polarizing filters should be included in your architectural toolbox. Graduated filters enable you to even the overall exposure by compensating for light falloff when photographing rooms lit by large windows or multilevel interiors lit from above. Graduated ND filters are available in a number of densities. Graduated ND filters are available with tints, but for architectural imaging, you’re best off sticking to neutrally toned filtration.


Graduated neutral density filters

Polarizing filters eliminate glare and reflections on windows and smooth, polished surfaces. In the process of eliminating glare, Polarizing filters often saturate color values too.

3. Cable releases and remote triggering systems

Long exposures and remote camera positions aren’t unusual when photographing interiors and exteriors of buildings. In the case of long exposure times, it’s always a good idea to trigger the camera shutter remotely to minimize camera shake.

If your camera has a threaded shutter-release button, the simplest and least expensive options are threaded cable releases, which are available in lengths ranging from 6" to 30'. We also stock a huge selection of wired and wireless electronic shutter releases, many of which can also be programmed for time-lapse, flash, and sequenced image capture.


Threaded cable releases

Many of these triggering devices are available as individual components, as well as full-blown triggering systems for controlling cameras and lights.

4. Tripod with Geared center-column for fine-tuning the camera height

When photographing interiors and exteriors it’s not uncommon to have to make small, adjustments to the height of the camera. Geared tripod center-columns make it possible to adjust the height of the camera in fine increments compared to tripods using rapid-style center columns.


Tripod with geared center column

Not all tripods have geared center columns and, unfortunately, many tripods with rapid columns cannot be converted or modified to accept geared center columns. If you shoot architectural assignments regularly, you should strongly consider a tripod with a geared column—and make it a sturdy tripod.

5. Pan/tilt and geared ball heads for precision multi-axis camera positioning

Just as geared center columns enable subtle adjustments to the camera height, geared ball and tripod heads make it possible to level your camera with equal measures of accuracy. The problem of using ball heads with single-action locking mechanisms is that the moment you release the lock mechanism the camera goes completely off-axis. 


Pan tilt head

Pan/tilt heads allow you to adjust the pitch and yaw of the camera position independently, as do geared ball heads, which enable far more adjustment control compared to single-action and non-geared ball and tripod heads.

6. Hot-shoe Bubble Level

The reason you want a geared ball head is so you can level your camera accurately, and the only way to accurately level a camera is by using a bubble level. Available in single, double, and triple-axis configurations, the smallest, least expensive, and easiest-to-use are shoe-mounted bubble levels. Bubble levels are also embedded in a number of leveling bases that fit between your tripod and tripod head, leveling plates, and quick-release components.


Bubble level

7. Table tripod and compact camera supports for shooting on stairs, nooks, crannies, and ground-level

Sometimes, the best camera angle is lower than the reach of your tripod or situated on a narrow step, ledge, or outcropping. These are times you want to have a sturdy tabletop tripod, which is available in a choice of form factors. In addition to traditional three-legged tripods, compact camera supports can be plate-like for ground-level shooting or clamp-like  for mounting cameras on poles, rails, banisters, and other unorthodox camera positions.


Tabletop tripod

8. Lighting

Lighting for architecture is a feature story in itself.  Lighting types include studio, on-camera, and off-camera flash, tungsten, LED, HMI, Fluorescent, and window light.

The most commonly used lighting for interiors is electronic flash, which is daylight balanced and therefore easy to blend with window light. Larger studio-type strobes pack the most power and are best suited for larger spaces.

For shooting in close quarters, smaller on- and off-camera flash can be used, but do be careful of reflections and kickback when using flash on or close to the camera position.

Although they are not as popular as flash, tungsten and daylight-balanced continuous light sources can be used for architectural photography, though with a couple of caveats.

Tungsten and daylight-balanced (HMI) lights generate massive amounts of heat and, in the case of tungsten lights, care must be taken when mixing tungsten and window light.

HMIs are daylight balanced, but are costly and must be handled with care.

If you are shooting in windowless office spaces, fluorescent lights make color management considerably easier but at a cost—fluorescent lamps are large, heavy, and fragile.

So there you have it: eight essential imaging tools that can dramatically improve the quality and visual accuracy of your interior and exterior architectural photographs.

For more information on everything photography, check out B&H’s Learn Photography portal. You’ll find video tutorials, tips, inspirational articles, and gear reviews. B&H is “The Professional’s Source” for learning about photography.

8 Comments

Anybody out there have the guts, brawn, and experience using a 4x5 or 8x10 with a bag bellows, focusing cloth, and magnifier (not to mention a lens or two, and film loaded in film holders). And you call yourselves photographers?

Mmmmmmm... yes I/we do call ourselves photographers.

I learned photography on a 4x5 camera and though the crowds have thinned over the years there are still a number of shooters - architectural and otherwise, who still practice (and thoroughly enjoy) the art and craft of view camera photography.

That said, I don't think it's fair to judge a photographers abilities based on his or her choice of camera format. I haven't ducked under a focusing cloth in about 20 years, but I will tell you my shooting skills have steadily improved despite the fact I shoot with a wide range of cameras including - dare I say, point-and-shoot cameras.

Does a large format camera demand a higher level of understanding from the user? Absolutely, but that doesn't diminish the vision and skills of photographers who chose smaller format cameras.

George - I understand where you're coming from and my hat's off to anybody who enjoys hauling around a view camera with a bag of film holders, but let's go easy on those among us who for whatever reason enjoy taking pictures with 'simpler' gear.

And lastly, thanks for your feedback.

And keep shooting!

Regards,

Allan Weitz

We carry the tools that we need to accomplish our personal vision and mission. 

 I've seen  work done with tiny point and shoot cameras and seen photographers slip their small cameras through fences and shimmy their cameras into tight places that  a viewcamera, dslr, or even my own head cannot fit.  The right tool is the answer.

Yes I do and still remember how to use them.

Careful George, I've heard the chemicals associated with those cameras cause wrinkles. It must be true, everyone I know who has used them has a lot of them. ;-)

You have to make sure the tilt head on the tripod can go a full 90 degrees so you can do a vertical and make sure when it is vertical you still have  a tilt option- one tripod head I bought was starnge in that in the horizontal position it tilted up and down and left and right but in vertical there was not enough up and down tilt.  I do have a problem with still cameras. Video cameras accept  a tripod thread and have  a hole and pin lock system that keeps the camera from  twisting.  When you  set a still camera on a tripod there is no pin and the camera easily loosens in the weight.  ( I use a quick release plate wich has the xtra pin but the still camera has no coresponding hole to receive the pin and the spring on the pin just allows it to retract).  I'm often tempted to drill a hole in my cameras to accept the pin.

Definitely a great point, Kal. I've switched to an RRS L-plate which really handled most of those issues. Might give them a shot sometime and see if they're comfortable for you.  

Hey Kal,

Thanks for your feedback. Just read your comment and I strongly suggest you avoid drilling any holes in your cameras baseplate unless you are ABSOLUTELY positive you won't destroy anything on the other side of the plate.

Just a word of caution...

Allan

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