3. Advice accessed on how to photograph buildings and interiors, plus dealing with lighting

People and Place Part 3

3. Advice on how to photograph buildings and interiors, plus dealing with lighting

Buildings and man-made spaces

I’ve written previously on how I approached the assignment in the wrong order. However, researching how to photograph buildings and interiors made more sense to me when I’d actually finished taking the photographs. I was able to think back into how I approached it all. ).  It is this notion of buildings and man-made spaces as subjects that took a while for me to get my head around. My understanding so far is that, yes, it involves using skills/techniques of, say, architectural photography whilst, somehow, conveying a more tangible sense of a building/man-made space and how it functions in relation to people.

I read two books; four ebooks on lighting  (thanks to Vicki for guiding me there) and looked on the web. I made quite a few notes so all I’m going to do here is to comment on a few aspects that strike me at the moment.

i. Exteriors

I acquired a copy of Gary Kostelow’s How to Photograph Buildings and Interiors (1998).  It’s not up to date of course (there is a later book, 2007, which looks at digital and buildings) and mainly concentrates on analogue in terms of equipment etc but, that apart, I found it very useful in terms of aesthetic aspects to consider. He also provides an illuminating description of an actual exterior shoot (pp. 67) plus some anecdotes around advanced interior photography (pp 159).

Philip Greenspun (1997/2007) suggests, in terms of exteriors, that you need to give old buildings some space – the older the structure the more environmental context is required. Compositional aspects such as compressing the perspective with a telephoto lens often brings out an interesting pattern and you can get increased abstractions. Natural frames such as doorways and windows and fences can frame a subject and draw the eye of the view, as can a visible footpath. I read advice concerning sun angle and the specularity of light;  how the design and texture of a given building will dictate the sun angle best suited for a powerful image.

ii. Interiors

Kostelow states that exterior photography is mostly concerned with form and texture whereas, in interior photography, form and texture take second place to context because a room occupied by humans is entirely related to function:

An interior space is almost always a locus for some manifestation of human life; therefore, interior photography is almost always a specialized form of photojournalism. We record the three-dimensional interplay between cultural artefacts assembled inside a room, and the result is a peculiarly precise and intimate cultural snapshot. This snapshot can be a crude likeness, or it can be an aesthetically elevated, technically faultless representation”  (G. Kostelow, p. 154)

He also remarks that advanced interior photography can be an athletic pursuit where one is physically interacting with the subject and moving around to understand how it functions (p. 159) Similarly, Mark Galer (1999/2006) comments that the choice of vantage point can often reveal the subject as familiar yet strange.

I found three simple guidelines in an ezine from the New York Institute of Photography

  • What is the subject of my photograph
  • How can I give emphasis to my subject – making it large in the frame and featuring a key element prominently
  • What can I do to simplify my photograph or to remove distracting items that take away from the subject such as lighting issues, crooked lines and clutter (thinking about Galer’s comment  regarding vantage points and how they can overcome a distracting background (Galer, M p.86)  ,

iii. Lighting

This was my biggest problem due to some of the buildings I chose –such as a large glasshouse in RHS Wisley Gardens and two old churches. How to balance extremes of contrast in places where I couldn’t do something like mask windows or use much in the way of additional lighting to brighten dark interiors; fill-flash couldn’t quite reach far enough.

Hunter & Reid (2011) reminded me that cameras aren’t like our brains that can deal with extremes of light so one has to sacrifice one or the other. It’s amazing though how the light from church windows can creep into the edges of the frame. I think this is because these are more humble churches – their interiors are smaller and their eyes from the world are much lower.  As the sun was lower, due to the time of the year, going at different times of day (as suggested) didn’t seem to make much difference and even bracketing exposures then merging,  produced a rather artificial image. These churches don’t stay open late either.

That apart, the lighting books were very helpful in general in and the properties of light reminding me about ways of dealing with different kinds of light


My next post will be the write-up on the Assignment itself and I’ll make sure to include information on my choice of  time of day; focal length, aperture; vantage point, and how I dealt with lighting issues.



Child, J & Galer, M (1999) Essential Skills : Photographic Lighting, Elsevier Press, Oxford 4th Ed 2088

Hunter, F & Reid, R (2011)  Focus on Lighting Photos Focal Press, Oxford

Galer, M (1999) Digital Photography in Available Light, Focal Press, Oxford 3rd Ed 2006

Kopelow, G (1998) How to Photograph Buildings and Interiors, Princeton Architectural Press, NY

Peterson, B (2010)  Understanding Exposure Amphoto Books, NY

Prakel, D (2007) Lighting: Basics Photography, AVA Publishing SA




(all re-accessed on 9.1.2013.}




13 thoughts on “3. Advice accessed on how to photograph buildings and interiors, plus dealing with lighting

  1. Pleasure-hoping they were useful. Liked your comment about even though you had done it the wrong way round—you got benefit from that approach. Similar to me doing catalogues and then the exhibition. But some interesting stuff here; and there seems a more positive attitude towards the subject matter—good!!

  2. This is very interesting Catherine. I am hoping – all my fingers crossed – that I will be recording the termination of a building, it’s currently in use and will be decommissioned later this year, so perhaps you could guide me on lighting techniques? I’ll send a PM

  3. Lots of good stuff here Catherine…you are quite the expert!! Indeed architectural and interiors photography are specialist fields. The professional go around with large format view cameras and technical cameras so they can keep their verticals straight.

    Photographing buildings is a bit like landscapes as regards the light. The main difficulty is avoiding burning out highlights. Unlike landscapes where its possible to use graduated neutral density filters to hold back the sky with buildings its difficult to do this as the filters will also darken the walls/roof of the building itself. I guess you either have to select your viewpoint, time of day/year and weather conditions to get the right light for your building of choice. It is a game of patience.

    The shortcut is HDR but like you I think that this can look a bit plastic. A middle ground is to make one shot for the highlights and a second for the mid tones and shadows and then blend these very carefully in photoshop. This can be very effective and provides one with greater control over how the final image will look.

    Whichever technique one uses a tripod, small apertures and long exposures are the order of the day.

    As for interiors I must confess I personally don’t mind if the windows are blown out. After all they are a light source and one is not really interested in what is beyond the window. I think Candida Hofer agrees with this. If you look at these images she always ensures that the detail of the interior is well exposed and does not seem to mind if the highlights are clipped….


    • Thanks for that Keith. I never noticed it before. I’ll now have a ready answer for my tutor if he comments about clipped highlights. I suppose though that it depends on where you want your viewer to be looking.

  4. Very interesting to read, Catherine. I agree with Keith in that a few blown highlights don’t really matter too much provided the more important parts of the scene are exposed well.
    Good luck with it all!

  5. Catherine, I have thoroughly enjoyed browsing and this article has made a fascinating read. Personally I don’t have a problem with clipped highlights providing they’re not over distracating – I think as you’ve already mentioned via your reading, i’s the lines that matter. Lovely stuff!!

    • Thanks Gill. I’m pleased you enjoyed the read. I could have gone on and on I think. I’ve had particular difficulty with this part of the course but I think I’m slowly getting the hang of it all now.

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