After our families, buildings are probably the next most common subject for photographs. Wherever our travels take us, there’s usually a building, statue or bridge that we feel compelled to capture on film. Some have become recognised for their architectural beauty; others will be forever associated with a major historical event.
But when you consider how famous some of these landmarks are, should you even bother taking the photo? How many times have you sat through a friend’s holiday snaps, wishing you could poke your own eyes out with a stick as the 20th shot of the same familiar landmark appears?
What people want to see is something different; something new; something interesting that would embellish your otherwise yawn-inducing tales. It may be a certain angle that makes a building beautiful, or detail unseen in historical photos.
There are various ways to take an interesting photo of a building. You can wait for dusk and the light will do all the hard work for you – but we’re not too keen on waiting around all day.
Look around, up and down. Is there something about the building you’ve never noticed before? Most cameras now have decent zoom lenses, so you can capture great detail from a relatively great distance.
Think creatively and use your surroundings to improve the building. Frame a shot through an arch or a gate. Step back to include surrounding detail, or zoom in to crop out anything that detracts from the image.
I find that overflowing bins in the foreground reduces the majesty of most buildings.
In other words, open your eyes, move about and try something new. But above all, have fun and, if all else fails, remember: when showing your masterpieces to friends, keep sharp objects at arm’s length.
Slow your camera's shutter speed for superior results
The main problem with photographing landmarks is their popularity. Your first task is avoiding getting other people and traffic in the shot. You can be the first person there in the morning or the last at night. Or you can use your camera’s shutter speed priority mode to make most of the traffic disappear.
Select the shutter speed priority mode – this will be on the dial next to your shot button, appear abbreviated as an S or located in the menu. This priority mode gives you full control over the shutter speed of your camera but, fortunately, leaves most other functions set to automatic.
Shutter speeds are measured in fractions of seconds. A fast shutter will capture action without blurring moving objects. We’ve used very slow shutter settings to make the traffic disappear. You’ll need a tripod – anything slower than 1/60th of a second is difficult to shoot without suffering camera shake.
As well as using a tripod, it’s a good idea when shooting at slow speeds to take your photograph using a self timer; this will prevent any camera shake that may result from depressing the capture button. Set your camera’s shutter speed to around five seconds and the people and traffic should vanish.
Depending on your location and the time of day, you may need to adjust the light levels. If the image is too dark, set the shutter to open for longer. You’ve got more of a problem if the image is too light – decreasing the shutter time will capture more detail but you may not get rid of the unwanted objects in shot.
Alternatively, use the + and – buttons to alter the exposure settings. A minus number will underexpose the shot, making it darker, while a plus number will make the shot lighter. By combining this with your shutter speed you should achieve a happy medium with enough light and few visual obstructions.
Capture detail at a distance
If you’ve got a decent zoom function on your camera, this is the time to use it. Certain details of a building can tell you a lot more about it than a simple shot of the building as a whole. Try to get up high and use your zoom to get pictures at angles that wouldn’t normally be seen.
Put some thought into framing the building. If you get it right – with some foreground detail, for example – you’ll draw attention to its surroundings without making the landmark look lost in the middle of the picture. Also try using the rule of thirds; compose your shot with the focal point on one of the intersections shown above.
It’s a good idea to photograph a building just as the sun is setting. If you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful, glowing sky with rich, deep tones. An illuminated building offset in such a way can look stunning. As with most low-light photography, however, you will probably need a tripod to minimise blurring.
However, tripods aren’t always an option. Most of us prefer not to drag one around with us as we go sightseeing. Instead, you can improvise – find a suitable, secure location to place your camera, before setting it to capture a photograph with its self timer. This will help to eradicate camera shake.
Take shots from a variety of angles. This may improve your light situation and will give a far more interesting photo. The aim is to create one memorable shot, rather than lots of photos that people have seen time and time again. Storage is both cheap and reusable; delete any snaps that don’t work.
When inside a large building, you may wish to capture the view from one of the windows. One option is to shoot the window as well as the view without using the flash. It can be difficult to get the right balance between the outside light and the dark interior, however. Try placing the lens on the glass for an unobstructed shot.
When inside an historic building, it’s usual to be asked to turn off your flash. Look for the lightning symbol on the back of your camera – as shown in the image above – to switch it off. This is a good idea anyway, as your flash will bounce off any windows or display cases, causing glare and distortion.
Check all four corners of your LCD screen or viewfinder. Many photos are ruined by a signpost or rubbish bin that was overlooked at the moment of capture. If you're focusing on the main subject, it's all too easily done. However, any shots blemished this way can easily be cropped.