I was asked earlier this week by Michell Guo, who came along to my architectural photography workshop earlier this year, to critique some of her photos. I’ve never done this before so it was interesting to think about what elements to examine. I wanted to avoid a simple subjective comment such as I like it or dislike it. Instead I wanted to come up with some constructive things that anyone can check for in architectural photography. It’s by no means the complete list of things to check, and there’s a few more I’ll write about later, but it is a start.
1. What is the subject?
Where is your eye drawn to in the image? And is it the building you’re trying to draw attention to? It’s possible to take a beautiful image and one that includes your target building, but the main subject in the frame is something else. For architects this is important because our purpose in architectural photography isn’t to create a beautiful image of a random scene, it’s to take an image of a particular building. There are of course exceptions where you want to show a building in context, but generally you want your target building to be the obvious subject.
2. Blown highlights
Have a look at the bright areas of the image for blown highlights. The usual suspects are bright skies, street lamps, windows, car lights, interior lights, illuminated signs, reflections on glass, metal and water. If these areas are too white all you’ll see is white pixels and glare. This is ok for something like the center of a light bulb, but you have to be very careful with over blown highlights because they remove our ability to see what is in the image. We need a mix of tones to create an image and when something is over blown or glary we loose the detail in the image. For example, rather than show the texture of metal cladding, over blown highlights will just display as 100% white pixels.
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3. Is the building level?
If the building has horizontal lines (eg a ground line, window edge, or building top) and you’re not deliberately rotating the shot then you want these lines to be level. A few degrees of rotation can make the viewer “sea sick”. You get level shots by using a bubble level, or by adjusting them in post production.
4. Scan the edges.
Run your eye along the four edges of the photo. What you’re looking for is small things jutting into the shot. Things like half a street lamp, or a hand of a pedestrian. These little things are distracting and don’t add anything to the image. If you’re conscious of these distractions you can frame your shots better, but you can also remove these items in post production.