If you’re reading this post, then you’ve probably come across the term hero shot in architectural photography. You may have even used the term yourself, but when you’re sitting in front 80 images of the same building trying to figure out what the hero shot is, it may be more difficult than you imagine. In this post I’m going to try and make that process a little easier. I’m going to explore what a hero shot is list some composition tips for hero shots.

This post has a sister post the BowerBird.io blog where I talk about hero images from the perspective of media and getting published. You can read that post here.

What is a hero shot?

It’s basicly the photo that gives a project an identity. It’s the face of a building.

How do you choose the hero shot?

I don’t actually think YOU choose the hero shot, the world does. Grandiose statement, but let me explain. In every project there’s probably more than one contender for the hero shot. Equally beautiful shots, but slightly different. One might have a person, another one might have been taken from a marginally different angle. Each has their merits, but over time only one will become the hero shot. One of those photos will be used more often by editors and writers in their stories. One of those photos will be shared more often on social media. One of those photos will end up being used to reference that project in talks and seminars. It’s that natural selection that ends up defining the hero shot, not you individually.

That said, you obviously want to choose images that have the chance of being a hero image, and also be conscious when a project or a set of images lack a hero shot. So here’s a few tips I’ve picked up on.

4 examples of hero shots

Here’s 4 projects and their respective hero shots. Apart from them all being residential and in portrait format, they are all very different projects. The Florence St House is shot from on top of a cherry picker, the Hello House in an extension and the Wallaby Lane House is shot at night. Some have people, others don’t. There’s a lot of variables going on, but there are some patterns.

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Hello House by OOF! Architecture

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Florence St House by Nest Architects

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Wallaby Lane House by Robinson Architects

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The Acute House by OOF! Architecture

Basic rules of thumb for hero shot composition

Hero image

1. Separate the building

Hero shots are identity shots, and unless you have a sense of where a building ends it’s difficult to feel like you know it. A simple compositional strategy for this is to make sure a potential hero shot has a margin on all 4 sides. The bottom margin will typically include the groundline of the project. For residential projects this almost always means an exterior shot. For an interiors shot it may be the bounding walls of the room, or the edges of the shop front.

2. Don’t make the building too small

As you step away from a building it obviously gets smaller and the margins around the subject gets larger. At some point the image isn’t a hero image any longer and becomes either a context shot, or a big beautiful landscape shot.

3. Capture the idea

An obvious exception to rule number 1 is the Hello House. The project is a renovation and you only see part of the building, the new part, the part that stands out, and the part that tells the story of this design. This happens all the time with renovations and really comes down to a judgement call on the story that you want to tell.