Architectural Photography: How to Avoid Cliché Shots

If we had a dollar for every cliché architectural shot, we’d probably have enough to straighten the Tower of Pisa — and relieve tourists of having to prop it up by hand.

Although these kinds of photos help postcard printers, they don’t do you or the architectural landmarks any favours. 

Instead of arriving on location seeking originality, often we’re subconsciously herded to familiar vantage points, replicating what millions have captured before us and reducing our man made marvels to one-dimensional structures.

The world doesn’t need any more of those photos—and either does your portfolio.


Here are 7 ways to avoid capturing those cliché architectural photographs.


Capture them anyway

Like all clichés, there’s truth behind them. ‘Postcard’ shots have been taken over and over again for a reason—they look undeniably good. By getting them over and done with, your inner-tourist satisfied, you now have the freedom to concentrate on finding more creative compositions without being tempted to revisit the clichés. Get them in the bag and out of the way.


Find fresh angles

It doesn’t matter how many times a building has been photographed, there is always another angle. Every architectural structure, iconic or not, holds infinite facets to explore.

  • Form
  • Material
  • Dimension
  • Space
  • Story

If you feel that the architecture doesn’t offer you much variety, don’t forget you have a plethora of options right there in your hand.

Easier said than done we know, but all it really takes is an open mind and time if it’s handy.


Demote the landmark

Original shots can be had even if the main attraction isn’t the star of the show. For example, you want to shoot the Eiffel Tower. To ‘demote’ the landmark, you could:

  • Put it in the background with an unorthodox focal point in the foreground
  • Feature it out of focus or mostly out of frame
  • Allude to its presence through shadow, reflection or tightly cropped features

Demoting the landmark not only arms you with more options, but allows you to capture the surrounding context—environmental, cultural, historical.


Dive into details

God lives there. So do the shots you want. There’s nothing wrong with popping on a wide-angle lens to fit the subject entirely in frame, but getting up close and personal allows you to invite your viewers to peer through a more intimate lens.

Try:

  • Finding patterns e.g The Eiffel Tower’s latticework
  • Cropping well-known details e.g. Sydney Opera House’s tiles
  • Highlighting an inconsistency e.g. a broken window

Embrace lousy weather

There are three reasons why shooting when it’s raining, snowing or whatever-ing outside presents opportunity. For starters, when it’s unpleasant outside, there are fewer people out and about snapping photos, giving you the ability and freedom to take your time and take tourist-free photos.

Secondly, because few are shooting in bad weather, there aren’t many photos of the subject in ‘bad’ weather. This is your chance to get that unique shot.

Lastly, all weather conditions come with their own set of advantages. Overcast can provide you with moody lighting; snow, with wondrous white space; and rain with movement. It’s about seeing the situation as half glass full. (Just be sure to take extra care of your gear.)


Shoot off-peak

Better light and no tourists? No brainer. Lighting in the early morning and early evening aka the golden hour is your best friend everywhere you shoot. The unrivalled colour and warmth of golden light make every subject look stunning and the long shadows give you plenty to play with. It really does pay to get there early or stay back late—that extra bit of effort goes a long way.


Involve more people

Put simply, there is no architecture without people. Exploring the relationship between the two allows you to capture and comment on everything from joy to irony to the political climate. Where there is manmade, there is most likely man, so you won’t be in short supply of shots. Invite them into frame and discover the story waiting to be told.

 

Going on holiday this year? Learn how to properly capture every experience with Canon Master, Richard I’Anson. Sign up to his online class ‘Travel Photography with Richard I’Anson’ today.

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