Top tips for night time Architectural Photography
Here are some tips from a professional architectural photographer on how to get the best from your night time architectural photography. I’ll show you the right camera settings and equipment to use as well as some recent examples from my portfolio.
As a professional photographer I’m quite often asked to provide night time photographs for my architectural clients. I thought I would share some of the techniques and tricks I’ve learnt over the years.
Who am I? I’m an experienced professional architectural photographer, working in Manchester, the North West and nationally, with over twenty years architectural photography experience. I’ve worked as a commercial photographer around Manchester, primarily specializing in photographing buildings for a variety of commercial clients including Architects, Construction companies, Builders and Housing associations / Trusts .
If you are doing this as a bit of fun rather than as an architectural commission and have a choice as to the building you are going to photograph go for a modern building, one that has plenty of glass. I don’t find that older buildings photograph particularly well at night.
Firstly, the most important piece of photographic equipment apart from your camera is …… wait for it …a really good, solid tripod. It needs to be heavy enough to hold your camera for quite long exposures, possibly running into the 10’s of seconds. For a recent professional photography commission, some of my exposures were at 15 -20 seconds.
You might want to use a cable release but I simply use the cameras self timer function.
The camera used could be pretty much anything as long as it has a tripod mount on it and some manual exposure controls. If you are a professional architectural photographer make sure your camera’s noise reduction settings are enabled ,also I use the ‘mirror lock up’ settings to reduce camera shake.
Arrive at least half an hour before dusk to plan your shot and get into position. Despite the fact that these are night photographs they still look better with a blue sky. They should really be re-named dusk photographs as this time yields the best results. At dusk the sky will go a nice deep indigo colour that looks great on your photographs.
Heres’ my approach – Try and keep the ISO as low as possible to reduce ‘noise’ , preferably at 100 ISO. At dusk take a light reading inside the building or from just the outside of the glazing. This should be done at dusk as the inside of the building starts to ‘glow’ i.e the interior starts to become visible. This will be your exposure. Let’s say that it’s 2 seconds at F11. Set your camera to manual and use these as you base settings.
I then set up and frame my shot and wait for the ambient light to drop 2 – 3 stops below 2 seconds which would be 8s or 16s. I then shoot at 2 seconds exposing for the interior lights but our ambient exterior exposure has now dropped to 2-3 stops below.
I generally keep shooting until its fully dark but usually find that there is a premium time of about 10 minutes when there is enough light left to render details on the outside of the building before they disappear into darkness.
Night Time Architectural Photography Check List
Remember ! Set Camera to manual, ISO100 , F8 to F11, take a good solid tripod, use the cameras self-timer and mirror lock up, shoot at dusk not when fully dark.
Other resources – Digital Camera – Night Time Photography Tips
You can view more examples of night time architectural photography on my website here –Architectural Photography