How to Tell Stories with Architecture Photography

The post How to Tell Stories with Architecture Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

At first glance, it might seem like architecture photography is all about prestige projects, glittering corporate headquarters, and well-paid specialist photography gigs. However, there can be much more to architectural photography if you look a little deeper.

The Radcliffe Science Library, Oxford © Charlie Moss

Architecture is a vast and diverse field. It basically means the design and construction of buildings or the style in which a building is built. Styles vastly differ from country to country, even from town to town. Very local architecture that is heavily inspired by the local conditions and traditions is known as “vernacular architecture” – and that is the kind of built environment that inspires me most in my architectural photography.

On weekends, it is quite common to find me out and about with a camera in The Cotswolds – the beautiful area of England that is on my doorstep. There I seek out beautiful examples of buildings crafted from Cotswold Stone – the local building material. The stone itself varies in color from beautiful honey to a rich golden hue, and it’s these variations that tell you where you are!

Head a little further south, and you’re in the city of Oxford, famous for its prestigious university. The story of the city and the university is told through its architecture and is a vernacular architectural photographer’s dream. It’s here in Oxford that I’ve based this article on architectural photography, but hopefully, you’ll find it full of tips and tricks for shooting any of your surroundings or those you visit on a trip.

1. Do some research

Schools Quadrangle, Oxford, and a door on Parks Road, Oxford. © Charlie Moss

Before you grab your camera bag and walk out of the door, the first thing you’re going to want to do is a little research. See if you can read up on the most important buildings in the place you’re heading out to. Then see if you can work out why they’re considered the most important.

Look at images of the place that other people have already taken and see if you can pick out any themes. Other photographers might have had some smart ideas for locations – no harm in making a note to check them out while you’re there too. Is there a predominant style of architecture? A set of repeating motifs? Or perhaps a common building material? If there does seem to be patterns in the buildings, ask yourself why that might be and see if you can get to the bottom of what they could perhaps mean.

In Oxford, there is a long-running fight over which architecture styles best reflect buildings dedicated to learning and research. Are the Roman and Greek inspired Classical style buildings the most appropriate because of their obvious connection to ancient civilization? Alternatively, are the tall, soaring, pointed towers of Gothic architecture better for a university because it seems to be reaching ambitiously skywards towards God? The designers and patrons of the city have argued this backward and forwards for many centuries now, so it is the perfect place to tell stories about the architecture!

If nothing else, think of some themes that you might like to shoot while you’re out with your camera. I can never seem to resist a good photograph of a door, and nor can many other people judging from the subject’s popularity on Instagram.

2. Look for contrast

The Radcliffe Science Library, Oxford © Charlie Moss

Images that juxtapose different but related buildings or themes can be very powerful when you’re photographing architecture. Well-considered juxtapositions of images can show both positives and negatives about architecture. In the first image above of the Radcliffe Science Library, I’ve tried to capture the contrast between the ancient Headington Stone used in the original Victorian library building, and the modern glass extension.

Both materials express different ideas about what it means to study science, and so together they tell the story of what science has become over the last two hundred years. The reflection of the tree brings the two together – reminding us that science is all around us and not just found in libraries and laboratories.

If you can capture scenes like this all in the same image then that is great, but do not be afraid to place two or more images next to each other as I did above in the images of Keble College.

3. Plan to shoot a series

Keble College Chapel reflected in the Beecroft Building, Oxford, and Keble College, Oxford © Charlie Moss

Creating diptychs and triptychs in photography is as old as the medium itself. Setting out to specifically capturing two or three images that work together (and could perhaps be mounted together as prints) is a fantastic way to tell a story.

It might be that you plan these images specifically to be a series while doing your research, but often you might make connections while you’re out and about. The best tip I can give to you is to write down the connections that you’ve made while shooting in a notebook; otherwise, you’re bound to forget them while editing!

The two images above were a happy accident. I didn’t realize that there was a brand new physics building constructed in the last twelve months, and it perfectly reflects the chapel of the college across the road. This juxtaposition of science and religion is quite powerful, but also I enjoyed the way that the facade of the new building draws inspiration from the old. The tall rectangular windows of the new Beecroft building seem almost to be a modern version of the tall rectangular windows in Keble College built around a hundred and fifty years ago.

If you see an interesting image that wasn’t on your original itinerary, then stop and take a few minutes to photograph it. Don’t be so focused on your research that you miss unexpected gems – they might turn out to be some of the best photographs of your trip.

4. Bring the architecture to life

Bikes in Oxford. © Charlie Moss

Regardless of how spectacular the buildings themselves might be, it is how the inhabitants of the city use the architecture that’s important. In Oxford, the primary mode of transport is the bicycle. There simply isn’t enough room in this medieval city for cars, and so pedal-power is far more efficient.

Every street and building has space for parking bikes – and if it doesn’t – the cyclists soon find somewhere to put them! To photograph the city of Oxford without photographing the bikes would be to miss out on a large part of what makes the place come alive.

Think of how you can show the life that lives alongside the architecture in your images. It could be something as iconic as a bright yellow taxi in front of the iconic Flatiron building in New York. Alternatively, it might be as simple as a reflection of a busy city street in a brilliant local coffee shop.

Try to capture what makes the place you’re photographing unique, both in the buildings and in what is happening around them.

5. Shoot the icons

The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford, with All Souls College, Oxford in the background. © Charlie Moss

While you’re focusing on the details and the hidden stories, don’t forget to tell the big stories too! Iconic architecture is iconic for a reason, so don’t keep it off your itinerary. The important thing is, once again, to find the story that you want to tell and try to capture that.

The above image shows the Classical versus Gothic war of architecture in Oxford in a single shot. The front building is the Radcliffe Camera, an historically significant library built in the English Palladian style inspired by the classical temples of the ancient Greeks. Behind its defensive wall is the soaring tower of All Souls College built in the Gothic style. You couldn’t get two more contrasting buildings in the same shot if you tried.

These contrasts and histories are the keys in photographing architecture. If you can seek out the interesting stories to tell, you’ll have no problem shooting great images.

The post How to Tell Stories with Architecture Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

It’s easy to feel defeated before you’ve even started when it comes to creating fine art images. A quick search of any of the popular photography sites brings up beautiful and humbling images from the far corners of the world.

However, you don’t need a round-the-world ticket and a six-month career break to shoot beautiful fine art photography. You can do this at home in your living room with minimal expenses if you’re prepared to think a little outside the box!

Physalis color duo - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

What does fine art mean anyway?

Fine art photography is one of those terms that is tricky to pin down. There are two ways that the term “fine art” is usually used so it’s important not to get confused between the two.

The first is usually in the context of museums and galleries. Fine art in European academic traditions is most often used to describe a work that was created primarily for beauty and has no other function. It is the opposite of “applied art” which describes everyday objects (such as ceramics) which have been decorated to make them more aesthetically pleasing.

When people talk about fine art photography though, they tend to be talking about a style of photography rather than a method of production. In this context, it’s usually art that was created for art’s sake. An image that was always designed to be primarily enjoyed for its beauty rather than its subject matter.

Sometimes there are lighting and processing styles that maybe associated with the term “fine art photography” but fashions and trends come and go, even in the world of art!

Physalis colour triptych

For a more in-depth look at fine art photography read: The dPS Ultimate Guide to Fine Art Photography

Flat Perspectives

Flat lay images have been gaining popularity for a while now. If you scroll through Instagram or Pinterest you’ll almost certainly find them in your feed. But most of the flat lay images out there on social media are heavily focussed on creating a real commercial vibe that sells a product or an experience.

Even those photographers not selling anything have often adopted this commercial style for their personal feeds. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach at all, there is room for a different interpretation of this style of an image by creative photographers who want to shoot fine art.

Searching for Inspiration

It’s always a good idea to start with a vision of how your final shots will look. A close study of the detail and texture of an object was the idea that I had in mind for this image. There’s a real trend in interior design right now for groups of artfully curated objects placed creatively on walls and it was this trend that I wanted to explore.

These images are also heavily inspired by the work of Edward Weston over the past few years, someone who has been inspiring me in my work for years.

Weston used photography to explore natural forms. He strived to capture details of the reality around him with real precision. Between 1927-30 he would shoot a portfolio of images based around peppers, shells, and cabbages. Through these images, Weston translated reality into something much more abstracted and Modernism-inspired.

Physalis - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

A trip to the supermarket was in the cards as a homage to Weston’s visionary images of food. I auditioned pomegranates, gnarly heirloom tomatoes, and unusually long, thin peppers. But it was finding a bag of physalis (sometimes also called ground cherries or Chinese Lanterns) on the top shelf that really stoked my imagination.

Shooting Techniques

Lighting is everything when it comes to creating close photographic studies of objects. I am lucky enough to have an east-facing bay window in my studio. Around about early afternoon, it has the most perfect light for shooting really natural looking fine art images. You could create similar images using any large window on a bright overcast day.

Place a background onto your shooting table first – I selected a faux-wooden finish – and then set your camera up on a tripod looking directly down at the table (use a spirit level here if you have one).

If you don’t have a tripod that can flip its central column and tilt it horizontally you’ll want to purchase an accessory arm in order to shoot flat lays. Getting the camera directly above the subject without the tripod’s legs getting in the way is crucial to this style.

Physalis bw triptych - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

Finding the Light

There’s a theory that humans read images in a similar way to how they read written text. For me, because English is my primary language, I read from left to right. That means when I shoot I almost always start with the light coming from the left and the shadows on the right as default.

This way your viewer would be reading the image from the light to dark in the same way that they would read a book. It should feel very natural and easy.

If the light isn’t right for the image then wait until later in the day or even another day altogether. Shooting with available light isn’t always the quickest process but it can be very rewarding. When you’re using available light always have black and white cards on hand to bounce or block the light. Just because it’s not coming from a studio light, doesn’t mean you can’t modify it.

Controlling the Camera, Creating Compositions

One of the best things about the Fuji range of cameras is the iPhone app that goes with them. Although the screen on some cameras, like my Fuji, tilt so that you can see what you’re shooting – when you’re set up for flat lay shots it can still be a little awkward. The app gets around this problem and allows you to see exactly what you’re doing in real time.

Physalis fuji app - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

When you’re shooting overhead flat lay images, a smart thing to do is to connect the phone and camera, start the app, and then place it on the table next to the arrangement of objects (but out of the shot). That way you can watch the scene as you move objects around to get the perfect composition before you push the shutter button.

It’s an extraordinarily useful feature to have the images transmit live so that you can watch them as you work. It really allows you to perfect your styling in a much shorter time than it might otherwise take.

Look for More Images

It was too easy to be content with the first flat lay group of physalis that I shot, but I knew that there were more images to be had of such a beautifully delicate subject. A physalis is quite small so I grabbed my old DSLR and its macro lens and begun the process all over again of finding a shot.

Changing lenses, especially if you shoot with primes, can really help you find another great image if you’re stuck for ideas or you think you’ve already got “the one.”

An even better image emerged – a single lone physalis still encased in its delicate shell! I shot this image by getting myself between the window and the shooting table and placing a black card behind the fruit.


The soft, beautiful light made the semitransparent physalis appear to glow and I knew at once I had shot an image I’d be happy to print large on my wall. Changing your perspective and getting down low or up high can also stimulate new ideas when it comes to shooting the same subject.

color or Black and White?

Physalis bw color - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

I once interviewed a great boudoir photographer who was very candid about why people spent money with her. She said it was because she gave them images that they couldn’t easily create at home – and she did that by color grading every image.

It is relatively easy nowadays with modern cameras and phones to get an image that’s in focus with colors which are true to life. Auto settings will get you pretty close most of the time. In that respect, it’s also much harder to make an image stand out from the crowd.

If everyone can shoot images that look like what’s in front of you then you need to go beyond image selection, focus, and composition to get a truly unique image.

Physalis color lightroom - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

On the color images of the physalis the saturation was dropped, and then blues were added to the shadows and a warm tan color to the highlights using the split toning panel in Lightroom.

For the black and whites, I experimented to find settings that created a deep contrast between the subject and the background, adding some clarity and darkening the shadows. For some of the images, the background texture was removed altogether by selectively decreasing the exposure, thereby referencing Edward Weston’s images that are usually shot on dark backgrounds.

Seeing Art Everywhere

With some practice, you can start to see potential in every object to become a subject for a piece of photographic fine art images. Many artists have preoccupied themselves with close studies of the world around them.

Edward Weston, the painters of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, even Michelangelo all produced bodies of work that reflected on reality and how best to translate that into art.

You don’t need expensive trips around the world to exotic places or whole teams of people to create fine art photography. You just need a keen eye, your camera, and your kitchen table.

The post How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane appeared first on Digital Photography School.