In a world rapidly transitioning toward primarily digital content creation, more and more people are beginning to experiment with various digital media. There is undoubtedly an intimate relationship between architecture and photography, and many architects enjoy experimenting with taking pictures, both of their own work and of their surrounding environment. But how do you know if you have the right gear needed to start off on the right foot? And more importantly, how can you get the most out of your equipment?
In honor of World Photography Day this month, we have put together a helpful guide to get started with lenses for architectural photography. This guide will specifically highlight the best lenses (for both DSLR and mobile) to use for your shots and why.
If you have gotten into the world of photography, you know that it is a very expensive hobby. And to invest in making it a profession it is just that, an investment. A few of the lenses listed below can cost nearly as much as a high-quality camera, so it is important to do your research so that you settle on the right lens for your specific use and price range.
The two main differences (apart from price) between these lenses will be the focal length and aperture. The focal length is usually denoted in millimeters (45mm, 85mm, 200mm, etc.) and refers to the distance between the center of a lens or curved mirror and its focus. In other words, the shorter the focal length, the wider the field of view. In architectural photography, anywhere between a 16-35mm focal length is ideal for interior shots. But for more detailed or intricate shots, anywhere from 35mm to 200mm will do the trick.
The other most important aspect of these lenses is the aperture. The lens aperture is the ratio of focal length to effective aperture diameter and is usually specified as an f-number. A lens typically has a set of marked "f-stops" that the f-number can be set to. A lower f-number denotes a greater aperture opening which allows more light to reach the image sensor. So for example, a 200mm focal length f/4 lens has an entrance pupil diameter of 50mm. You can check out this video by YouTuber Peter McKinnon for more about this concept and some other lens types.
Now, without further ado, let's talk about some lenses.
This is perhaps Canon's best-performing tilt-shift lens to date. If you are unfamiliar with tilt-shift lenses (most beginners likely will be), the term "tilt-shift" refers to the two different types of movement: rotation of the lens plane relative to the image plane, tilt; and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, shift. Tilt is used to control the orientation of the plane of focus or the part of that image that appears in focus. Shift is used to adjust the position of the subject in the image without moving the camera back, which is particularly helpful when trying to avoid converging parallel lines. This is helpful in architectural photography when capturing tall buildings.
While it is helpful to utilize the tilt-shift movement of this lens, at a price of $1,399 and a relatively steep learning curve, you can achieve nearly the same result with a little post-production magic in editing software like Lightroom or Photoshop. But for a professional, this lens is an incredible tool for capturing crisp and clean urban contexts with minimal adjustments needed in post.
This lens delivers the optimal combination of wide-angle and low-light performance. The variable focal length from 16-35mm offers the ability to capture wide-angle interior shots, but also the ability to focus in on any detail shots you might also need as well. Built to be incredibly durable, this lens would also be handy on unpredictable site visits when you may need to zoom out for an overall construction shot or zoom in on that intricate wall section detail.
Being an L-series lens, this lens is priced ($999) at a professional standard, but it will no doubt be a go-to part of your camera arsenal.
A unique aspect of digital photography that has burst onto the scene in the last few years thanks to the advancements in smartphone camera technology is mobile photography. it is now easier than ever to get professional quality with the point-and-shoot camera you have in your pocket every day. The debate for the best smartphone camera is one that has been widely discussed across the internet, but the three most recent contenders are Apple's iPhone X, Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 (and recently unveiled Note 9) and Google's Pixel 2.
It is possible to get incredibly high-quality images with minimal initial and post-production effort from these phones straight from the stock lenses, but you can now also utilize professional-quality hardware that attaches straight to your phone.
Moment lenses for iPhone and Android are at the top of the market for smartphone photography. They offer a range of wide, fisheye and macro lenses, with the recent addition of an anamorphic lens to achieve a more cinematic look. The lenses have to be attached via a custom case (which is quite stylish as well), and at a combined price point of around $130-$150, this may be a viable option if you are looking to invest in a quick and easy way to get professional-looking photos at a more respectable price.
The last, and perhaps most important aspect of lenses in architectural (or really any type of) photography is the use of neutral-density (ND) filters. The purpose of a standard photographic ND filter is to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. These filters can become important when shooting exterior shots on a relatively sunny day.
In photography in general, it is always a good idea to have more control over how much light is ultimately entering the lens, and the different types of ND filters allow you to do just that in order to achieve your desired effect. You can again reference this video from Peter McKinnon about ND filters and the various types to determine which might be best for you.