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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Photographing Architecture: Let Extreme Angles Work for You

One of the problems of photographing buildings, especially tall buildings, is that very often the only place to shoot them from is standing right in front of them. Being so close means that you're only left with one angle: looking straight up. But looking up at a tall building with a camera creates something called the keystone effect that causes the building to look like it's falling over backwards, or at least leaning pretty severely. You can even get the same effect by laying on the ground and shooting up at a tall person with a wide-angle lens.

In most photo books (including the ones I've written) you're told that the solution is either to back father away from the building (the simplest solution) or to drop several hundred dollars on what's called a perspective control or "PC" lens (the more exotic solution). If you happen to love photographing tall buildings, a PC lens is actually not that bad of an investment (that is, if you own a DSLR), but it's really a specialty item and only a handful of pros that I know actually own one.

But there is another very creative way to handle tall buildings and that's just to go with the flow--exploit the wildness of the extreme angle and exaggerate the lean. In the shot of the old New England clock tower shown here, I made the lean even more extreme by letting the tower run diagonally through the frame. Instead of looking like a mistake, the shot now looks more like a dramatic magazine cover (or maybe a still frame from Hitchcock's Vertigo). The great thing about working with buildings like this is that you can do it with even the simplest of point-and-shoot cameras. The closer you get and the more extreme the angle, the more dynamic your composition will be.

Also, set your camera to the aperture-priority exposure mode if you can so that you can select a small f/stop (large number) and get maximum depth of field to keep the entire tower or building in sharp focus.

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