Photographing Architecture

Whether your destination is close to home or across the globe, vacation travel presents a chance to photograph interesting architecture. Longtime pro John Linden shares his suggestions for making the most of this unique opportunity.


"On holiday," Linden says, "you don’t want the camera to get in your way. Carry a camera you’re comfortable with. These days, there are so many great cameras at every price point. You can do it with a compact camera, but if you’ve been thinking hard about getting a full-frame sensor and a tilt-shift lens, this might be a fantastic opportunity.

One reason I think it’s effective looking into the sun is, all those tall buildings are working like reflectors, bouncing light back into the shadows of the buildings. This is the absolute opposite of the "keep the sun on your shoulder" rule, but don’t be afraid to explore and make a mistake because some of the best shots break the rules.

"For most people," he continues, "I would recommend a good quality zoom lens and one or two primes—like a wide-angle and a standard prime. The standard prime is a fast lens for interiors or low-light areas. Travel light."

Traveling light may mean leaving the tripod at home. While they’re crucial for dusk exteriors, at many popular destinations, tripods aren’t permitted indoors.

"Without special permissions," he says, "you’re not going to be taking a tripod into many places. For exteriors, if you can bring a light tripod and you want to try doing evening twilight shots, that’s the time to bring it out.

"When you’re handholding," Linden adds, "make it a point to keep everything level and squared up. And try to avoid converging verticals at all costs. Keep everything on a grid, nice and clean, with as much depth of field as possible. I always use the longest lens I can in order to compress the image and avoid distortion."


"Especially on holiday," Linden says, "you’re going to want to get the establishing ‘all-in’ shot, but I feel you can often say more with less—with tight, graphic detail shots. They’re also more visually interesting. You can get the essence of architecture, especially iconic architecture, sometimes through the graphic detail. That image will be unique, unlike all the other tourists to your left and your right. The first thing I try to do is figure out what’s unique about a building and make sure to get that. And it isn’t always straight across; it could be straight up or straight down. Be aware of the surroundings, what’s unique, and try to find something that maybe other people have missed."

In my shot of the interior of the Reichstag, there are people on the walkways at the back, little tiny people, and there are other people in the foreground looking down through. Those people in the foreground are looking down into the room where the senators and congressmen gather to make laws. What’s cool about this design is that this space is open to the public, but they’re actually above the government space, able to look down into them to see what they’re doing. That’s what I tried to convey in that shot.

For instance, when Linden was on assignment in Paris, he took the time to photograph the Eiffel Tower, looking up to focus on a little-seen detail the typical "all-in" angle would miss.

"I’m more or less underneath it looking up," Linden says of the shot. "One reason I like that is, there are so many shots of the Eiffel Tower out there, but so many people don’t even realize there’s a hole in the middle. That was pretty much midday, in October or November, though, so the sun kind of cuts across the horizon."

Linden suggests making use of the entire frame to lead the viewer’s eye through the image and working to eliminate any visual distractions.

"Many beginning photographers put something in the middle and tend not to think about the frame as a whole," Linden says. "It’s really important, especially with architecture, to make sure that you leave out anything that’s distracting, anything that isn’t bringing the eye from where you want it to begin to where you want it to end. I think successful architectural images give the eye a place to begin that guides them through the shot and a place to end. It usually wants to end in the brightest area, not in the shadows. One trick is to have something close to the lens axis leading the viewer in to where you want them to go. Often, especially with interiors, I’ll get relatively close to something so that it feels like you’re in there with it. It feels like you can almost reach out and touch it. You want depth to make it look more three-dimensional.

"When you’re getting those big establishing shots," Linden adds, "it’s nice to use people to give it a sense of scale. Even on interiors, especially on bigger projects, it’s nice to have people moving through the space and use them for depth and scale."


When Linden is working for a client, he’s sure to be up before dawn and out past sunset in order to make the most of warm, directional magic-hour lighting. For vacationers, such hours may not be possible, so Linden says it’s best to make the most of every hour in the day.

The Lloyds’ building in London, that’s by RichardRogers, that’s shot on daylight balance. You can see when you blow it up that’s a real mixed-light situation. It’s about at twilight, and you can see all the yellow light from the sodium-vapor lights on the street and the tungsten inside the building. And the building itself is lit by a combination of fluorescent inside, metal halide and tungsten, but it makes this beautiful, colorful mix. That’s actually shot from the rooftop of a 16th-century church; you can see a little bit at the side. That’s a very old shot, but it means something to me. That shot was really the beginning of my paid career, 1991 or 1992. It was 4×5 Provia sheet film.

"Try to do your exteriors in the morning or the evening when the light is warm and low and cutting across the texture," he says, "but the middle of the day is a good time to get out of the heat and work on interiors. A lot of times they have a certain amount of natural light, and it’s strongest in the middle of the day. That’s where those high-ISO cameras come in handy. On the whole, even with short lenses, you don’t want to go shorter than 1/30th with your shutter speed. I lock in my elbows and do everything I can to keep it steady. That’s the balance: to get the greatest depth of field you can, but don’t slow your shutter speed down so slow that when you get home your shots are useless."

Linden suggests looking forangles in which the light accentuates texture. "If you look at my shot of Stonehenge," he says, "you feel the tex
ture. You can even see the carvings, so it feels kind of three-dimensional."


For Linden, the best architectural images also contain an emotional element. "I always say a strong shot is something that needs no words," he says. "The big goal is to try to translate the emotion of the three-dimensional building, not just the information, onto your two-dimensional image. If you do that, you’ve made a successful shot."

Take Linden’s Magna Plaza image, for instance. He applied several of the techniques he’s discussed here in order to tell the story of the bustling mall.

"The space is no great shakes," he says, "but it’s a space made for people. It’s the people that provide the emotion. You want to bring the essence of that to the image. So I made a multiple exposure on a tripod; it’s about four half-second exposures. Those are escalators, and to get my depth of field, I needed two or three seconds. At that speed, the escalator would just look like a river—a long blur. So to avoid that, but still give this sense of energy and movement, instead, I just recocked the shutter and built it up—four half-second exposures."

The space is no great shakes, but it’s a space made for people. It’s the people that provide the emotion. You want to bring the essence of that to the image. So I made a multiple exposure on atripod; it’s about four half-second exposures.

Linden suggests vacation shooters take the time to experiment as much as possible, as he did with his image of Spain’s Alamillo Bridge.

"The bridge is a piece of sculpture," Linden says, "a functional sculpture. The image had to be in color, but I didn’t want the color to get in the way, so I changed the white balance to tungsten to make it that really rich blue, which I think suits the white at night really well. It’s not monochrome, but it’s just blue and white, and I think that helped to bring the rich, elegant look to it. Sometimes, I’ll do that at night when I think the colors are distracting. In this case, I think the colors would take away from the sculptural aspect. Don’t be afraid to experiment."

See more of John Linden’s photography at

Leave a Comment