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Architecture & the Sweet Light

landscape tip
© Russ Burden

While most subjects look better when shot in the sweet light of sunrise or sunset, some benefit more than others – think architecture. Whether it’s a high rise skyscraper, a country barn, or even your own home, photographing them in golden light makes them appear more striking and dimensional. So set your alarm clock early enough to be where you want just as the early light kisses it. Or reconcile that you’ll be a bit late for dinner when you photograph the structure of your choice as the sun descends close to the horizon.

Mid Day Blues: Shooting architecture in mid day light has drawbacks. The color of the light is very blue. This creates a very cool tone that lacks impact. In the warm light of sunrise and sunset a much more golden tone is imparted producing a soothing effect. Additionally, mid day light illuminates the building from the top. This results in contrasty and harsh light which tends to blow out bright areas of the building and blocks up the dark areas revealing little or no shadow detail.

When the sun is low, texture is revealed producing a more three dimensional look to the subject. This is caused by the sidelight that rakes across the raised portions of the structure. Stonework and intricate details are revealed with more depth. Expose for the highlights to make sure you don’t lose detail in them. Better yet, shoot with the intent of processing the image using HDR to reveal more detail in the shadows while maintaining the highlights. For a bit of added drama to the background, listen to the weather and plan the shoot for a day that calls for partial clouds in the AM or PM. Golden yellow clouds with vibrant reds and oranges will dramatically offset the building against the sky. Blue sky days also work well if you prefer a neutral  backdrop.

Try to choose buildings that don’t have clutter to the left, right, or behind them. A distracting background will confuse the viewer as to where he or she should rest their eyes. The simpler the composition, the easier it is to communicate the intent of the photo. Watch how the shadows and highlights play upon the building. Some result in a better image shot at sunrise while others are better at sunset. So pick a building and go out and capture it in early and late light to create a magnificent architectural photo.



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