Updated: May 14, 2019
Photography is the act of capturing light. When shooting, many variables come into play taking a great photo. Gear like cameras, lenses, tripods, flashes, filters as well as camera settings all play a roll in getting the right balance of light that results in a great photo. However the variable with the largest impact on external architecture photography is the big light in the sky - the sun.
Buildings don't move, this makes choosing the correct time of day to shoot a site critical to utilising the sun in a position that helps achieve a shot that will work to showcase the building at its best.
Below are some factors we consider when deciding the right time of day to shoot architecture photography specifically for real estate purposes.
What is the front-facing aspect of the building? (for the southern hemisphere)
When the hero angle (which is usually the front) of the building is bright and well lit, this usually causes the building to 'pop'. Standing out from other buildings, in the background of ground photos and from its neighbors in aerial photos, is always a goal when it comes to showcasing a building for sale or lease.
Below are diagrams showing the position of the sun in the Brisbane sky. The orange and red lines mark sunrise/set, with the bold yellow arc showing the path of the sun throughout the day. The yellow shaded area indicates the range of the suns position throughout the year.
Buildings with southern aspects are the most challenging to shoot with light on the front. Sunrise and sunset are usually the safest bet, however from March through to October the southern face will receive no sun.
Northern facing buildings are easiest in the southern hemisphere, as you will have sun on the hero side of the building throughout the entire year. Summer is not ideal however, with the only time the sun will be on the northern face is during the middle of the day. This harsh light is not ideal for taking spectacular images. Ill talk more about harsh light later on.
Eastern and western aspects are best shot in the morning and afternoon respectively.
Most buildings will not be perfectly aligned with NSEW. This means that the ideal times to get light on the hero face of the building will need to be derived from the charts above (for Brisbane) or by using an browser/device app like SunCalc.
Shooting a building at the ideal time may not be not always be an option. In these cases the face of the building can be sometimes lit with flashes, however, with larger buildings like office towers this is not usually practical. Another solution to brightening the shadows is to take multiple varied exposures. Blending them into a High Dynamic Range (HDR) photograph that provides a large degree of freedom in the editing process, allowing you to 'paint' light into the shadows.
What platform will the shoot be conducted with?
Shooting from the ground is the most forgiving, with flashes, HDR and tripods available to help correctly expose the image.
Shooting from drone is a different challenge. Modern drones do hold their position incredibly well, however it is still no tripod. The drones usually used have smaller sensors, resulting in less exposure latitude in post. In special situations a heavy lift drone can be used to lift a full frame professional digital camera, giving the same latitude as handheld ground photos.
Shooting from a helicopter is done with the same full frame camera as used for ground, but flashes and HDR are not usually a reliable option.
Can you shoot during Golden Hour?
As most people with an interest in photography know, golden hour is where the magic happens. As the sun drops lower in the sky, its' rays travel through more of the atmosphere, diffusing the light and making it less bright/harsh. This results in photos being more easily balanced with the difference between the highlights and the shadows in the photo smaller. Not only does the building balance easier when shooting, the surround landscape looks far more pleasant, adding to the overall feel of the image.
In the early morning and late afternoon neighboring buildings or trees can cast shadows onto the subject site. This has to be taken into account when choosing a shoot time. However, shadows are easier to flash or paint in post when captured in softer light.
Golden hour is usually the ideal time to capture ground daytime photos providing there aren't any other brief specifics to consider.
Are there any other brief requirements?
The time of day is not always the defining factor when deciding the time to shoot. Sometimes the lunchtime rush is important to capture, or morning peak hour. When these requirements are paramount, then methods to compensate for the less than perfect light at the time of shoot can be employed. Multiple visits is often the best solution for fulfilling a clients brief.
Briefs can also have a specific target colour tone. How the photo is edited can help the photo match, however, the best results are achieved when this information is taken into account and the building is shot at a time that where the sun helps accentuate the required tones.
Perhaps no sun?
If the site is south facing and needs to be shot in the winter, has ground level retail like restaurants or is in the CBD, dusk or night photography is usually a great way to let the building shine.
There is no Rush.
Taking the time to make sure all the elements in a photo are where they should be often requires zen level patience. Whether it be waiting for a the sun to move, a cloud to pass, a truck to shift or people walking by to be in the right spot. Often getting a great shot is a waiting game that we at RAW are more than happy to play.
If you are in need of photographs of a building for your next listing, or just something special to hang on the wall, get in touch with Shea or myself and we would be happy to have a chat.