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How to Photograph Tall buildings? How High Should I Position My Camera For Best Results?

We have discussed about camera height and the way it influences the subjects and the perspective when we were discussing tips on portraiture. You can read the article here - Classic Portraiture - Determining Camera Placement and Height. Well the same principles are applicable for every subject no matter how big or small the subject is.

How to Photograph Tall buildings
How to Photograph Tall buildings: Photo by: James Cridland

So the general rule is; if you photograph a subject from a very low angle you will get an exaggerated perspective where the subject will look much bigger than it actually is. And if you photograph it from high above then you will get a perspective as if you are looking down at the subject and as a result it will appear tiny, minuscule or irrelevant.

When we are photographing subjects like architecture, it is not only the perspective that we are worried about, we need also make sure the distortions are kept to the minimum, what this implies is that we will need to keep our sensor plane parallel to the building while being able to include the entire building in the frame.

Limitations of Tilt Shift Lenses - Problems Causes by Excessive Shift Movements

Usually when faced with such problems, it is specialized hardware for image capture like tilt shift lenses that photographers resort to, to get the job done. A wide angle tilt shift lens will be able to include the whole building in the frame without including excessive foreground. But when working in crowded cities, where space to move backwards is very limited even those extreme wide angle lenses fail to include the whole building in the frame when photographing from ground level. In such situations photographers may need to use excessive shift movement to cover the entire building (this can result in the building looking top-heavy with verticals appearing to diverge at the top. It is the geometrical distortion that causes the outermost part of the field of view to become elongated).

Apart geometrical distortions there is the issue of losing image quality when using extreme shift movements. When the lens is shifted to its limits, the image sensor in the camera is actually recording data that comes from the outer limits of the lens’s circle of illumination. This could considerably reduce image quality and in extreme cases cause visible Vignetting in the corners.

Right Height To Position The Camera For Photographing Tall Buildings

How to Photograph Tall buildings How High Should I Position My Camera For Best Results
How to Photograph Tall buildings How High Should I Position My Camera For Best Results

The right height to position the camera when photographing tall buildings is approximately one third of the buildings height. From this height the camera will be able to give some positive perspective distortion (meaning it gives some emphasis to the building) and the added height will enable most lenses to capture the entire building in the frame without including excessive foreground (in case of normal lenses) or having the need to use excessive shift movements (in case of tilt shift lenses).

Why photograph from one third height of the building? Why not higher?

Selecting a vantage point that is higher than one third height of the building will diminish the stature of the building. The higher the vantage point the lesser the emphasis the building gets. So to produce an image where the building gets a reasonable perspective, stick to photographing it from approximately one third height.

Tip to Quickly Find a Suitable Vantage Point

One simple trick to easily find a suitable vantage point to shoot from (if none is identified in the immediate neighborhood) is to climb one third of the way up the building you need to shoot and look out any window in the direction which you need to shoot from. You will be easily able to identify any vantage point that provides a clear, unobstructed view of the building.

Related Reading

  1. How to Effectively Convey a Sense of Scale in Architectural Photography?
  2. Architectural Photography Tips – How to Photograph North Facing Buildings
  3. Right Weather For Photographing Architecture
  4. Finding The Right Time of the Day to Photograph Exteriors
  5. The Ideal Angle of The Sun for Photographing Exteriors

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