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Photo ideas: Look to the skies to capture stunning architectural photography

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When we think of architectural photography we tend to imagine crisp, clean images of buildings that show the  main façade of a structure front-on. In this tutorial, though, we’re going to demonstrate how to add impact to images of tall buildings by shooting straight up at them, and blurring moving clouds as they pass overhead.  

Modern architecture, with its blocky shapes and heavy use of glass to create smooth, reflective surfaces, is the perfect subject for shooting  from this extreme perspective. Converting images to black and white also suits this technique, with the silvery tones giving images a futuristic look.

(Image credit: Future)
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The key is to time your shoot for when there are fast-moving clouds passing overhead – the faster the clouds, the easier it will be to get that dramatic, streaky-sky effect.  

Once you’ve got your subject and sky sorted, you’ll need to blur the clouds, and to do this you need to set a long exposure. However, in daylight you may not be able to set an exposure long enough without running the risk of over-exposure, which is where neutral density filters come in. Here’s how it’s done...

Capture incredible architectural photography

(Image credit: Future)
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Find a subject 

Find a tall tower block or similar building. Look for clean edges, such as the right-angle corners of a skyscraper, as well as clean glass walls which will reflect light, and brighten up parts of the building. Details in the facade will also help to add interest and texture. 

(Image credit: Future)
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Take a corner

Set up close to the base of the building, opposite one of its corners. Place your camera on a tripod, and point it straight up at the edge of the structure. Compose your shot so that the frame is filled mostly by the building’s edge, with some space around the top for the sky.

(Image credit: Future)
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Set a small aperture

In manual mode, set an aperture of f/16 at ISO100. Not only will this help to maximize depth of field, and so ensure the entire building is sharp, it will also reduce the amount of light hitting the sensor, enabling you to set slower shutter speeds for a correct exposure.

(Image credit: Future)
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Switch to manual focus

To further maximize depth of field, manually select an AF point roughly a third of the way into the frame. In Live View, zoom in on different parts of the image to check for sharpness, then switch your lens to manual to lock the focus, and prevent the AF system from hunting.

(Image credit: Future)

Dim the lights

Next, attach a strong ND filter (opens in new tab) to your lens. We used an ND400 filter, which blocks out nine full stops of light. Once the filter is attached, you need to decrease the shutter speed until the exposure level indicator lines up with zero on the exposure scale. 

(Image credit: Future)
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Check your speed

Take a test shot and check the histogram to ensure that none of the highlights are blown. If they are, you’ll need to set a faster shutter speed. If your image is too dark, you’ll need to set a slower shutter speed. Our speed of 30 secs was plenty long enough to blur the clouds.

(Image credit: Future)

Shooting in monochrome

To add impact to your shot, convert it to monochrome. Most cameras will allow you to do this in-camera by going into the camera menu, selecting Monochrome and applying this to your favorite image. You can also set the camera to shoot in monochrome using the Picture Styles – plus, if you shoot in RAW, you’ll still have all the color information if needed. 

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N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine is a monthly publication that's entirely dedicated to Nikon users. As a 100% independent magazine, you can be assured of unbiased opinion from a trustworthy team of devoted photography experts including editor Adam Waring (opens in new tab) and Technique Editor Mike Harris (opens in new tab)


Aimed at all users, from camera newcomers to working pros, every issue is packed with practical, Nikon-specific advice for taking better photos, in-depth reviews of Nikon-compatible gear, and inspiring projects and exciting video lessons for mastering camera, lens and Photoshop techniques.


Written by Nikon users for Nikon users, N-Photo is your one-stop shop for everything to do with cameras, lenses, tripods, bags, tips, tricks and techniques to get the most out of your photography.