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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 August, 2005, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
How to take good photos of buildings
Art deco treasure
The Westway frames Monsoon HQ
It can be harder than you think to take good photos of buildings, says Magazine reader and professional photographer Timothy Soar, who has specialised in architectural pictures for almost 20 years. He offers some tips.

Two words: good light.

Photography is all about light. The best light is in the early morning or in the late afternoon. There's lovely clear light at the beginning of the day, and warm light at twilight. And you get great skies early and late, which provide a striking backdrop.

You usually get better colour in your pictures if you photograph early and late - not only are there great skies at those times of day to provide a striking backdrop, the camera picks up the colours better. Photographing in the midday sun can wash the tones out of an image.

The bright midday sun isn't great for photographing buildings, unless you want to really highlight the graphic strength of a modern building - the high contrast between sunlight and shadow can play up its sculptural features.

And if you're photographing a glass building, the sky and the glass can look good on a sunny day.

Timothy Soar's photos

Many advise shooting with the sun over your shoulder, but I find that results in a flat image - you get a better effect with the sun off to one side. That said, as I've got older I've started shooting into the sun for more exciting, poppy images.

When using a compact digital camera, using the middle range of the zoom picks up the most detail. The medium focal length misses out all the weird effects you can get with a wide angle lens.

Devil in the detail

Don't try to capture the whole building, which often ends up a flat boring image, if you can even get far enough back to do this. It's more fun to find a detail and take a photo of the attractive pattern it makes. Getting in tighter is always better; it gets rid of any visual clutter.

Your photos of buildings

Don't only photgraph from standing height - get on your knees, or stand on a small ladder to alter the viewpoint.

And don't take one photo, take 10 to give you a better chance of capturing the magic moment when everything - light, passers-by, different vantage points - fall into place.

When it comes to photographing contemporary buildings, I find the simpler the better - anything by Richard Rogers, Lord Foster and Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, who designed the Eden Project. Theirs are always strong, graphically interesting buildings.

I find public buildings - especially Millennium projects - to be good subjects too. Science buildings, libraries and specialist museums are often great to photograph.

Older buildings are more complex, more decorative. I love photographing in Oxford, it's just great for anything over 200 years old. There's something very special about photographing in cathedral cities. It's not only Gothic churches - Coventry's 1950s cathedral is a beautiful Modernist building.

ARCHITECTURE WEEK
It's Architecture Week in the BBC News Magazine and on BBC News 24 - watch out for special features, and how to send your comments
While I wouldn't say that digital cameras can make us better photographers, I think they have made it easier for people with a good eye but not the technical knowledge. You still have to edit ruthlessly to weed out the few good shots from the many you might take.

If you're interested in photography, I think you must naturally be interested in architecture and design - they all use the same part of the brain.




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