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Tips On Photographing Historical Buildings

Techniques > Tips On Photographing Historical Buildings

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Category: Architecture

Explore Historical Buildings - Here's ePHOTOzine's guide to photographing historical buildings.

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When we think of historical buildings we often think of castles and churches, but there's much more to explore. Our towns and villages are brimming with architectural delights from banks to factories to inns and market halls, all waiting to be photographed outside and sometimes (if you're lucky) inside. All you need is a little local knowledge.

Gear Suggestions:


For general shots you will need a good wide-angle. Use a 70-300mm to zoom in on the intricate detailed wood carvings and stone work around the building and a powerful flash can be really useful to fill-in or light pokey areas of interiors or paint with light on an external wall.

Camera Bag

Bulky rucksacks are often a no go in many historical buildings as they could knock over artefacts or bump into people in tight spots. Travel light with a shoulder bag such as the Vojo 22BK from Vanguard's Vojo range. The bag fits a camera, accessories, personal items, and features a padded compartment for a tablet device. Plus, as it's not on your back, you're less likely to accidentally knock something over. Also, as this can swivel around and be accessed from your front, it makes it convenient in tight spots and busy locations.
Vojo 22BK


Use a polarising filter if the building has windows, to reduce reflections in the glass. The polarisier will also darken a blue sky and give more contrast to the shot.


Check What Equipment You Can Take

Many historic buildings have been taken over by trusts, such as the National Trust or English Heritage. These give you access to the interiors which have often be preserved, so you have a better idea of how that building was when it was in use. It always means that although you can go in and wander around you're often restricted to what you can and can't photograph and you're often charged an entrance fee. Flash is often banned as are tripods. Some even prevent you from taking photos at all. Check before you go on a long journey by visiting the web site or make a phone call.

If you can take pictures, but can't use a tripod or flash, increase the ISO setting and support the camera on a wall, pillar or sign post to prevent camera shake. Most cameras can go to ISO800 without too much noise problem. Go beyond ISO800 and you may get noise (the picture broken up as small colour dots that can make it look poor quality).

Historic Buildings Can Be Dark

Many historic buildings were not built with the light aspects found with modern buildings. Windows were often small and poky so the light coming through could be in narrow shafts causing chaos for your camera's exposure system. In such cases either point at an area without the light and take a reading knowing the highlights will be overexposed, or shoot a few frames and merge them using a HDR program so you have a balance of highlights and shadows.

Left is an exposure for the mid-tones/shadow areas, middle is an exposure for the highlights and right is a combined shot using a HDR program.


Look around the building for small detail. Once you open your eyes you'll be surprised at the stone carvings present on the exterior walls of banks and inns that you miss in the daily bustle. Use a longer lens to fill the frame with detail. These shapes usually appear around door ways, above windows and on the line of the roof just below or on the gutter level.


How about a theme? You could pick one type of historical building, say market hall, and go around the country collecting shots of them. Every time you visit a new town and see if they have a market hall and take its picture.  Lighthouses, piers, windmills, castles, pubs could all prove interesting collections.

Avoid People And Cars

Try to take external shots without people or cars in the frame, both will date the photo. A weekend or early morning will be better if the building is in a town or city centre.

Height And Angles

Find an external position with some height to reduce converging verticals when shooting on wide-angle. Steps on a nearby building or a hill will help. Some professionals take step ladders although for most of us this is not often practical.

On ruins walk around looking for the best angles. Some sections are so bad that the shot will just look like ruins whatever angle you shoot from, whereas other angles will at least give a feeling for shape and style. Use brochures and guides to give you ideas of best angles. By all means copy these but look for your own original take on the building.

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