How to Shoot Futuristic Architecture Photography

How to Shoot Futuristic Architecture Photography

From retro and modern to interplanetary; futuristic architecture photography is all about transporting the viewer’s imagination to another world that exists outside of time. It encapsulates everything about human construction, sheer curiosity, as well as the wonders and dangers associated with science.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Futuristic architecture photography allows you to imagine what is to come for our civilisation.

Futuristic architecture photography is fascinating because it gives you the ability to play with ideas of utopia and  dystopia. By capturing the human structures of today, you can conceptualise the architecture that may shape the world of tomorrow. It’s all about adding your own creative flair to communicate to others some of the many forms in which the future may manifest.

If any of this sounds fun to you, then you’re in the right place. Read on to learn some tips on how to shoot architectural photography, as well as how you can hone your own futuristic photographic style.

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What is Architectural Photography?

Architecture photography refers to the photography of buildings, as well as the planning, design and construction that goes into them. It involves two main types: interior architecture (the functional design of the spaces within a building) and exterior architecture (the shapes and colours of the façades, as well as the different materials used in the outward appearance of a building).

If you’re wondering how interior architecture differs from interior design, it’s that the latter focuses on aesthetics, such as furnishing and decorations.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Architecture photography involves the photography of all sorts of buildings.

The Social Landscape

Personally, I think of architecture photography as the art of photographing social landscapes. For me, it involves capturing all types of man-made environments, from buildings to open areas and other structures, as well as the materials that go into their making.

My philosophy is that every building tells the story of the society that built it. Rather than centring on the people, I prefer to focus on inorganic and artificial environments, in order to demonstrate the social condition of human civilisation at a particular moment in the timeline of our evolution.

Photography by Serena Dzenis
Tip #1
Before you get started, think about what architectural photography means to you. Is it just about photographing the exterior architecture or do you want to get inside? What is it about buildings and other structures that you find fascinating?

Taking the First Steps Towards Photographing Architecture

If you feel completely out of your depth when shooting architecture, then rest assured that you’re not alone. It can be hard to get going with a new photography project, especially if you’re making the leap from a different genre with which you may feel more comfortable. An easy way to overcome this is to have an idea about what you want to work towards.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
It's normal to feel completely out of your depth when it comes to photographing architecture.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when we first adapted to living with restrictions, I decided to turn my camera from the landscape to the urban setting. Architecture photography imparted a little meaning to my days, which were mostly spent indoors.

It wasn’t an easy transition to make. While I had a vague notion about the form that I wanted my architecture photography to take, it seemed that I couldn’t figure out exactly how to execute it. What I had envisioned myself photographing was different from what I saw in front of me. I found myself pointing my camera at random buildings and wondering: Is there any way to make architecture photography more interesting? With this in mind, I persisted in heading out to wander around town. Devoid of the hustle and bustle, the city of Reykjavík took on a somewhat quiet and different kind of charm.

Eventually, the philosophy behind my newfound interest unravelled, helping me to articulate what I wanted to achieve by photographing architecture. My goal was to capture the buildings in such a way that would remove the flow of time. In doing so, I hoped to communicate the overall feeling of limbo associated with life being brought to a standstill during this pandemic.

Tip #2
As you begin your foray into this genre, set aside some time to ask yourself why you want to photograph architecture and what you want your goal to be. What can you do to make your portfolio more interesting? These questions will help you to develop consistency across your body of work.
Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.

Finding Your Own Style of Architecture Photography

When it comes to photographing anything, it’s important to find your personal style. What you choose to photograph and how you capture it will depend completely on your own creative vision. This is how you can establish your uniqueness and it is also what will set your work apart from that of others.

Below, you’ll find some of the trending styles and techniques in architecture photography. This is not an exhaustive list, so be sure to do your own research to see what else is out there.

This involves capturing the entire 360° view of a space, so as to immerse the viewer in the surrounds.

It’s great for virtual reality situations, allowing the viewer to interact with the image and to explore either the interior or exterior of a building.

Architecture photographed from above, using either a drone, helicopter or plane. This gives viewers a perspective that they wouldn’t normally see.

Experimenting with higher angles and elevations means that you can portray space and structures in a different but meaningful way.

This involves focusing on smaller elements of the larger picture, usually with an emphasis on symmetry, line and colour.

By only capturing a portion of the subject, you’ll have the freedom to express your point of view, leaving the viewer to guess the rest.

Photographing how spaces within architecture are used. This may include a human element, which demonstrates the life of a structure.

This style is often combined with long exposure techniques to create a sense of motion. You can also feature just a few or even a single person within the frame to convey depth and scale.

Using props, special effects and techniques such as lighting (during the shooting process), or digital manipulation (in post-processing), to offer an imaginary perspective of architecture.

Keeping the shutter open for a longer period of time in order to achieve creative effects.

This technique can be used to capture trails of movement within or surrounding a building, often during the blue hour or at night. It’s a great way to convey motion or the movement of time.

The art of keeping compositional elements to a minimum. This is where ‘less is more’ in terms of colours, patterns and other subject matter. The focus is on lines, shapes and negative spaces to create a feeling of simplicity.

The minimal style can sometimes go hand-in-hand with abstract architecture photography.

The technique of taking several images of a building or structure, then stitching the photographs together to create a single large, wide or tall image. Can be used to enhance the drama of interior or exterior architecture, such as cathedrals and other public spaces.

This technique also forms the basis for 360° photography.

Taking pictures of man-made dwellings for the purpose of selling them.

The photographs should capture the eye of potential buyers and entice them to make an appointment to view the property or proceed with a purchase.

Also known as urban exploration, urbex photography involves entering abandoned structures and buildings for the purpose of documenting the state of decay.

This type of architecture photography can provide a snapshot of civilisation at a particular point in time, though is also inherently risky in terms of personal safety.

Mixing and Matching Techniques

Rather than compartmentalising them, try combining the styles and techniques that I’ve mentioned above to make your own formula for expressing your creativity. You can explore different elements to see what you like, as well as what you can do without.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Express your creativity with photographing architecture in different ways.

As I became more comfortable with photographing man-made structures, I started exploring what I could add to my shots to make them more aesthetically pleasing and which would help to improve my narrative. This was how I found myself drawn to retro-futuristic architecture – aged buildings that had, at some point in the past, been designed to look like they were from the future. It was then that I began distinguishing my style from other subsets of architecture photography. In my mundane world, the desire to actively seek out futuristic designs for the purpose of creating futuristic architecture photography started taking on a life of its own.

Through a lot of trial and error, I’ve arrived at the basis for my creative style. It incorporates elements of abstract and minimal architecture photography with a degree of surrealism to offer a new point of view through the use of digital manipulation. I’m not aiming for a dark or post-apocalyptic atmosphere like you’d see in Blade Runner or The Fifth Element. The effect that I want to pursue is lighter and more utopian.

The key takeaway from this is that there are many ways you can go with architecture photography. Your personal style all comes down to your own taste.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Tip #3
Developing your own style of architecture photography can take some time and effort. When you have some insight into what it may be, you'll likely still have to do some degree of finessing before arriving at a happy medium. If in doubt, try shooting in a few different styles and experimenting with various photography techniques until you like what you see.

The History of Futuristic Architecture

If you’re keen on heading down the same road as me and developing your own style of futuristic architecture photography, it’s a good idea to learn a bit about the history behind futurism and futuristic design. Understanding these two important concepts will help you to know what kind of subjects to photograph.

For those of you who are just interested in learning broadly about architecture photography techniques, feel free to skip this section. Alternatively, you might like to take the time to explore other architectural styles which will inform your photography. For a full rundown, check out this list of architectural styles on Wikipedia.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Photographing architecture is as much about learning the history as it is about taking the snap.

What is Futurism and Futuristic Design?

Futurism is an artistic and social movement that came about in Italy during the early part of the 20th century. It was led by the Italian poet, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. The artistic philosophy of the avant-garde involved rejection of the past. Instead, change was celebrated in the form of cultural and societal innovation through technology and industry. Futurist art was therefore dynamic; it emphasised both movement and fluidity.

The futurist principles of art extended to architecture in 1914 with Antonio Sant’Elia’s visionary depictions of cities of the future. His most well-known collection of work, La Città Nuova, portrayed skyscrapers, tiers of traffic,  buildings connected by bridges and artificial landscapes, all combined in a melting pot of utopian idealism.

So how does futuristic architecture design differ from modern or contemporary architecture? Put simply, futuristic design incorporates motion and flow, merging somewhere at the intersection between surrealism and functionality.

Tip #4
Not quite sure about how to research architectural styles? Have a look online at buildings from all over the world. Instagram, Flickr and other photo-sharing platforms are great tools for exploring what kind of subjects you might like to concentrate on with your own photography. Science-fiction movies, books and art are excellent resources for inspiration if you'd like to pursue architecture photography with a futuristic style.
Photography by Serena Dzenis.

What Equipment Do You Need for Architecture Photography?

All you need to photograph architecture is a camera, one or two lenses, some memory cards and extra batteries. As you learn more and begin honing your style, you may come across some limitations in your gear. This will be a good time to decide whether you should add certain items to your collection which will help you to meet your artistic vision.

In the following passages, you’ll find more information about specific equipment that may be useful for getting started in architecture photography.

Photography by Serena Dzenis
You don't need special equipment to start photographing architecture; just a sense of imagination.

What Is the Best Camera for Architectural Photography?​

You can take architecture shots with anything from a smartphone to an analogue, digital or mirrorless camera. If it’s a camera in some shape or form that produces photographic images, then you’ll be able to capture architecture with it.

I’ve used the same camera since 2016. It’s a Canon 5DS R that takes images of extremely good quality, which is great for printing in larger sizes or displaying on TV or computer screens. However, I’ve also used lomography and other film cameras to photograph architecture. Sometimes, I’ve had nothing else on me except my phone. As the old adage goes, the best camera is always the one that you have with you!

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
The best camera is always the one that you have with you.

What Lens Is Best for Architectural Photography?

When it comes to lenses for architecture photography, it really depends on what you want to do. Tilt-shift lenses are the industry standard used by professional architecture photographers to prevent distortion but they are very expensive and you certainly don’t need one to get started shooting buildings.

My advice is to head out there with whatever lens you’ve got. After a while, if you find that the lens you are using is too limiting, then you can always choose to invest in something else that will suit your needs later on.

Personally, I have four lenses that are my staples for shooting architecture and they cover all of the most common circumstances that I might encounter. You can find some tidbits about them below.

For interior architecture photography, I use a Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS USM. This wide angle zoom lens is great for exaggerating lines and curves in the ceiling or staircases of buildings.

Alternatively, a prime lens such as the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art is a good choice to have as it is quite versatile. When not being used to photograph architecture, it can be transferred to a landscape photography setting, such as for astrophotography or photographing the Northern Lights.

If you’d like to get a little more creative, then consider playing around with an ultra-wide angle lens, such as a fisheye.

When shooting architecture, sometimes you’ll have very little choice about your vantage point. If you’re standing on the street in front of very tall buildings, then you may not be able to step further away from your subject. On the other hand, there will be circumstances when you may not be able to get too close. In these types of situations, I use a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM.

My go-to lens for photographing architecture is the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. This telephoto zoom lens gives me the ability to zoom in on the façade of a building from far away, which reduces distortion. By using a long lens, I am also able to ‘compress the scene’, thereby making elements in the background seem closer together when seen from a distance.

I love using my Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD 1:1 Macro for photographing architecture. It’s a prime lens which is super sharp and produces a wonderful tonality that is reminiscent of film photography. It can be used to photograph anything from abstract details in architecture to portraits and small things in nature. My main use for this lens is actually fungi photography.

If you have the funds, then a tilt-shift lens is great for preventing distortion when shooting architecture. These types of lenses also allow you to get creative with depth of field. One of their uses is to make large cities appear like toy models.

Another fun option for photographing buildings is a Lensbaby. These lenses are designed to produce creative effects that enhance bokeh, vignette, glow and certain areas of focus.

Photography by Serena Dzenis
Different lenses will give you different results, so try to experiment with what you have and what you can borrow.

Accessories for Architectural Photography

Aside from a camera and lens, there are a few other gadgets that may be useful to you when shooting architecture, such as filters, a tripod and artificial lighting.

Filters

To get a bit more creative in-field, especially if you want to create a futuristic utopian, dystopian or otherworldly effect, try experimenting with filters. Neutral density (ND) filters, graduated neutral density (GND) filters, polarising filters and even colour filters all have a role to play in architecture photography.

Neutral density (ND) filters are like sunglasses for your camera. They reduce the amount of light that is able to enter your lens and reach the sensor. This way, you can shoot with a higher aperture for a longer length of time. Slowing down the shutter speed means that you’ll be able to create a long exposure effect without overexposing your shot.

In architecture photography, ND filters are commonly used to capture clouds streaked across the sky behind a building. They can also be used to blur people and moving lights (such as headlights from cars) in the frame so as to create a sense of motion.

For long exposures at night, try starting with an ND 3-stop or 4-stop filter. This will give you the option to keep the shutter open from around 30 seconds up to a few minutes, which can yield some very interesting effects.

If you’re keen on shooting long exposures during the day, consider investing in a 6-stop, 10-stop or 15-stop ND filter. You can always stack filters together if you feel the need to reduce the amount of light even further.

When shooting exterior architecture, there will be times when you may find it difficult to balance the exposure of the foreground with the background. This is where graduated neutral density (GND) filters come in.

A GND filter is designed such that only half of the filter is of neutral density, while the other half of the filter is clear. Some have a soft gradient from dark to clear, whereas others have a harder gradient. This is known as the ‘edge’.

In general, soft-edge GND filters are best for architecture where there is a large foreground subject, so as to prevent a harsh gradient line going through your shot. If you are using a telephoto lens, then it is best to pair it with a hard-edge GND filter, which will appear soft rather than harsh when zoomed in at longer focal lengths.

Try balancing the exposure of the sky with the foreground by using a 3-stop or 4-stop GND filter. Remember that you can always stack filters if needed, such as a GND 4-stop with an ND 3-stop for an additional long exposure effect.

A polariser, or polarising filter, is used to reduce glare or to manage reflections within a scene. These types of filters are very useful for both interior and exterior architecture photography.

You can use a polariser to either enhance or get rid of  reflections in windows, as well as to control glare from natural and artificial lighting on hard surfaces, such as walls and floors.

Colour filters are particularly useful for shooting in black and white, as they allow you to control the way in which greys are represented within the scene. However, you can also use them for shooting in colour if you want to create a certain atmosphere or style.

Tripod

In some circumstances, it’s also a good idea to bring along a sturdy but light tripod when photographing architecture. You may find it cumbersome to carry one around in the city but it’s worthwhile to have for extra stability and so you can shoot at a lower ISO for images of higher quality. You’ll most likely benefit a lot from having a tripod if you plan on using any filters or playing around with long exposure architecture photography.

I prefer to shoot handheld when out and about to have maximum manoeuvrability but having a tripod always increases my chances of getting more creative.

Learn more about how to do photography with a tripod to maximise your chances at capturing a sharp image.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Shooting handheld gives you more flexibility but there will be times when a tripod may come in handy.

Artificial Lighting

It’s not necessary to work with anything other than ambient light, particularly if your style is to shoot inconspicuously. If you have a bit more time up your sleeve though and you really want to make a scene pop in terms of depth while highlighting textures, then by all means, take control of the lighting.

Try playing around with mono lights for large interior spaces. Strobe lighting can be great for brightening up the exterior of a building at twilight. You can also use a floodlight for more natural lighting or even a handheld light, such as a Lume Cube, for light painting.

How to Shoot Futuristic Architecture

Photographing architecture, specifically buildings that look futuristic, involves a combination of technical skill and planning. The style that you are going for will influence your camera settings, the subjects you choose, when you shoot, how to compose the shot, as well as the way you process your images. For the moment, let’s focus on basic camera settings, how to choose locations, the best time to shoot, as well as tips for composing your shots and the challenges that you might face with architecture photography.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Making a scene look futuristic involves quite a bit of technical skill.

Camera Settings for Architectural Photography

These are just some common settings to get you started with shooting architecture. Ultimately, you’ll need to tweak them to suit your own purposes.

RAW vs JPEG

Unless you don’t have any time to do post-processing yourself, set your camera to record images in RAW.

The difference between RAW and JPEG is that a RAW file records all the uncompressed data within a scene. This expands your options when working with the image later on so that you can produce a high-quality rendition – either of what you saw or how it might have looked in your imagination. On the other hand, a JPEG is a compressed image that your camera produces with automatic edits applied using in-built software. You can still post-process a JPEG but as it has already been compressed to make the image ready for viewing on digital devices, it won’t be of as high quality as an image recorded in RAW.

Shooting in RAW is of particular importance if you want to produce high-resolution, high-quality images for print.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Shoot in RAW so that you have the highest quality file possible to play around with in post-processing.

In-Built Picture Controls or Picture Styles

Even when shooting in RAW, your camera still has in-built picture controls or picture styles which affect how your images are rendered on the camera’s LED display. This is useful for providing a preview close to what you may be aiming for after you’ve edited an image, so you don’t always have to put your imagination into overdrive. Keep in mind that a RAW file records all the data, so any picture controls or styles that you choose in your camera are not permanent until you export the image as a JPEG or TIFF file. This means that you can always change the settings later on during post-processing.

Picture controls or picture styles differ across camera brands. In general, the preset modes are Standard, Portrait, Landscape and Neutral. Standard is usually the best mode to start with, until you decide on what kind of style you want to achieve in your images. Once you have an idea of what you like, you can customise your settings.

On my Canon 5DS R, the settings that I have for architecture photography are as follows: Sharpness strength +4, fineness +4 and threshold +4. For light, ethereal and warm atmospheres that convey a sense of utopia, I set the contrast to -4, saturation -4 and colour tone +4.

For more information on in-built camera picture controls or styles, check out the links below:

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Picture styles in your camera can reduce the amount of work required in post-processing.

Colour Space

Colour space refers to the profile in which your camera records colours. You’ll likely have two options for colour space: sRGB and Adobe RGB.

Similar to Picture Controls and Styles, the Colour Space setting applies to JPEG and TIFF only. If you’re shooting in RAW, then you can change this setting during post-processing.

The Adobe RGB colour space is larger than sRGB, so it is better for recording scenes with very vibrant and saturated colours. However, only a handful of monitors are able to display Adobe RGB colours properly and it is not able to be read on the Internet. The sRGB colour space is a safer choice when displaying pictures on digital devices and on the web.

If in doubt, set the Colour Space of your camera to Adobe RGB. You can always convert to sRGB when you’ve finished processing and are ready to post your images online.

Photography by Serena Dzenis
Set the colour space to Adobe RGB.

Image Stabilisation or Vibration Reduction

For shooting on a tripod, turn off the image stabilisation or vibration reduction settings on both your camera and lens. The mechanisms involved in these functions can cause movement in your tripod, which will affect the sharpness of your images.

If you’ll be shooting handheld, then make sure that you have image stabilisation or vibration reduction turned on. You’ll either find these settings as a physical switch on your lens or in the menu of your camera.

Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Manual Mode?

Setting your camera to Aperture Priority is useful when shooting straightforward scenes during the day. Choose this mode if you want to keep the aperture stable, such as f/11 with ISO 100. The camera will automatically select the best shutter speed for the situation.

The Shutter Priority mode allows you to set the shutter speed that you would prefer to shoot at, while the camera automatically selects the aperture. This means that depth of field is also affected, which can be a problem when photographing buildings. Shutter Priority mode is useful for photographing moving objects, such as birds. Given that architecture is generally static, there is no real reason to use this mode.

For full creative control, set your camera to Manual mode. This is particularly important for long exposure effects or photographing architecture at night. You’ll be able to choose the ISO, aperture and shutter speed for a well-balanced exposure or experiment with different values to fulfil your creative vision.

Photography by Serena Dzenis
Shooting in manual mode will give you full creative control.

White Balance

White balance is a matter of taste and may be adjusted in post-processing if you shoot in RAW. There is absolutely no reason to confine yourself to having the whitest of whites all the time. Usually, I have my white balance set to Auto.

You can also make full use of the white balance presets in your camera, such as Incandescent, Fluorescent, Direct Sunlight, Cloudy and Shade. Incandescent is the closest match for normal indoor lighting, while Fluorescent is for shooting under artificial fluorescent lighting. Direct Sunlight will give you neutral colours when shooting under the midday sun. The Cloudy preset warms up the colours. Meanwhile, the preset Shade will give you neutral colours when shooting in natural shade beneath a blue sky.

Autofocus Mode

When shooting handheld for architecture, I always use autofocus. However, when shooting with a tripod, I’ll set the focus manually.

Depending on the mode that you use, the autofocus on your camera will behave in a particular way when focusing on a subject. The most common autofocus modes are Single Area Focus (also known as Single AF, AF-S, Single Area AF, One-Shot AF), Continuous Area Focus (Continuous AF, AF-C, AI Servo), and Area Focus Auto (AF Auto, AF-A, AI Focus AF).

For architecture, it is best to set your autofocus mode to Single Area Focus.

Photography by Serena Dzenis
Single area focus is a good place to start with architecture.

Metering Mode

The metering mode determines how your camera reads the light in the scene. There are three common types of metering: Spot Metering, Centre-Weighted Average Metering, and Evaluative / Matrix Metering.

Set the mode to Matrix / Evaluative Metering, which will take the lighting of the whole scene into account when exposing for your subject.

ISO

For better image quality and to avoid noise in your images (unless that’s what you’re aiming for), try to shoot at the lowest ISO possible for the scene.

If you’re shooting during the day on a tripod, then set the ISO to 100. For twilight or night photography using a tripod, ISO 1600 and above will do the trick.

For handheld shooting, somewhere between ISO 400 and ISO 1600 will help you to achieve sharp images, depending on the level lighting.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Always use the lowest possible ISO to minimise image noise.

Aperture

Using different apertures is a great way to express your creativity. If you want to keep everything in the scene as sharp as possible, shoot at a smaller aperture, such as f/16. To focus on a small part of the scene while having everything else blurred, try using a larger aperture, such as f/4.0.

For shooting architecture at night, you may need to open your aperture to somewhere around f/2.8 to f/4.0.

In general, I like to keep my aperture for architecture at around f/5.6 to f/8.0 for a more natural representation of what the human eye can see. When my aim is to capture a large part of a façade that is very detailed, I’ll usually shoot at around f/11, which is the sharpest aperture (also known as the ‘sweet spot’) for my lens. Here is some information on how you can find the sweet spot of your lens.

Shutter Speed

When shooting handheld, I keep my shutter speed at 1/125th of a second or faster, which helps to minimise shake and to ensure sharper images.

If you have a tripod, then try using a slower shutter speed for long exposure effects. A shutter speed of 30 seconds or more is usually needed for shooting at night.

Photography by Serena Dzenis
Choose the right shutter speed to capture or blur movement.

Choosing Locations: Which Type of Architecture Is Best?​

Photographing architecture is more than just pointing your camera at any old structure. Being a bit more selective about the subjects that you shoot will help to make your portfolio more cohesive. This is why it’s important to understand the different architectural styles that exist.For example, if you want to photograph post-war buildings with a focus on exposed concrete, then it helps to know that ‘brutalist’ is the name of this particular architectural style. You can then read up on the properties of brutalist architecture and gain some insight into where these particular types of buildings might be found.
Photography by Serena Dzenis.
Tip #5
Once you have an idea about what kind of architecture you want to photograph, start learning about the properties that these buildings have in common. You can then explore possible locations where you might find interesting subjects that fit the bill.

Properties of Futuristic Architecture

Oftentimes, futuristic architecture is a clever combination of technology, material science, engineering and imagination. Some of the key elements of futuristic design concepts that you should look for are angles, curved lines, sharp edges, triangles and domes. Another thing to keep in mind is the way these elements are arranged.

In general, science and art museums, cultural centres, water collection plants and residential buildings are a good place to begin your search. Famous examples of buildings that feature futuristic design concepts include the Guggenheim Museum (Spain), Kunsthaus Graz (Austria), Gardens by the Bay (Singapore), The Atomium (Belgium), Tampines NEWater Service Reservoir (Singapore) and the Walt Disney Concert Hall (USA).

While most futuristic architecture designs are seemingly utopian in that they’re shiny and clean, I quite enjoy structures that fall into the realm of dystopian futurism. These are often gritty and industrial in nature, hinting at the darker side of human ideals. The overall aesthetic is of a cataclysmic decline in society. They’re the types of buildings that you might see in films like Mad Max and Terminator: Salvation, or video games such as Final Fantasy VII.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Gritty and industrial scenes can give the sense of a dystopian future.

For the dystopian style, look towards construction sites, old industrial areas, farms and near harbours. Keep an eye out for rusty, dilapidated structures that have been constructed with industrial metals, such as brass, copper or iron.

Location Scouting

Once you have an idea of what you want to photograph, it’s time to go location scouting. Take some time to go for a good old-fashioned wander around your city for a day. Alternatively, try virtually exploring the area from home using Google Earth or Google Maps.

I highly recommend doing a photo-walk around town, as there’s nothing like the perspective gained from being on foot. This way, you can also enter buildings and other structures to get a feeling for the interior.

However, it’s still worthwhile to do some of your scouting online first, especially for industrial areas. Finding out in advance whether there is public access to the building that you have in mind can save you a lot of wasted energy and time if the area happens to be restricted.

Understand the Building

As soon as you’ve identified a subject, get to know the building a bit more by learning about its history. This is useful for storytelling and will also help you to capture its character.

If you’re still in the throes of virtual location scouting before you head out for your shoot, then do your research online. Otherwise, look out for an informational sign, such as a plaque, historical marker or cornerstone.

To understand the building, some of the things that you might want to learn about include:

  • Date of construction.
  • The building’s original use.
  • Any major changes that have occurred or which are planned for the future.
  • Information about the architect.
  • Events of importance associated with the structure.
  • The building’s relationship to the neighbourhood and community.
  • The materials that went into its construction.
Photography by Serena Dzenis
Understanding the building will help you to capture its character.

Time of Day / Lighting

The style that you’re going for will often dictate the time of day that you shoot. In general, shooting during sunrise or sunset will yield interesting colours in the sky, as well as the façades of buildings. White or grey buildings may take on blazing hues of red and orange as they reflect the light.

Golden hour is often when things turn magical. The sun will be at a low angle in the sky, casting reflections onto windows and creating long, beautiful shadows in a cinematic kind of way.

Blue hour, the period of twilight in the mornings and evenings, is a time when everything is illuminated by soft blue and purple hues. This is often when street lamps and other lights are turned on.

I tend to shoot during all hours of the day, even when the sun is high up in the sky at noon. Rather than letting the light dictate when I’ll shoot, I consider what my subject is and which lighting situations will bring out the style that I am hoping to achieve.

Sometimes, there may even be a full moon visible during the day, which can be great to include for an otherworldly effect.

Weather Conditions

For my type of futuristic architecture photography, I tend to favour clear skies or a sheer haze of high clouds. The former is great for creating the sense of being on another planet, while the latter will catch the light and create fascinating colours in the sky during golden hour, sunrise and sunset. Having said that, a fluffy cloud or two above your subject can add to the aesthetic of your images by casting a dreamlike ambience.

If drama is what you’re looking for, then head out to shoot when the skies are dark and ominous. Storms can be great for photographing high-contrast dystopian scenes, while fog can enhance urban spaces at night. Here in Reykjavík, we don’t tend to see any fog in town, so I like to wait for smoggy days (either from traffic pollution or fireworks on New Year’s Eve) to take pictures in the dark!

Tip #6
Check the weather for the week ahead to see when the conditions may be favourable for you to head out and shoot. Windy.app is a great resource for planning ahead of time. It provides you with a detailed weather forecast, live wind map, as well as local weather reports. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the subjects that you'd like to shoot in future, written alongside the conditions in which you'd like to shoot them in. After that, it's just a matter of keeping your eye out for the stars (or in this case, the weather) to align.
Fine art architecture photography from Iceland by Serena Dzenis

Composition

Scouting for compositions is an important part of the photography process, whether you’re on-location or planning your shoot from home. While your first instinct may be to point your camera at the building to capture it in its entirety, break free by exploring what else might be waiting for you just around the corner.

The key to finding a unique perspective is to take the time to walk around while viewing your subject from different angles. Inspect both the exterior and interior of a building – that is, if it’s possible to go inside.

If you want to create the feeling of being on another planet, then remove the context by excluding the surrounding landscape and concentrating on details or abstract features instead. I like to include reflections of the sky in windows, which can help to shield what is actually happening inside a building. When there are people around, decide whether to include them in the frame according to whether they fit your narrative. 

As you get ready to line up your shot, keep in mind the basic rules of composition and be ready to break them if needed. With architecture photography, elements such as archways, staircases, windows and doors are great for framing. Look out for leading lines, symmetry and repetition of shapes, all of which can add strength to your compositions.

Photography by Serena Dzenis
Look for interesting subjects in your surrounds.

Overcoming Challenges in the Shooting Process

As you get into the swing of photographing architecture, you may run into a couple of difficulties. Some of the more common challenges include lens distortion, overexposed windows when shooting interiors, as well as problematic compositions.

Lens Distortion

The thing about looking up at architecture is that the lines can become distorted. You can get around this by using a tilt-shift lens. Otherwise, rather than trying to shoot up close with a wide-angle lens, stand at a distance farther away and use a telephoto zoom lens instead.

Overexposed Windows

When photographing interior architecture, bright light streaming in through a window can make it impossible to expose correctly for both the shadows and the highlights in the scene.

One workaround is to take bracketed exposures. This involves taking a series of shots at different exposure values (EV). For example, you might take three shots with a difference of 1 EV: one that is correctly exposed, one that is slightly underexposed and one that is slightly overexposed. These bracketed images can then be combined in-camera (if your camera software allows) or during post-processing to create a single, well-exposed shot.

Another way to get around this is to use a polarising filter to reduce some of the reflection and glare of the light coming in through the window.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Shooting in the right light will help you to create mood and atmosphere.

Poor Compositions

Most photographers don’t often get the perfect composition on the first try. Rather than relying on a single composition, take as many pictures as you can and eliminate the ones that you don’t want later. It’s a good idea to refrain from deleting your pictures in-field, as they can look very different on the back of your camera’s display versus a bigger screen.

The best thing that you can do to remedy a poor composition is to walk around your subject and view it from different perspectives. Don’t just stand at your normal eye level! Bend down, look at the subject on an angle, try to get a higher vantage point or even get as low as you can to the ground.

Never let yourself be restricted by where you place your tripod. Your feet are your greatest asset.

Post Processing for Futuristic Architecture Photography​

Now comes the fun part! The post-processing phase is your time to shine. This is the moment when you can really express your creativity by adding a personal touch to your images.

With this subset of architecture photography, we’re not trying to represent reality. The aim is to draw upon the imagination by constructing a sense of surrealism. You can do this through digital manipulation by using editing software like Adobe Photoshop, or even animate your photographs with 3D modelling software, such as Cinema 4D.

Photography by Serena Dzenis
If you want the futuristic look, then it's as much about your post-processing skills as what you can do with a camera.

Developing a Workflow

To enhance the cohesiveness of your images, it’s important to develop a workflow which you can apply consistently throughout your editing process. Start off by applying basic tweaks in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. If needed, export your file to Adobe Photoshop for more complex editing.

Adobe Camera Raw

The first thing that I always do when I import a RAW image into Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) is to check for any distortion and to try fixing the perspective if required.

The next step is to play around with the lighting and shadows. I’ll often reduce the highlights while increasing the shadows and blacks. It takes some experimenting to arrive at a base aesthetic that you’ll like.

After that, it’s time to concentrate on the white balance and the colours. Colour grading is a great way to achieve your own signature style. Don’t be afraid to play with the hue, saturation and luminosity sliders in the shadows, highlights and midtones. Generating a palette of colours to use for colour grading all of your images can help to keep them cohesive.

For black and white architecture photography, add dimension, depth and drama simply by increasing the contrast.

Adobe Photoshop

Once I’ve made basic tweaks in ACR, I’ll often open the file in Photoshop and save it as a PSB (Photoshop Big) file for more complex editing. If you’re not quite sure where to start in Photoshop, try removing people and other distractions using the content aware, healing, patching and cloning tools. The PiXimperfect channel on YouTube has a great range of videos where you can learn various methods to remove just about anything.

A technique that we use a lot in landscape photography, which can also be transferred to just about any genre of photography, is luminosity masking. This is a more advanced approach for helping you to bring your images to life. It involves making selections of certain areas based on brightness, which may then be targeted specifically for enhancing lighting, details or to create other effects.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Tip #7
Don't fall into the trap of not editing your images; all RAW files need processing. The way that you decide to edit your photos is how you can make your photography really shine. Get out of your comfort zone and explore different techniques that will help you to achieve your creative vision. YouTube is a great resource for free tutorials if you're not sure how to perform a particular task. Use your skills to communicate how you think buildings in the future might look.

Whew! If you’ve gotten this far, then I hope that you’re inspired to begin your journey into architecture photography. Take an afternoon to explore your immediate surrounds or schedule a romantic date with your nearest city. All you need to get going is the heights of your own imagination, so grab the reins, take control of your creativity and head out to shoot the social landscapes around you!

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