Photographing Architecture (with an iPhone)

A perfect storm descended upon our house, directly into the recesses of my eyes and heart and all other parts of a being used to create. This was a good storm though—a creative storm. Things were calm and good, before it. Things were busy, productive and wonderful after it.

My partner had given me the generous gift of a book featuring architecture. It was comprised of architectural photos from the past with the subjects being Detroit-based structures—some iconic and some lesser known.

Belle Isle Aquarium- Detroit, Michigan

What is it About Architectural Photography?

A couple of elements in the book stopped and shook me vigorously. First, these buildings were—and still are in the cases of the ones still standing—true works of art. They were conceptualized and designed by an architect or team of architects. Each building had a unique set of characteristics and design elements.

Second, thankfully someone photographed the buildings properly or else there wouldn’t be a record of them today. Photography serves many purposes. One of the most important is to simply document; to provide a record of who, what, where, or when, looked like at one time—and in many cases, is no more. This may be photography’s most important purpose.

At the time of this architectural enlightenment, my state of being was struggling with the fact that making pictures of people—at least close up, like I was used to doing—was almost impossible because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was at that time that I chose to document architecture in my small town. My senses were revitalized. Architecture turned my familiar small town that I grew up in, and forced me to look at everything in a new way.

Just as I’d documented people and their stories many times before, now I was documenting structures and what made them unique. Having a photojournalism background, my interests lie in capturing buildings and including people in the images whenever possible.

Traverse City State Bank (currently Fifth Third Bank)- Traverse City, Michigan

Inspiration, Tips & Tools

Mesmerizing work by Berenice Abbot, Iwan Baan, Mike Kelley and Fernando Guerra—to name an extremely select but crazy-talented few—further heated my architectural-photography fever of which there is no cure.

There are tons of resources on how to photograph architecture.

In photographing architecture, I’ve found it’s important to make sure that lines are straight—vertically and horizontally. This is done of course in order to represent a structure truthfully and as accurately as it’s architect(s) intended.

This brings me to the cell phone camera.

Using all types of cameras for architectural photography has been loads of fun. I must say though, using the iPhone for it has been the most fun.

The combination of being lightweight and possessing a great camera sensor (and lens of course) makes it a joy to work with. However, one aspect of the cell phone camera I hadn’t intended is the wide-angle feature on it. This makes it possible to photograph buildings with such ease.

There are structures that I wasn’t able to photograph before because of how close one would have to stand. Those challenges are eliminated now.

My workflow is to first put my cell phone images in Snapseed which has been my favorite editing tool for cell phone photos. There’s a tool called ‘Perspective’ and using this has made straightening buildings a breeze.

A fun and unexpected bonus of photographing architecture is the response that it has elicited. Buildings can be a place where memories are made; made my using them for their intended or maybe unintended purposes, or simply by traveling past them and admiring them from afar. It’s been incredible to hear stories from people who have memories of buildings and who also appreciate them being documented.

State Theatre- Traverse City, Michigan

If you’re looking for a new way to appreciate your surroundings, I’m telling you to give architectural photography a try. One fantastic resource for information and best practices is at the Architectural Photography Almanac. A wonderful source of inspiration is to visit the website of the iPhone Photography Awards winners. This shows what is possible with a cell phone camera and there’s a category for architecture there.

Hopefully you’ll find this inspiring and that you get out into your village, town, city, etc. and photograph your surroundings in a new way.

3 thoughts on “Photographing Architecture (with an iPhone)”

  1. Some great images, and you make a very valid point. My home city, where I have been only an occasional visitor the past forty years, exists in my memory, but is completely different these days. I wish I had taken more photos of the buildings and streetscapes back then. My happy place in photography is mostly landscape, but that doesn’t change a whole lot, especially in the wilderness area that I love to capture – so my photos will probably not have any particular value as time passes – people, cars, boats, aircraft, and the built environment will have increasing value as time passes. There is always something new to try!

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