How to Photograph Your Architecture and Lighting Designs at Night

To capture amazing images of your lighting design applications, and create that perfect portfolio to showcase the beauty of your work, let’s consider a few basics for photographing the architecture and landscapes of your projects at night. When buildings are illuminated at night their shapes and features are enhanced in a very different way than by daylight and it’s a great time to take photographs. The most challenging task with nightscape photography is getting the exposure and color balance right, which we’ll help with below by considering a few tips to improve your lighting design gallery.

Nightscape Photography for Architecture and Landscapes

Buildings with outdoor lighting systems that offer a unique landscape layout or architectural design make for an especially appealing subject to photograph when lit up at night and will certainly help you add that wow factor to showcase your work. With that in mind and imagery being so critical for selling clients on your future projects as a landscape architect or lighting designer, here are some considerations to understand prior to just going to snap that quick shot with a phone instead of a camera with the proper lens for capturing the best nighttime photography to truly showcase the value of your lighting designs at their real estate during the late afternoon into the evenings at night.

  • 1) Nightscape Considerations: When shooting a buildings architecture upwards at night you can expect the building to slope inwards at the top, giving that roof line is falling forward feeling to the viewer. With that building is falling down perspective feeling often becoming even more noticeable when a wide-angle lens is used to capture that entire scene and not one specific for architecture with a shift lens. To avoid this, move to a higher position to reduce the distortion perception or use a special shift lens that’s designed to correct that perspective. As noted, some of the more advanced lenses, may get pricey though for an average photographer who barely shoots their lighting designs very often, so plan to make time for this after every project to build out your portfolio and to win new jobs, or rely on a high quality photo editor and good software, to help you out with correcting that dreaded falling architecture perspective effect. Also, as you may try to include the whole building, by using a wider angle lens or stepping back to a more suitable viewpoint. Choose the position carefully! The same building could be shot head-on, or at an angle, and always try to get a photo from that same spot in both total darkness and with your lighting design fully illuminated.
  • 2) The Exposure Matters: When the sun goes down the light changes in two ways; firstly the exposure time required increases and secondly the color of the light becomes warmer. Also in regards to the best exposure, consider that In typical lighting design applications there is low light levels and the shutter speed that’s necessary to ensure a good exposure will usually be too long to avoid a camera shake when hand holding the camera. Using a tripod enables you to shoot at these long exposure times of between 1/15sec and several seconds or even minutes. If you don’t have a tripod you can usually find a wall, lamppost or tree to support the camera, which can help considerably. Or you can try switching to a higher ISO as most cameras now cope well in the higher ranges. This means that in low light situations, such as shooting buildings at night, you can take photos with minimal noise or blurring. You’ll also want to put your camera’s self-timer into action or use a remote release if you have one as even pressing the shutter button can introduce shake that’ll leave your with blurry shots.
  • 3) Metering the Light Levels: Low light can also fool the camera’s meter and this happens because it looks at the mass of dark and tries to compensate to make it mid grey. By doing so, you get an exposure time that is too long for all the illuminated parts of the scene, such as neon lights, street lights, path lights, wall washers or spot lit areas of a building and landscape as they become grossly over exposed and glaring. To avoid this, you need to compensate for it. As a guide, use your exposure compensation setting to reduce the exposure by a couple of stops when most of the area is in darkness and by one stop when the building has a medium coverage of illumination.
  • 4) Proper Color Balance: illuminated building architecture when offset against a dark sky can look great, but you have to be careful with the color palette being photographed as there can be a slight orange or yellow cast created with extra blue in sky to compensate the balance which creates not so real looking images to properly reflect the lighting design color temps and surroundings. Buildings illuminated by artificial light can also be problematic, depending on the lighting used in them. With digital cameras you can preview the image to check the color balance and if it doesn’t look right, just change the white balance setting you’re using to cloudy.
  • 5) Capture the Angles: Look for areas with a raised height on the land around the buildings and landscapes you can shoot from. This could include from the top of a truck, ladder or even by using a drone. From up high you’ll be able to capture an improved view of the lighting design and fixtures with skylines slightly above, as well as focus on the single building or areas on the property more clearly. For something different, try to shoot the same location in daylight and in the evening, this will help to truly capture the beauty of your installations, the landscapes and the architecture and you’ll soon see how buildings have a very different feel at night when properly lit. Once your photos are captured in high quality, you’ll be able to apply some cropping of the illuminated buildings which will also make the image even more striking and reduce the black from surrounding areas that remained unlit, ensuring your photos always highlight the focus of your design for that location.

Photograph Your Lighting Design with Wide-Angle Lenses

To photograph a building or property in its entirety, you will need a lens with a wide-angle focal length range, whereas to capture details from a distance, you will need a lens with a telephoto focal length range. Hence, a single zoom lens that covers both the wide-angle and telephoto ranges is ideal. Generally, angles of view less than 35mm are referenced as “wide angle” and are used for capturing a wide area and often include a lens that’s 24 mm. This allows you to capture the entire building from a close distance in scenes where you are unable to shoot the building from further away, or when trying to capture the expansive view of a smaller area. Generally, angles of view larger than 85mm are referenced as “telephoto”, which allow you to make a distant fixture or detailed aspect of the architecture appear closer than they actually are when shooting in the telephoto range or using a 91 mm lens. This is useful when wanting to focus on the close up details of a fixture that is far away. When it comes to photographing architecture and real estate, wide angles are very important. Capturing the grandeur of a place and making it look inviting to showcase your lighting design work is important, and while you don’t need the most expensive cameras, your lenses are very important in these situations and should become an investment to grow your lighting design services business revenue.

Nighttime Considerations Tips to Show Off Your Best Work

Remembering the basics, when surrounded by darker locations at night the shutter speed is slowed down due to the lack of light, so camera shake occurs more easily and often creates unwanted blur. To counter that, increase the ISO speed of your camera so that you can shoot at a high shutter speed even in low light, and ensure you hold your camera steady. If you want to take higher quality images, it is necessary to use a tripod or other means of securing the camera. If using a tripod, camera shake can still occur as a result of the impact of pressing the shutter, so I would recommend setting the self-timer to 2 seconds when taking shots. Also, when capturing sources such as up lights, down lights and accent lights, your camera’s exposure meter could be fooled by the bright lights into thinking that the scene is much brighter than it really is surrounding your lighting design. It will therefore overcompensate for the brightness it does see, which may cause your photos to have a dark finish and not look as professionally lit. Although this can depend on the intensity of the light source and the distribution of the light within the frame of your shot, if you do feel that your photos tend to look too dark, try applying positive exposure compensation and go take that same shot again. By doing that, the beauty illuminated by each landscape light you installed should stand out more clearly in your shot.