1. Be Ready
Get your gear ready for serious long exposures together. A sturdy tripod, a cable release or remote, strong ND-Filters (I use a ND3.0 and a ND1.8 and stack them in bright daylight) and some kind of calculator or app for the very long exposure calculation. Also, you want to know how to control your camera manually and how to set the mirror lock up and other useful stuff for long exposures.
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2. Focus Manually
Focus manually. You can use live view and the magnifying option to get your focus exactly where you want it to be. And you need to focus before putting on the ND-Filters. Even a ND3.0 alone is often too dark for the autofocus of the camera to see through. That also means you have to set up your framing and composition prior to putting on the ND-filters.
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3. Patience is the Key
Have patience. Most of the time I’m doing exposures between 3 to 6 minutes so there is a lot of waiting involved. This makes for some really nice cloud movements and a smooth transition of light on the building. Use the time while the camera exposes the picture to go around the building and explore different angles. Get close to the walls and look at the different surfaces of that building to find the next shot.
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For composition, find the most interesting lines, shapes and surfaces of a building and align them geometrically. You don’t need to get all the lines straight, but it makes a huge difference when you get the vertical lines straight. Find triangles in your image and align them with the corners and the outlines of your frame. Symmetry is always an eye catcher and extreme perspectives make the buildings look more dramatic.
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5. Use Surrounding Objects
Use surrounding objects to include into the frame to give an extra sense of depth and hight. You’ll often find lamp posts, street signs or flag poles around interesting building. Use them to give the building context and to include it into a scene. And if there is a sign with the name oft he building, include that, too!
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6. Parts and Angles
Most buildings that are not skyscrapers are often too complex to fully include them into one frame. You could use panoramas to capture them, but instead try and find interesting parts and angles that you can highlight on their own. This adds abstractness and makes the image more interesting because it is not obvious right away what your picture actually shows.
Use B/W and sometimes use selective color. B/W images strip the photo of any color information, which makes the distracting force of color disappear. This way, the actual form of a building is highlighted. But sometimes selective color can add another interesting element, either as a case of highlighting points of special interest or as making the photo even more abstract and surreal. I love using selective color to add drama and to provide a focus point for the viewer to always come back to with their eyes.
Add elements in the sky as a way of storytelling. I use to generate clouds in photoshop when there are no nice clouds for long exposure effects. Have at least one nice streak of clouds in your frame to include an element of movement that contradicts the element of standstill of the building. Another nice working element of movement is a plane or a flock of birds. And since you can’t capture them in a long exposure, use photoshop to include those elements. They can make a good image into a great one! Maybe even try swapping the sky completely with something else (maybe a shot of the milky way).
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Know your Photoshop skills and improve them constantly. You need to know about the different methods for controlling contrast in an image like: Levels, Curves, B/W Gradients and the different methods of using tools like the history brush or the clone stamp. There is always a lot of Photoshop work in my images. Also, learn to make perfect selections and name and save them, this helps a lot in the later stages of post-processing. I teach some oft he necessary Photoshop techniques on my YouTube-Channel. Unfortunately, as of now they’re only in German.
10. Give It Time
Give your images time before uploading them. This is more of a general tip and applies to all kinds of photographs. When I finish one of my images, I will upload it not until the next day. That way, I can look at the images after a good night sleep and this often reveals some flaws I haven’t noticed the day before, mostly because of me working on that image for several hours. I can now fix those flaws and have a truly perfect image to show to the world.
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I’m a 27 years old part time professional photographer and social science student in Essen, Germany with a passion for architecture and design in general. For my professional photography I mostly do portrait and commercial shoots of products or weddings, so architecture is a nice alternative for me to not get to focused on the other subjects and always try to improve my photography and post processing in all fields of photography. I love showing things in my photography, that can’t be seen with bare eyes. I want to show people the picture I imagined, not necessarily the picture I (or everyone else) saw. And I love traveling to get to exotic locations for the special shot I’ve been imagining.