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Photographing Buildings - Part 2

Here is another building in Barcelona also by the architect Antoni Gaudí, this one was nicknamed 'La Pedrera' by the locals which means the quarry, they didn't like the building at first and joked that it looked like the face of a quarry.

night scene

Night Photography

Photographing buildings at night raises new problems but can produce great images. The first problem is that there is a lot less light so holding the camera steady can be a problem. The best way is to use a tripod but I couldn't fit one in my suitcase so I had to find another way. One good way to give yourself extra support is to lean against a tree or sturdy lamp post, bracing yourself in this way and locking your arms tight into your body can get you a reasonably sharp exposure at 1/15 sec or even down to 1/4 sec. Another even better method is to brace the camera against a signpost or sturdy support such as a wall. If you are sitting at a cafe you can often get good shots by placing the camera on the table. I was doing this a few days ago, using a book under the lens to adjust the height and got sharp pictures at very slow shutter speeds.

The other problem with night photography is the very high contrast of the scene, this can send your automatic metering system into a complete frenzy. If you have mastered the art of bracketing exposures on your camera I would suggest that this is a good time to use it. The idea of bracketing is that you take one exposure at the 'correct' setting according to the light meter and then you take one or more at higher or lower readings. Most of the better cameras these days will have a special knob for doing this so you don't have to resort to manual exposure. Just click the wheel to +1, +2 or -1, -2 etc. The big question is which settings to use and how finely tuned do your different exposures have to be. A professional shooting in the studio will bracket his exposures 1/3 of a stop apart, but you or I looking at the results might not be able to see the difference between one shot and another. A whole stop on the other hand might be too much (if you're confused about f-stops have a look at the aperture section).

In a night scene you are inevitably going to have quite a lot of black and there will usually be light sources in the scene which will normally be burned out white, at least in the center, so the object of bracketing is to control the highlights so they don't get too out of hand.

As you can see in the photo above there are halos around the lights but they are, in my opinion, under control. There are no rules about how big your halos should be, it's up to you, but massive blobs of white in the picture can look pretty ugly. Normally I would not recommend a highlight near the edge of the picture as this can lead the eye out of the frame, however I tried this photo with and without the street lamp on the left and decided to leave it in. Rules are there to be broken but it's nice to know you're breaking them.

details of the building

Once again I've picked out a couple of details of the building the picture on the left shows the color of the stone in the early morning sun. Above right I had to show a close up of these wonderfully eccentric balconies. The bottom right photo shows the same facade in daylight which, while still a stunning building, does not have the punch of the photo I took at night. You can also see, if you look carefully, that the verticals converge more in the daytime photo even though the two shots were taken from almost the same spot. This is because I have doctored the night photo in Photoshop as described on page 1.

The delights of this building go on and on and, luckily for me, visitors are allowed on the roof where there is a collection of very weird and wonderful objects as you'll discover on page 3 the final page of this article.

If you want to get serious about photographing buildings try this book.

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