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How to Photograph

Taking Architectural Photographs
Courtesy of Traditional Arts of Upstate New York
Adapted from David Ames’ “A Primer on Architectural Photography and the Photo Documentation of Historic Structures” University of Delaware

The Essential Views

The purpose of photographic documentation of historic structures is to preserve as much visual information about a structure in as few photographs as possible. The photographer must identify the views that reveal the most information about a structure. In looking for that view, you need to think about the attributes of a building: overall shape, size, and major architectural elements such as windows, doors, construction materials, and architectural ornamentation. Photographs often directly indicate construction material [log, masonry, or frame, etc.]. They also suggest certain attributes of the building or its uses. The distribution of doors and windows, for example, can suggest the interior floor plan. A single photograph can include most of these elements.

If you were allowed only one photograph to document a historic structure, what would it be? The best choice would be a perspective showing the front and one side of the building, when taken from a 45 degree angle from the front. When framing the building in the viewfinder, be sure that the entire building is visible including the point where the building meets the ground and without clipping off the peak of the roof or chimney. Although this sounds obvious, beginning photographers are often seduced by buildings and attracted by interesting details such as carpenter cut jigsaw porches, pointed Gothic windows, and Greek Revival columns. Unfortunately, the resulting pictures sometimes fail to record a view showing the entire structure. To avoid this problem, include the surroundings of the building, its site, and landscape context. As the subject of the photograph, the building should occupy about 75 percent of the picture area, leaving the surrounding 25 percent of the frame to show visual information about the context of the building.

The Seven Essential Photographs:

1. The front and one side
2. The rear and one side
3. The front elevation
4. Environmental view showing the building as part of its street or block
5. Interior view, showing major features of the building
6. Major elements of the building, including doors, windows, additions
7. Details such as materials and hardware
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