Image 1: With Cyclist

What Makes a Great Fine Art Architectural Photograph?

Landscape & Environment

March 12, 2018 ·

Sharon Tenenbaum
Every person you ask might have a different answer to that question, however, from my experience, there are a few key factors that are imperative to transforming a <em><strong>just good</strong></em> image into a <em><strong>great one.</strong></em>
Every person you ask might have a different answer to that question, however, from my experience, there are a few key factors that are imperative to transforming a just good image into a great one.

It was and always will be my belief that a great architectural image must adhere to the following 3 features:

  • Composition is King. In architectural photography, you need to see in the language of geometric lines and shapes. These elements must create a harmonious balance within your frame.  Without this component, not much can be done to salvage an image.
  • Once the shot is made, it is important to ask yourself, what elements in the image are not adding to the story you wish to tell. In other words, this means Simplifying your scene by eliminating unnecessary details.
  • Once two factors above are covered, the work on post-processing begins. If you are familiar with my work, are must be aware by now that I am a strong advocate of ‘creating’ an image and not ‘capturing’ one. This means to accentuate and exaggerate the compositional elements discussed in point 1.  To create depth, volume and balance through selective lighting.
Image 1 - BEFORE: cluttered, unprocessed and without a person in the frame. Even though the compositional foundation is present, there is still much work on implementing decluttering and gradient lighting.
Image 1 – BEFORE: cluttered, unprocessed and without a person in the frame. Even though the compositional foundation is present, there is still much work on implementing decluttering and gradient lighting.
Image 2: AFTER: ‘Cleaning’ the image of unnecessary detail and implementing gradient lighting.
Image 2: AFTER: ‘Cleaning’ the image of unnecessary detail and implementing gradient lighting.

Until recently, this is where my creative process stopped, and I don’t want to elaborate too much on the features listed above, but instead, I want to elaborate on an element in Architectural Photography of which I have only lately been exploring.

As Architectural Fine Art Photography is my passion it has been the subject of my images for over a decade now.  My path of creating this body of work was a path of self-discovery.  Even though some of my earlier architectural images are stellar and I would not have done anything different with them today, in my newer work, I am embarking on a creative shift.  This shift is taking my architectural images in a different direction, so now, they are not just about celebrating form, but also about human interaction with the architectural environment.

Architectural structures, by their nature, are designed to serve a propose used by people.  By eliminating people out of the composition, the photographer is celebrating the art of geometry and engineering above anything else.  As magnificent as the design might be, by including a human element into the composition, the image takes on a new (and different) lifeform.

The benefits are three-fold:

First, it adds a sense of life and warmth to an otherwise cool scene.  An architectural image in its nature will be comprised of concrete, steel and/or wood.  By including even a single person in the image, we are warming up the scene and crossing the boundaries from the inanimate to the animate.

Second, it gives a structure a sense of sale and conveys a closer look at the architect’s original intent in design, which is serving people for a specific purpose.  Middle Age Gothic churches were designed to dwarf the scale of a human in comparison to the House of God they were entering.  A church was designed to be of enormous scale to give the parishioners an ‘other worldly’ experience.  If you walked into a Middle Age church and did not get that feeling then the architect did not do his job right.  This was done with the intention of making one feel small in the presence of the Almighty God.  Needless to say, two images of a church, where one depicts the sense of scale by including a human reference would convey that concept whereas the image without would not.

Lastly, by adding a single person, we are giving the viewer’s eye a resting point.  The psychological reason for this I can’t say, however, it is a fact.  We tend to first spot the person in the image and use the rest as a background.  That makes the image more intriguing on a few levels, first, as the photographer/artist, you now have the power to direct the order and attention your viewers are looking at your work, you are saying to them: start here.  Second, it helps to simplify a scene that otherwise can be too busy with lines and shapes (as in the image below).  Third, and maybe most important, is that it adds asymmetry or shifts the ‘center of gravity’ of an image to create a more intriguing composition.

Looking at the image below, we can see all the points I stated above exemplified as the image without the cyclist is lacking, warmth, a sense of scale and a resting point.

Image 1: With Cyclist
Image 1: With Cyclist
Image 2: Without Cyclist
Image 2: Without Cyclist

Sharon Tenenbaum teaches Fine Art Architectural Photography Workshops around the world.  Her 2018 workshop itinerary includes Toronto and NY.

Publisher’s Note: I do plan at this time to attend the Toronto workshop in MAy.  It would be great to see you there if you are interested in learning from one of my favorite photographers.

To learn more about Sharon’s work and details about her upcoming workshops, please visit her website here:


Sharon Tenenbaum
January 2017

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Sharon Tenenbaum

Sharon Tenenbaum was educated as a Civil Engineer in Israel, and practicing as a Professional Engineer in Vancouver Canada. In late 2007 she made a decision to part from engineering in order to pursue her passion for photography after being inspired by a life-changing journey to South East Asia. Her passion for photography started with street photojournalism, yet combined with her original background as a Civil Engineer, her work covers a wide gamut of subject matter from ‘in the moment’ Photojournalism to Fine Art Architectural Photography which is a perfect marriage of her engineering and artistic sides. In a relative short period she has managed to define an artistic direction and distinctive style in her work, acquiring international recognition in the process. Sharon has numerous fine art international awards and her work has been published in several magazines including National Geographic. As a Photographer, Tenenbaum is a self-taught artist, having learned her craft through personal research and practical experience behind the camera. In her work she incorporates a Long Exposure technique to expand the expressive dimensions of her art. Although an artist at heart, Sharon enjoys teaching and sharing with others her photography techniques and vision. She teaches Fine Art Photography Workshops around the world and has produced two video tutorials and written two ebooks. One on ‘How to Create Long Exposure Fine art Photography’ and the second: ‘Left & Right Brain, A photographers understanding of these mindsets and how the affect our visual interpretation of art’.

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