Architectural Photography and Historic Buildings

by Jeff Dean
Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Officer (Ret'd.)

Tucson, Arizona
Email:   jeff@bmwdean.com

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Above: Harold C. Bradley House, a National Historic Landmark, in Madison, Wisconsin, designed by Louis Henri Sullivan and George Grant Elmslie. Photo taken with Nikon D700 digital SLR camera and 28mm PC-Nikkor lens.

I enjoy photographing architecture and historic buildings. I have been doing it for a long time, and even wrote and illustrated a book on the subject in 1980 — before digital photography took off. Long out of print, it dealt only with photographing buildings with small-format film cameras. Now, however, I use digital DSLRs exclusively.

My interest then was primarily providing information for professionals in other fields than photography itself to help them improve their photography of buildings.

For a discussion of the photographic technology available for the photography of architecture and historic buildings, especially to correct the appearance of a building that seems in a photo to be falling over backward, please click here.

Above is San Xavier del bac, a National Historic Landmark built in 1783-1797 and located about ten miles south-southwest of Tucson, Arizona, in the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation.

Above: Villa Louis, National Historic Landmark, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. This was a 35mm slide taken with a Nikon F5 film SLR and 28mm PC-Nikkor lens and then scanned on a film scanner into a “Joint Photographic Experts Group” (JPEG) digital file.

Above: The First Unitarian Society Meeting House, a National Historic Landmark, Shorewood Hills (Madison), Wisconsin, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1947. Photo taken with Nikon D700 digital SLR camera and 28mm PC-Nikkor lens.

Above: Architectural photographs are effective in showing the effects of time on historic buildings. This is the Fox Theater, in Tucson, Arizona, shown in an historic photo and a contemprary photo taken after the theater's restoration. The right photo was taken with a Nikon D300 digital SLR and a Nikkor zoom lens. The photo was perspective corrected using Photoshop software.

Above: Views of Convent Street in Barrio Historico, Tucson, demonstrates — in before-and-after photographs — how dramatically an urban neighborhood has changed.

Above: Here is a grouping of adobe row houses in the barrio. Beautiful architecture of all kinds adorns our communities. Photo taken with a Nikon D200 DSLR and Nikkor zoom lens, perspective corrected by computer software.

Above: A more imposing structure, the Idaho State Capitol, Boise. Whenever possible, I like to include elements of the environment in a photo of a building to give it a visual setting. Here we have a monumental building in a park-like setting, which is defined by the flanking trees. Photo taken with a Nikon N90 film SLR and 35mm PC-Nikkor lens.

Above: The interior the main room of the headquarters of the National Historic Landmark S. C. Johnson and Son Administration Building, Racine, Wisconsin, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1936, is an amazing open space with “lily pad” columns. Interior photographs present completely different problems from exteriors, and require the use of tripods and careful exposures.


Click here for an online “photo.net” tutorial, with lots of excellent suggestions and illustrations, by Philip Greenspun — “How to Photograph Architecture (Exterior).”