Last Updated on September 30, 2020 by Susheel Chandradhas
Architectural photography calls for Tilt-Shift lenses most of the time. These lenses correct perspective distortion. You can think of this as making sure that the vertical lines of a building actually look vertical, and not slanting towards each other. In the past, this may have called for a ‘technical camera‘ or a ‘bellows‘ attachment, but tilt-shift lenses are easier to manage in the field.
Sometimes, photographers may use an extremely wide-angle lens, or a special-effect lens to photograph architecture, but these instances are extremely rare because most architectural firms want to see their work the way that it was envisioned. These lenses are mentioned below, but their usage is rare.
Why Tilt-Shift lenses are loved by architectural photographers
Essentially, the problem with taking pictures of tall buildings from the ground is that as their height increases, the top of the building gets further away from the camera, introducing ‘perspective’ into the photograph.
A tilt-shift lens (abbreviated to TS and also called a Perspective Correction – PC – lens) enables your SLR camera to operate like it has bellows or like a technical camera, and fixes this perspective distortion. The result is an image with perfectly vertical lines, and that’s how architects like to see their buildings – without any additional distortions added.
TS lenses allow you to keep the lens’ axis parallel to the ground while shifting the view in the required direction. This makes vertical lines appear to be straight. See the image to the right for an explanation.
In short, the TS lens helps by allowing you to keep the camera perfectly level with the horizon but ‘shifting’ the view of the lens upwards… Take a look a the illustration…
Perspective Correction Lenses are a truly specialised architectural leness, and they’re a must-have piece of photographic gear for any professional architectural photographer.
Here is a list of Tilt-Shift Lenses:
Tilt-Shift lenses for Canon
These are the two lenses that are the most relevant for architectural photography. Canon also makes a couple of ‘macro’ TS lenses (Canon 50mm f/2.8L Macro & Canon 90mm f/2.8L Macro), but those are more valuable for product photography.
- Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Ultra-Wide Tilt-Shift Lens
- Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L UD Aspherical Ultra-Wide Tilt-Shift Lens
Tilt-Shift lenses for Nikon
Nikon too makes some excellent Tilt-Shift lenses (Nikon calls them ‘perspective correction’ PC lenses). They also make some macro PC lenses which are better suited to product or still-life photography – PC-E Micro NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED and the PC-E Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/2.8D lenses.
Ultra Wide-Angle lenses – Prime and Zoom
Sometimes the space being photographed needs to be shown in dramatic fashion. That’s when ultra-wide lenses enter the scene in architectural photography.
These lenses need to be used with care as even slight tilts have a dramatic effect, and can sometimes look unsettling.
Here are three lists of selected Ultra-Wide Prime and Zoom lenses for Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras. Sigma and Tamron lenses have not been mentioned as they come in either Canon or Nikon mounts; however, here is a list of all Sigma wide-angle lenses and Tamron’s lenses page.
Ultra-Wide Canon Lenses
Ultra-Wide Nikon Lenses
Ultra-Wide Sony Lenses
- Sony FE 12-24mm F2.8 G Master (SEL1224GM)
- Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G (SEL1224G)
- Sony 20mm F1.8 G (SEL20F18G)
Fisheye Lenses bring a very different view to any photograph.
A fisheye lens has very very limited use in architectural photography, because of the way that it distorts straight lines. They bring in a totally different aspect when it comes to architecture.
It enables the photographer to explore architecture as patterns and shapes, distorting them – sometimes beyond recognition – so that the viewer is also forced to look at architecture in a new way.
Would you use a fisheye lens for architecture? Weigh in with your comments below.
Here are some Fisheye lenses:
What is Architectural Photography?
Photographs of Buildings, Arches, or any other architectural structures are called architectural photography. They may be interior or exterior photographs. Specifically, the challenge is to portray the architecture in the best possible way and to convey what the architect may have originally envisaged when they designed the structure, often trying to replicate the way the building was drawn on paper, with exact elevations.
Why is Photographing Architecture Such a Challenge?
The primary challenge is to un-see what we see with our eyes. Our brain tells us that the lines that converge at a point in single, two or three-point perspective is actually parallel. When we look at a photograph of that same building on paper, it looks very different. It looks like the building is leaning backwards.
If we can acknowledge that our brains are ‘fixing’ perspective and allowing us to understand the world regardless of what we see, we can then move on to understanding how to portray these large 3D objects on a small 2D plane.
More Lens Information
These lists are by no means exhaustive. Rather, I intend them as a guide to give you a fair idea of the kinds of lenses that can be used in a challenging profession, to get pictures that bring a viewer back for a second look.
If you’re interested in improving how you look at photography, visit our Photo Projects series.
If you’re interested in reading more about lenses that can be used for different kinds of photography, check out The Lens Resource index post.
NOTE: This article has a number of affiliate links that help to support this website by means of a small commission on sales. Clicking these links for your purchases helps us keep this website going, and does not increase the price you pay for your purchases.