The Best Lenses for Architectural Photography

Specialised architectural lenses are needed when photographers enter the world of Architectural Photography. These special lenses have limited usage outside this field.Perspective Corrected Photograph
by fotofacade

This happens in many different fields of photography. Often enough, a specialist in a certain type of photography would have built up a photography kit that really enables them to get outstanding photographs in the field. Architectural photographers are definitely counted among those ranks.

Architectural photographers use a repository of photography techniques and specialised equipment to delivery aesthetically pleasing and visually accurate images that architects can use to show off their skills. The specialist lenses that the use include Tilt-shift lenses, Ultra-wide Angle Lenses, and at times special effects lenses. 

One of the reasons is that very often, the architectural photographer needs equipment that does certain – very specific – tasks. This means that the equipment is not required by the average photo enthusiast.

To go with this specific type of lens that architectural photographers need, is an understanding of composition, the elements of design, and an eye to appreciate the finer points of architecture…

So, let’s look at the specialised architectural lenses that a photographer may need for his trade.

Tilt-Shift Lenses

A tilt-shift (abbreviated to TS and also called a Perspective Correction – PC – lens) lens enables your SLR camera to operate like it has bellows or like a view camera (in a restricted sense though…).

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.

Illustration of how Tilt shift or perspective correction lenses workThe work around is to keep the lens’ axis parallel to the ground. However, but the problem with doing this is that you get more of the ground into your photograph. The vertical lines will be straight, but you will almost certainly end up cutting off the top of the building. See the image to the right for an explanation.

The TS lens helps by allowing you to keep the camera perfectly horizontal but ‘shifting’ the view of the lens upwards… Take a look a the illustration…

Here are some links to interesting photographs taken with Tilt-Shift lenses: Charminar by Sabir, CIS building by fotofacade and Full Shift Boogie by iso100.

Perspective Correction Lenses are a truly specialised architectural lens Here is a list:

Canon

  1. Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L Tilt Shift Lens
  2. Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift Lens
  3. Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift Lens

Nikon

  1. Nikon 28mm f/3.5 PC-Nikkor
  2. Nikon 85mm f/2.8 PC Micro Nikkor

Ultra Wide-Angle lenses

Ultra Wide-Angle Photograph of InteriorsBy Cuellar

Architectural photography also includes pictures of interiors… Architectural features often extend from floor to ceiling, and need to be show in their entirety to be appreciated for their beauty.

At other times, the location that needs to be shown off is narrow or small, but needs to be shown fully. This calls for another breed of special lenses.

Ultra Wide-Angle lenses, like TS lenses are expensive play things for people who have no need for them, but a necessity for those who do… 14-21mm prime lenses fit the bill for professional photographers who make a living out of photographing interiors.

However, for the enthusiast who prefers to have a more usable range of focal lengths and does not ‘need’ the ultra-high quality that the prime lenses offer, the ultra-wide zoom lenses that various companies have on offer are a good option. Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Tamron have some really good zoom lenses for any Digital or Film SLR that you may have.

Here are some Ultra-Wide Prime and Zoom lenses for Canon and Nikon 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 lenses and Tamron’s lenses page.

Canon

  1. Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L USM – Unique for its absolutely straight lines in spite of wide view.
  2. Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM
  3. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM
  4. Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM
  5. Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM

Nikon

  1. Nikon 12-24mm f/4G ED IF DX – Meant for DX format cameras
  2. Nikon 14mm f/2.8D ED AF – Similar to Canon’s 14mm lens
  3. Nikon 18mm f/2.8D AF
  4. Nikon 18mm – 70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED IF AF-S DX – Meant for DX format cameras
  5. Nikon 20mm f/2.8D AF

Special-Effects Lenses

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.

Here are some Fisheye lenses

  1. Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye
  2. Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8G ED AF DX Fisheye – Meant for DX format cameras
  3. Nikon 16mm F/2.8D AF Fisheye
  4. Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye (for Canon) – Circular Fisheye! – WOW!
  5. Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye (for Nikon) – Circular Fisheye! – WOW!
  6. Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye (for Canon)
  7. Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye (for Nikon)

More Lens Information

I hope that this list and explanation of some of the lenses that can be used for Architectural photography is of some use. This is by no means an extensive list. Rather, I intend it as a list that will help you get a fair idea of the kinds of lenses that can be used profitably, to get pictures that bring a viewer back for a second look.

If you’re interested in improving your photography, look at our Photo Projects series.

Find out more about lenses for different kinds of photography at The Lens Resource index post.