4 Types of Lighting for Architecture Photography

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There are two types of lighting, natural lighting, and artificial lighting. Natural lighting is lighting sourced from the sun and is uncontrollable. Artificial lighting is lighting sourced from a manmade object and controllable. In this article, I will explain the biggest light on this earth (I don’t know about another universe, lol) and how we can use it in photography. These are 4 types of lighting for architecture photography.

Before we begin I must say that these lightings do not only work for architecture photography. But also any other kind of photography that uses natural light as it only lighting.

4 Types of Lighting for Architecture Photography

In Lighting, we can rate and categorize lighting as good and bad lighting. So here goes:

Good Lighting

#1 Sidelight


Sidelight is when light is directed from the side of the frame. This lighting is the ideal form of natural lighting because of many reasons:

  • Sidelight creates the strongest form of shadow that gives a three-dimensional view of the photo.
  • Sidelight has many colors (red, orange, yellow) which are nice for color photography.
  • Sidelight gives a solid impression to an object. the sun that creates more contrast shadow gives the impression to an object. It also shows texture to object.

To achieve sidelight, the photo has to be taken around morning or evening when the sun is still around the horizon. The direction of the camera has to be around north or south (or anywhere as long it is beside the sun).

#2 Front Light


The front light is when light is directed from the front of the frame. This lighting is quite complicated and can go both ways, like good lighting and also bad lighting.

It is bad because the front light hardly creates a shadow on an architecture that makes the architecture looks three dimensions in a photo. It also reduces contrast, which is bad if you want to show a different part of the architecture. If it did wrong, a photo with a front light might end up flat and boring.

It can also be good if the front light is done in the right way. Front light can create solid color to object. It can also give a solid impression of the object if that is what you wanted.

To achieve good front light, the photo has to be taken around sunset or sunrise, when the sun is still around the horizon. Avoid the time when the sun rises enough (usually around mid-morning to mid-afternoon). The direction of the camera is behind the sun.

Read More: How to Create a Black and White Architecture Fine Art Photography




Bad Light

#3 Above Light

Above Light is when light is directed from above the frame. This is considered not only in architecture photography but also much other photography as the worst time for taking photographs.

The reason is that the above light is the hardest light to work with. It also creates the smallest shadow to an object, which is bad because it hardly shows an object as three-dimensional. It also has a little color to the sky, which also creates a boring and flat sky.

But in a specific case, architecture photography can be done in this situation. By doing some things:

Use Polarizer filter. By using this filter, it can give more contrast and color to the sky and reflective object.

Doing black and white. A boring photo sometimes is a good excuse for making black and white photography (that’s how I first did black and white photos). Since shadow can’t create contrast, we can use tone (which is shown more in black and white) to show a contrast of form in architecture.

The above light situation can be achieved as a long photo is taken around midday when the sun can be seen above the head.

#4 Back Light

Back Light is when light is directed from behind the frame. This light is quite popular because it creates the most dramatic light and also creates a great shadow from behind. That is if we’re talking about landscape photography. But in architecture photography, I consider backlight as bad light.

The reason is that backlight will reduce the appearance of detail in the architecture. And in most cases only show a solid outline of architecture, which is good if that’s the only thing you wanted. Even if you want to show the detail of architecture, that means you have to increase the exposure which causes overexpose in the background.

There are a few things that I can think of in this lighting situation. Like, you can take 2 or 3 photos with different exposure then combine them in post-processing. Another way is to take the photo at a higher altitude than your subject. It can show the dramatic lighting and shadow in architecture.

Backlight condition is achieved when the photo is taken around morning and afternoon. And the sun is behind the subject and in front of the camera. The camera is directed around the east in the morning or around the west in the evening.

To make it easy to find out the light direction on your current location, you can use an app like Photo Ephemeris.


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