Although it is fun to capture the magnificence of a famous structure, such as the White House or the Eiffel Tower, many buildings offer subtle architectural details that make exquisite images on their own. Menacing gargoyles, centuries-old weather vanes, and luminescent stained glass windows are just some of the compelling details that can be used to create whimsical photos.
A building's many details combine to give the structure its architectural style. Think of the elaborate gingerbread of a Victorian house, the stainless-steel exterior of an Art Deco diner, and the fluted columns of a Greek Revival courthouse — all details that immediately declare the style of the building. See the color pages for a photo of a Greek column at a courthouse.
The best photos of architectural details are ones that are tightly composed so that the subject fills the frame. Depending on how far you are from your subject, you may be able to use a normal lens or moderate telephoto. If you are too far away, you'll need a more powerful telephoto lens. Be sure to note the lighting. Ideally, it will be coming from the side so that texture and details will be readily revealed. If you are concerned about capturing color, a hazy day will offer the most saturated hues. For this kind of photography, a telephoto zoom lens is essential because you may not be able to get as close as you would like.
If you're interested in shooting architectural details, begin by taking the time to look for them. Although you may first think of visiting cathedrals and historic structures, remember that even a simple country barn or city diner can offer interesting shapes and patterns. As you begin to become more aware of the details of the buildings around you, you may be surprised at how many can be used effectively in your digital images.
Keep your eyes open for fascinating architectural details, such as this cupola on top of the courthouse in Beaufort, North Carolina.