Old buildings carry with them a mystery and character which unfortunately is missing from the present day architecture. For photographers these can be quite an interesting subject. The various forms that they present combined with the interplay of shadows can be a rich source for creating interesting compositions.
(A church in Goa – Nikon Df with Nikkor 50 mm lens, f/8, 1/1000 sec at 100 ISO)
If you want to capture good straight lines and do some serious architecture, then a view camera with all its lateral movements is the best bet. (Prevent buildings from falling) However for most of us a good camera with a wide-angle and a short tele is all that is required. Most of the old buildings do not let in enough light. A good, sturdy tripod is of immense help with architectural photographs.
(A Mughal tomb lit by natural light from two opposite windows. This was a hand-held exposure. Nikon D200 with Nikkor 18-35mm lens at f/5, 1/20 sec at 800 ISO)
Form and Textures
Old buildings have very intricate mesh of lines and curves. By carefully positioning them in the frame, very interesting compositions can be created. I recommend composing with a purpose in mind. Visualize the final image and then compose. Before exposure, also observe the textures present. Try to capture the textures too. (Photographing Texture)
Fractals, repeated shapes, diminishing sizes over long distance, faded colors and signs of beatings from centuries of bad weather… anything can become your subject. Look around and observe.
Traps to avoid
Do not hire a tourist guide on such a visit, if the intention is to indulge in photography. Tourist guides are famous for making mountains out of molehills. They do spin good yarn but this can steal the attention of a photographer away from good compositions. Tourist guides also like to rush through things and sometimes they also end up wasting our time in their narrations.
Have enough time at hand. Unlike landscapes and street photography, I have found that photographing old buildings and architecture in general requires a lot of planning and takes time. Do not be in a hurry. Soak yourself in the surroundings before pressing the shutter release.
Avoid clicking the obvious photographs that can be found in the picture postcards or as the images on the wikipedia page for the building. Think new, think something different. Let your imagination run wild. Two common obvious photographs to avoid are – image of a building framed in an entrance (think of TajMahal framed in the arch of its entrance gate silhouette) and image of a building with its reflection in the pond or fountain in front (once again image the all too common image of TajMahal with its reflection in the pool of water in front).
Old buildings on a family trip
On one of my visits to an old monument, I tried forcing myself to a standard prime lens. This is something that I frequently recommend as a tool to strengthen visualization in my photography courses. (Learning to Visualize).
The monument was huge. It was spread over few acres of land with three floors. There were beautiful arches and characteristic well manicured gardens in the front. My first reaction was to grab a wide-angle and capture some beautiful shots of the empowering structure. Like I mentioned earlier, I did not have a wide-angle lens with me. I was forced to use the prime lens that I had in my bag. After walking around for a few minutes with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 D lens mounted on a Nikon D200 camera body, I started to observe how things would fit in into that limited angle of view available to me.
After walking around in the monument, the high ceiling or the large halls no longer interested me. Smaller details like the carvings on the walls which seemed ready to collapse or the people walking around in the building started catching my attention.
(An old corridor – the aged walls with their peeling of paint and plaster have an obvious texture to them. Try to capture texture whenever photographing old buildings. Photographed with a Nikon D200 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 D lens)
The place was dark and I had no tripod to use. D200 has good amount of noise on high ISOs, so I tried to stick with as low ISOs as I could. This reminded me of the film days when the 100 ISO or lower were the good films and we did not have the luxury of changing the ISO with the turn of a wheel. For steadying the camera, I did lean on some of the walls and embraced a few pillars. (Flash and Tripod – Not allowed !)
Architectural photography, especially those involving old buildings, can be challenging as well as profoundly satisfying. This is one of the best genres to hone one’s skills and become friends with the camera. The best part – no rain, no snow and not even the worst of the weathers will play spoilsport. You can stay indoors (albeit in the building you want to photograph) and enjoy your hobby.