Travel photography: Tips for incorporating architecture


The current readers Photo Challenge assignment is architecture. Summer vacations are coming up and one of the essential aspects of travel photography is taking pictures of places and buildings. Buildings and other structures like bridges and monuments can add to the visual character of a place. 

The right light

Sunlight glints off of a window on a building on West 8th Street near Central Avenue in downtown Tracy.

The three most important things about architectural photography are light, light and light. The best light happens at either early in the morning or in the late afternoon/early evening. The right light can help turn a boring structure into something worthy of being a landmark. During those times of day the light has a warm glow it and makes scenes appealing and inviting whether you’re shooting a cityscape or a landscape. Also the light comes in at a low angle which helps to give buildings some depth and three-dimensionality to them. So try to plan your shooting around these times. 

In the still of the night

The Haggin Museum in Victory Park in Stockton.

Speaking of time-of-day, shooting at night can bring a whole new dimension to your photos of buildings. Many buildings, especially those that are landmarks, have their exteriors lit up at night. They can really stand out against a darkened “blue hour” or blackened nighttime sky. 

Devil is in the details

The interior of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

You don’t have to shoot the entire building. Getting details of a structure like the details of some ornate moulding, the texture of brick or wood, or perhaps a relief sculpture on a buildings facia, could provide more visual interest than the whole building itself. Details can give a building character. Some buildings have hard angles, others have rounded edges. Look for what gives a place it’s personality.

Quiet reflections

The Stockton Arena, left, and the University Waterfront Plaza Hotel as well as a cloudy sky are reflected in the morning waters of McLeod Lake in downtown Stockton.

You don’t even have to shoot a building directly. Think out of the box an try looking for some reflections to double your composition. Reflections can be found in a rain puddle or nearby and or lake. You can also use car windows or those of a neighboring building. 

I’ve been framed!

The moonrises over an abandoned farmhouse on Lime Creek Road in Valley Springs.

Use the photographic technique of framing to help emphasize your building. Things like branches of a nearby tree or shooting through a window or door in the foreground can frame your subject and make it stand out.

Inside track

Architecture is not only the outside of a building but the inside as well. And some buildings have visually stunning interiors. Sometimes they are lit well but quite often they aren’t. Try looking for some soft window light to help things along. If possible, look to open some curtains, blinds or doors. 

The setting sun reflects off the windows of the Waterfront Towers building as fishermen troll the yacht harbor in downtown Stockton.

People who need people

As much as buildings make a place, so do people. Try adding people to your architectural scenes. It could be a pedestrian walking by or a construction. Worker building a structure. Having a human element can add some scale and context to your photo.

Your subject can be either in the city among other buildings or out in the country by itself. It can be a skyscraper or a hay barn, a castle or a hovel. It’s up to you to find the visual beauty or interest in whatever structure you choose. 

How to enter

1. Photos have to be taken between May 31 and June 14.

2. Include your name (first and last), hometown, the kind of device you used, how you got your photo and where it was taken (eg.: John Doe of Stockton, Canon 5D Mk III. The Donald B. Wood pedestrian bridge over the Calaveras River in Stockton).

3. If there is a recognizable person or persons in the photo please identify them (name, age, hometown) and describe what is going on in the photo (eg.: “My daughter Jane Doe, 12, crosses the Stands in front of the state Capitol building in Sacramento at Sunset”). Please indicate how they are related to you (friend, mother, father, daughter, son, etc). 

4.  Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

5.  The number of photos is limited to 10.

6. Entries can be emailed to The preferred format is jpeg. Type in “Architecture” in the subject line.

7. The deadline for submission is June 14. Top picks will be in the June 21 Record and posted to the Record’s Facebook page and Instagram. An online gallery of all the photos on the same day at

Record photographer Clifford Oto has photographed Stockton and San Joaquin County for more than 37 years. He can be reached at or on Instagram @Recordnet. Follow his blog at Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at


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