What's the best Canon camera and Canon lenses for architecture photography? And when it comes to architectural photography lenses, how can having Canon tilt-shift lenses in your kitbag help when shooting buildings?
Here, Canon Ambassador and world-renowned architectural photographer Fernando Guerra shares the cameras and lenses essential to his work. Alongside him, Mike Burnhill – Canon Professional Imaging Product Specialist and an expert on lens technology – explains why Fernando's choices are suited to the architecture photography genre.
Through his innovative inclusion of characters in his architectural images, Fernando has become known for bringing spaces to life. "I push for living architecture. I'm not really interested in shooting a house without furniture or people. What I really like is to get to a house in the morning and shoot the kids getting ready for school, see the normal rhythm of the house. Nobody was doing that extra layer of storytelling before I started. What drives me is the story of the people who live there," he says.
Portuguese photographer Fernando takes a minimalist approach to equipment, and has narrowed down his list of favourite architectural photography kit to two reliable lenses and a mirrorless full-frame camera. "The more that I shoot, the less I need," he says. "It's all about the gear. New camera models such as the Canon EOS R also make me shoot better." Formerly a Canon EOS 5DS R user, Fernando has switched to the mirrorless EOS R System, with which he's able to use his core lenses from Canon's TS-E lens range, as well as mirrorless full-frame RF lenses.
Using manual lenses, Fernando works only with depth of field to create layered images, with everything in focus, rather than using small apertures and bokeh. Usually shooting at around f/8, he seeks complete sharpness from 1m to infinity. For his day-to-day shooting, he travels light, leaning on the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L and Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II lenses for up to 90% of his work, while gaining extra versatility from each through his use of in-camera crop modes.
Read on for the best Canon kit for architectural photography, from wide-angle lenses for capturing a broad field of view to the lenses to capture small details of a city and the people behind the buildings.
Best lightweight body
"I've embraced the new Canon EOS R because there are so many things that I gain with it," says Fernando. "It's smaller, it has a silent mode and a tilting screen, which I love. If I go to a square to shoot for an architect, I want it to be as if I'm not there, for people not to see me. With an EOS R on each of my shoulders, I can be as invisible as possible.
"With the vari-angle screen I can shoot from the hip and, as the touchscreen can also be used as a shutter, it's easy to put the camera in positions I wouldn't have been able to get in before, such as against the wall or on the other side of a fence. As someone who is shooting every day, a tilt screen really helps me. When you're constantly in airports, having small kit that you can take everywhere is amazing. The EOS R has made my day-to-day life easier."
Mike Burnhill agrees: "If you're shooting low angles, the vari-angle screen means you don't have to get on your knees. Or you can have the camera above your head and tilt the screen down, so you can shoot the building at different angles than eye level. These simple little things can make a big difference in how you interface with a camera and subject. By using the Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R on the Canon EOS R, you're also able to add filters behind the lens. Now you can put a neutral density or polarising filter with all your lenses and you can swap between lenses and have the filter in exactly the same position."
Best all-round Canon architectural photography lens
"It is always best to start shooting architecture with the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II lens," says Fernando. "Even if you can't fit all of the building inside the frame all at once, it trains you. When you start trying to solve problems and really want to learn how to photograph architecture, the 24mm is the best lens to use. It is also safer for beginners than a really wide-angle lens, which can cause distortion. When I need that focal length, the 24mm is perfect, with close to no distortion, which is great."
"The Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II is an everyday, high-performance TS-E lens," says Mike. "It gives quite a wide angle, almost zero distortion, stunning quality and a wide range of movements so you can shift the lens upwards to avert parallax error, or you can tilt it to increase depth of field for architecture.
"These lenses have ultra-low dispersion (UD), high-performance glass to cut out chromatic aberration. That's important in architectural photography, as you often have hard edges of a building against the sky, which is where you're going to get this colour fringing showing up. The SWC coating is our maximum performance to prevent flare and ghosting affecting the image, and the large diameter glass moulded aspherical lens elements improve sharpness across the image."
Best specialist Canon wide-angle lens
"When you are shooting architecture, of course you want to get everything in your photo, but you usually don't have a lot of space because you're shooting in the street and have a huge building in front of you," says Fernando. "When the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L was launched, it completely changed my life – all of a sudden, I could shoot a high rise in one photo, which I couldn't do before without walking 300m backwards. I also think it changed the architectural photography scene forever, as the 17mm, together with the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II, forms the basis of shooting architecture.
"The only rule in architectural photography is that vertical lines need to remain straight. With a wide-angle lens, it's easy to change the proportions of a building. But if I consider myself a messenger, I cannot create a different building from the one I'm supposed to photograph. With TS-E lenses you can tilt and shift, and what I really need is to shift the lens up so it remains straight in relation to the building, and I can then fit the building inside the frame."
"The Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L has the widest field of view of any tilt-shift lens on the market, making it ideal for interiors or large buildings where it can be difficult to fit everything in," says Mike. "It also has very little distortion for such a wide lens. Architectural photography has to be beautiful and interesting but at the same time totally accurate – you don't want buildings that bow or to change the architect's geometrics just because the lens gives it a nicer look. With many wide-angle lenses, you'll get some curvature and the effect of getting more space. This is an important lens as, when used by professionals, it shows the building the way the architect wanted it to look."
Best lens for people and buildings
"The Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L MACRO is a nice portrait lens and is wonderful optically," says Fernando. "In the field, I might need to shoot someone who is in the house, or all of a sudden need to take a portrait of the architect, and this is a marvellous lens. If I use the crop modes I can also have a really nice 76mm lens just by the push of a button. Being an architect, it's easy to say that I love architecture. But that's not really why I do what I do. I love shooting people in their surroundings. Now, after 20 years of doing this professionally, it's not the buildings that excite me me – it's the people, stories and characters."
Mike says: "One of our newer lenses, the Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L MACRO has a much wider range of movement than wide-angles along the focal length. The great thing about Canon tilt-shift lenses is that they feature rotation, so you can change how you use the lens much more easily. If you want to shoot a tall building but you've also got a path leading into it, this lens will enable you to increase your depth of field by tilting it, therefore maximising the sharpness, but also shifting it, so you can get all of the building in. With other tilt-shift lenses on the market you can only do one of these movements.
"The smaller you stop the aperture down, the softer your image gets as you increase depth of field. The advantage of a TS-E lens is you can tilt the optics to an angle to give you more sharpness across the image, front to back, by moving the optics at a similar angle to the land in front of you. Therefore, you don't have to stop the lens down to the smallest aperture to get everything sharp. The best optic sharpness is in the aperture range in the middle of the lens, so you can actually use the sharpest aperture and still get maximum depth of field, and in doing so, you're increasing the resolution of your image."
Best street photography lens
"I've been doing street photography since I was 16, so for me that was also a natural way of shooting architecture," says Fernando. "I'm known for including the street, and not only the building, to give some life and meaning to what I'm shooting. Putting people into architecture also gave me something new in the architectural field. When I'm on the street I don't want to be the focus of attention. The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM is super nice because it's a small lens that you can put on a body and go out at night with the Canon EOS R. You can make street photography, but also focus on showing the buildings."
"The Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM has stunning image quality for one of our entry-level lenses for the EOS R series," says Mike. "It does macro, has a fast aperture and stabiliser and all that in a package that is smaller than the same sort of DSLR lenses. It's very compact and lightweight, so is a discreet lens to carry around almost as a notebook, to record little bits of detail. You can work silently as well, if you want to have subjects in the frame and not disturb them as they interact with the buildings and architecture."