Night Architectural Photography / by Tonda McKay

Architectural night shots are a very dramatic way to show a commercial building or residential building in a stunning  colorful way. What most people refer to as night shots are actually shot at dusk. Most of the time I shoot two shots or more and combine them for the widest latitude of exposure to both show the building and the sky at the optimum.

It is important in nighttime architectural shots to coordinate with whoever the site contact is on the ground to leave every available light on inside. Often, in newer buildings the interior lights are controlled by a timer. Many times it is important to check with maintenance personnel to override the automatic lighting system.

Recent image of downtown Nashville at night

Recent image of downtown Nashville at night

The color on a nighttime architectural shoot is up to the descretion of the photographer. Often, in the shot, the interior lights are tungsten and will therefore appear more yellow in a shot balanced for daylight. This is usually the way I like to keep the lights because yellow is the opposite of blue on the color spectrum. It makes for the greatest contrast possible when two complimentary colors occur so prevalent in a shot. The tungsten or even halogen lighting can be corrected to give a daylight balanced affect.

Also important in a nighttime architectural shoot is which direction the sun is setting. Many times the sun never rises or sets behind a building. If it is a shot for a designer, architectural firm, or landscaping company then I will put a sky I have from a library of skies I have saved on my computer. But, if it is a residential architectural shoot for an MLS listing  I will not put a sky in for fear I would misrepresent the property.


The best nighttime architectural shoots take a lot of planning and a lot of post production work to get a shot that is dramatic, representative and has the widest tonal range. I have photographed night time shots all over the United States and would I enjoy the particular set of challenges they present. Please call me at 615-496-2324 if you would like to talk to me more about a dusk or night shot.

I keep a library of night skies, because there is no control on how the sky will look when the sun goes down on the particular day the shoot is scheduled. Most clients want a shot of the sun going down behind the building. That is the most dramatic shot. But some buildings never have the sun set behind them no matter what time of year. I will often put a sky in from my library to enhance the shot.

I have a great deal of experience shooting these types of night shots. It takes patience and a knowledge of PhotoShop. Sometimes the best shot is a combination of two shots. One taken before the sun sets, and one taken as the sun is setting. This is to give more detail to the sky and to the building at the same time.

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