Retail Building Photography at Night

November 4, 2016 Photography Tutorial

How to Photograph and Prepare Photos of Retail Spaces at Night


Barnes & Noble Commercial Photograph

Night photography has always been a favorite part of photographing commercial spaces. If the space is being used for retail purposes, it’s usually light up nice and bright both inside the building and outside. And while this can look appealing to the eye, it can present some serious challenges to the photographer and their camera. Every photographer I know has their own method for photographing commercial scenes with great results; here’s mine.

  1. I try and start with a stable platform that is as level as possible. I love my manfrotto tripod with a three way head for this. It allows me to keep on the on the x/y axis while adjusting for tilt.
  2. I always try to look for the best vantage point to showcase the architecture. Most of the time I prefer an angle to the structure to give more depth and dimension. Sometimes this isn’t possible because of cars, trees, other buildings or the drunk teenagers who think its fun to mess with you while you’re trying to make a living. The key to this is to find a pleasing angle that will deliver on what your client is looking for. Many aspects come into play here. It’s helpful to know how the image will be displayed, such as on a billboard, a magazine, or maybe a menu cover. Will it need to be vertical or horizontal composition? Do they want the entire building, just the front door area, or maybe the building with its surroundings like in an outdoor mall area.
  3. Next for me comes the exposure. I know there is lots of debate on this subject, but if at all possible I try not to use HDR. I personally prefer the look of an exposure that isn’t so “digital” looking. I know HDR can look great, and I do use it from time to time, but only if necessary. For me, I expose for the brightest part of the frame, the darkest part of the frame, and then two more exposures being bracketed in the middle. I know that if I have to use an HDR effect in post I’ll have the files to do it. Most of the time however there will be one exposure that will work well for my post production workflow. In the photos I’ve used as examples, my exposure was approximately 1.5 seconds @ f11, and always at ISO 100. No client wants to see grain in their images. Only amateurs shoot high ISO for commercial work.
  4. Once I’ve got several shots in the can, it’s off to post production. This can take a long time to get right, and I’m not going to go into detail about this part of the process, but this is where I make sure each part of the frame looks like it should. There’s a lot of meticulous work in this process. Getting the exposure right is just the beginning. Attention to the details of the different light temperature, texture of building materials, dodging and burning the right places, and adding clarity to certain parts all come into play.
  5. My last step is to make a print. Usually an 8×10 or 11×14 will do so that my clients can see and appreciate the details of my work. Anyone can make a photo look good on the computer, but when you make a large proof for the client is where you separate decent from great photos.


BJ's Restaurant Commercial Photography

So that’s my basic process. Look for a video soon showing my post production workflow. Get out and shoot, and make sure you backup your files!