Essential Equipment for Architectural Photography, by Steven Brooke

In this video, Stephen Brooke, an experienced architectural photographer, shares insights from his YouTube channel dedicated to architectural photography and composition. He begins by expressing gratitude to his subscribers for their support and interest. Stephen emphasizes his focus on content over tech and gear, responding to viewer requests by detailing his equipment choices.

Stephen starts with his choice of tripod, a Manfrotto, highlighting its durability and the importance of stability for long exposures. He discourages the use of shaky tripods and recommends models with flip levers for ease of use. His Arca Swiss ball head, used since 1986, demonstrates his preference for reliable, long-lasting gear. Stephen then introduces his camera, a Canon 5DS, chosen for its high-resolution capabilities. He explains his approach to using high-quality files primarily for printing, with smaller JPEGs for online purposes.

Lenses form a significant part of Stephen’s toolkit. He details his use of a 24mm perspective control lens for maintaining straight verticals in architectural photography, a key skill he emphasizes. A wider 17mm lens suits interiors and industrial photography, and a 45mm lens for capturing details without distortion. He also discusses a versatile 24-105mm zoom lens for landscape photography. For gaps in his lens range, Stephen explains his workaround methods, like cropping or using lens extenders.

Stephen also shares his use of polarizing filters, with a preference for avoiding unnecessary filters on lenses. Essential accessories include a tethered cable release, a spirit level for camera alignment, and a Hoodman viewer for precise focusing. Battery management is crucial for him, as he carries spare batteries and chargers. For memory, he trusts 64GB SanDisk compact flash cards, regularly replacing them for reliability.

Regarding specialty equipment, Stephen uses a 90-degree viewer for ceiling shots and emphasizes the importance of sensor cleaning by professionals, though he occasionally uses a rocket blower for minor dust issues. His kit also includes various practical items like a cord for computer connection, lens tissue, a multi-tool, insect repellent, and personal items for motivation and emergency.

In conclusion, Stephen advises photographers to become familiar with their gear, emphasizing skill over equipment. He recommends resources like Fred Miranda for equipment reviews and advises against unnecessary spending, highlighting that effective photography can be achieved with minimal gear. His parting message is to prioritize necessity and comfort with one’s equipment in the field of photography.


Hi everybody, it’s Stephen Brooke, and welcome to my YouTube channel on architectural photography and composition. Over the last year, we’ve gone from 100 subscribers to 1,800 subscribers and over 50,000 views, so I really want to thank you all for your support, your encouragement, for sending in letters and notes. I appreciate the criticisms and your suggestions, and I hope that the next videos that we’re going to do will answer some of the questions that you’ve posed. Also, if you’d like to support the site and get something for it, go to and check out my textbook. It’s 360 pages, and I guarantee you there’s something on every page that you’re going to enjoy reading and that will help you with your work.

When we started these videos, I decided I was not going to make this a tech and gear-heavy set of YouTube videos. But so many of you have written in and asked specifically, “What’s in your case? What do you take in the field? What accessories do you use?” So, I want to answer that and show you what I take out in the field with me, and I hope you’re not too disappointed because none of what I have is particularly exotic. Through the course of my career with a view camera, digital camera, I’ve never been much of a gearhead. My first two years as an architectural photographer with a view camera, I did that whole thing with two lenses. So let’s start from the bottom up, and I’ll show you exactly what I use.

The first thing I use is a Manfrotto tripod, and what I suggest to my students is to get the best tripod you can afford because a rickety, shaky tripod will really drive you crazy. Also, when you get to longer exposures, if you’ve got a flimsy tripod, you’re going to get camera movement. Here’s the most important thing about a tripod, and that is a flip lever for the legs. The old Gitzo tripods used to have to unscrew them and screw them back in, and by the end of the day, your hand would ache from that. So I like these Manfrottos. Whatever kind you get, I recommend getting one with a flip latch. And by the way, I have no sponsors from any of the industries. This is what I use because I find that it’s a good value, and it lasts. This tripod I’ve had for a long time.

Now, the tripod head that I have is my old Arca Swiss ball head that I used on my 6×9 view camera, and it’s still good. I just have a different adapter for the base, and I would hate to give it up because it’d be disloyal. I’ve used this thing since 1986, and nothing ever goes wrong with it. It’s locked steady, the camera doesn’t move, so that’s the basis of this. Now, everything I have goes in this military-grade Pelican carrying case. It’s a little bit heavier than some of the soft cases, but it really protects your camera. It’s waterproof, dustproof, humidity-proof, and you can stand on this thing, which is really helpful if you have to rack your camera up really high and don’t have a ladder. I never carry a ladder or anything. But you can stand on this, and you can also flip it up and sit on it while you’re waiting for the light to change.

As far as my camera goes, I have a Canon 5DS, and I’ve had this for a long time, as soon as it came out, because the megapixel was strong enough to give me really good size files. I find this is big enough because I get anywhere between 100 to 150 megabyte file, and believe me, that is large enough. Keep in mind that most people now use these large files just for printing. Most people use JPEGs made from the big files, three to five megabytes for online work. So, I’m happy with this camera, and until it breaks down, I’m not going to get another one.

Now, as for my lenses, the workhorse for a 35 millimeter camera, full-frame 35 millimeter camera, is a 24 millimeter lens. I have a 24 millimeter perspective control lens, and I have a description of this lens and how perspective control lenses work in my very first video on the single thing architectural photographers need to know, and that is keeping the verticals straight. We looked at how a perspective control lens can move up and down without changing the relationship of the building to the lens, to the actual image plane, instead of having to tip your camera. If you are doing this seriously, if you want to make this your profession, then in the end, you’re going to have to get a perspective control lens. Can you do it without it? Sure, of course. And you can do all the manipulations in Photoshop that we talked about, but this makes it easier and it’s also better because you can actually see your composition as you’re taking it. That’s lens number one.

Lens number two is a wider version perspective control lens, and this one is a 17 millimeter lens. This is great for interiors, great for industrial photography, and you can use it to stitch together images to get something really wide. Now it has a convex lens, and you can’t put a filter in front of this. I’ll talk about filters in a minute. You need to be really careful with this lens because of its shape. It’s very easy to get reflections and halations. So when you use it, it’s really important to make sure you’re not catching any flares. This thing can catch flares easily.

The next lens that I have that I use is a 45 millimeter perspective control lens, and I use this for details and if I’m going to photograph artwork because unlike the convex lenses, even the 24, this is a pretty flat lens. So you don’t get any barrel distortion whatsoever, verticals stay nice and straight. You don’t have to go through and change them with the warp tool. This is the first edition that Canon made of their 45 millimeter perspective control lens. It’s not wonderful when it comes to chromatic aberration, that cyan and magenta look that you get at the edges, but it’s correctable. There is a new version of this that’s a 50 millimeter lens, which some people have told me is better than the 45, but not that much better. So, if you don’t have one of these and want to get a lens in that range, you can go get the new 50. If you already have a 45, I haven’t gotten a new one, and I don’t know that you need to either.

I want to come back to where there’s a gap in this, and we’ll come back to that. The other lens that I rely on is a 24 to 105 millimeter zoom lens, and this is my go-to lens for landscape photography. It’s not a perspective control lens, but if it’s a landscape, for the most part, I can tip up or tip down without worrying about convergence, without worrying about having something be out of alignment. Now, if there is architecture in the shot that’s important, I need to go back to my other lenses. But for landscape, the 24 millimeter is okay. There’s barrel distortion and chromatic aberration, but once you get to around 28 millimeters all the way to the end to 105, it’s terrific. And so I use this all the time for my landscape work.

Now, the gap in this array is at the 35 millimeter range. I went

and bought a 35 millimeter prime lens that I almost never use because, even for this lens as good as it is, there’s some warp to it. What I do instead is use my 24 millimeter lens and crop in to get basically what a 35 millimeter lens would give me. Now, there are lens extenders that Canon makes that will convert your 24 millimeter lens into something around a 38 millimeter. You can do that. They’re not inexpensive, and you can decide whether or not that’s really worth it for you. That’s all I have; that’s all my lenses. I don’t have anything more than that.

Now, for each of these lenses, I have a polarizing filter, and I have a video coming up discussing polarizing filters. Generally, I don’t like to put anything in front of the lens. I don’t have haze filters or UV filters, so when I use my polarizing filter, I have to make sure it’s just absolutely clean, and I take care of them. I always keep them in the cases and buy the best one that I can afford.

As far as accessories go, let’s take a look at a few that I find are absolutely critical. I use a tethered cable release. Why tethered and not remote? Because I don’t want to lose it. In the heat of battle, this thing is going to disappear on me, so it’s stuck on my camera, and I never have to worry about where it is. The second thing I have is a two-way spirit level that fits in the hot shoe of the camera. Now, these cameras have a horizontal level built into the camera, which is great, but it doesn’t take care of getting the camera level in this direction. So I don’t even use that one, and I use the spirit level, which I find is really accurate and love having that.

The other thing that I use all the time, and again, they’re not paying me to say this, is a Hoodman viewer. What I do is I will turn the camera on, go to live view, put this on, and look in here. On my camera, there is a zoom in feature, and I can check my focus just like I used to do with a loop on the back of my ground glass on my view camera. This is really valuable.

I have a battery pack on my camera and also carry two extra batteries and the chargers with me so that I always have fresh batteries ready to go. This is important if you’re in an area where you aren’t going to get a break and you’re going to run through your battery, and you have these other ones ready to go.

As far as my compact flash, I use 64 gigabyte compact flash, and I only use SanDisk because they don’t fail. That said, I usually dump them at the end of the year and get all new ones because I have had one fail on me. I don’t do anything larger than 64 because I don’t want to put my whole job on a 128 megabyte compact flash and have that thing fail. So I break up my job on the 64s and then put them in this hard case.

Now, on occasion, you may have to shoot a ceiling, which means you’re going to have to tip your camera like this. Going underneath and trying to get that shot just right is really a pain, literally a pain. So, I do have a viewer, a 90-degree viewer, that fits back here so that I can look without breaking my neck. Being able to see my job and arrange the shots just so, without hurting my neck, this is really valuable. Maybe I can use this thing once a year, but for the one time a year, this is really great.

What else? Cleaning your sensor, that’s something you probably shouldn’t do. If you have dirt on your sensor, I would take it to a tech and have them clean it. But if it’s just one little piece of dust, I use one of these that have ionized deionized air. So, you shoot it a couple of times, open your sensor, hold your camera upside down, pop a few puffs of air in there, but don’t get close to it. If that doesn’t clean it, stop and go to a tech and have the tech actually clean your sensor. I take my cameras in, no matter what, at least twice a year and have them cleaned. But in an emergency, if something is in there, like if you’ve been at the beach or something, these little rocket blowers are terrific.

I carry a cord that connects my camera to my computer if I need to do that. I have lens tissue and I also use the jeweler’s cloth, particularly if I’m going from a cold car outside and it starts to frost up. I find this is easier to get my lens clean than it is with paper. I carry a knife and tool with me. Make sure if you’re traveling, you get this out of your camera case when you travel because TSA will confiscate it.

In case all of these batteries for some reason don’t work, I always carry this extra little battery pack that has four AA batteries in there. I have a case for my business cards. Sunscreen is critical, even if you don’t live in the tropics like I do, because the sun is a killer, literally. So, I always carry this. And again, because we are in mosquito heaven, I carry Ben’s insect repellent. This is nasty stuff, but it really works. I carry a picture of my son and my wife, which is great when you’re shooting a job you don’t really like. It reminds you why you’re doing it. I carry an extra pair of glasses in case mine break. And I carry my manual for my camera in case something goes wrong and I can’t figure out how to fix it. I always have my manual with me.

So, that’s my whole gear. That’s everything that I use. Again, there are certain things I may not use much at all, like my 90-degree viewer. But that’s the extent of it. As a friend of mine who is a magician

said, “It’s not the wand, it’s the magician.” You need to think about that. Get comfortable with your gear. Your camera, your gear, all this operation needs to be as facile for you as a musician with an instrument. You can’t just stop and think. If you’re playing with other people, you can’t stop and think about how to finger that; by that time, it’s gone. So, you need to be really familiar with your gear. If you’re buying brand new gear, there are good websites out there like Fred Miranda. He does a beautiful job of analyzing equipment and gets professionals who send in their reviews. So, you can always rely on a site like that to give you an honest and fair assessment of something you’re thinking of buying.

My one last recommendation is only get what you really need. Don’t spend money you don’t have to spend. You can do so much with two lenses. You don’t need a whole lot of gear. So, that’s what I use. I hope this is helpful. Thanks for watching, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.