Uncover the secrets of capturing the dignity and gravity of government buildings around the world. Five pro photographers share their favorite experiences of working on these historical sites.

In the United States, it’s the Capitol. In Beijing, it’s the Great Hall of the People. In Australia, the Canberra Parliament House. Regardless of our cultures and politics, government buildings become symbols for the masses—the phrase “corridors of power” speaks to their significance and mythos—and pictures of these buildings are pieces of history. For that reason, architectural shots of government buildings can seem like they belong to a whole new genre of photography.

Photographers working in and around government buildings all over the world must capture the philosophies of the people and their leaders in the form of marble, iron, and brick. Depending on the government and the building, photojournalists might also have difficulty gaining access. In recent years, people with cameras in the vicinity of various government office buildings have been approached by police or even officially banned.

We asked five outstanding photographers to tell us about their experiences shooting in or outside different high-profile “corridors of power.” Below, they share their memories as well as their best tips for everything from composing a shot to avoiding crowds of tourists.

1. “Of course, the best friends of an architecture photographer are a good wide-angle lens and sunlight.”

Ikars Kublins

Corridors of Power: How to Photograph Government Buildings — Invest in Your Lenses

Image by Ikars Kublins. Gear: Nikon D5100 camera, Nikkor 18-55mm lens. Settings: Focal length 18mm; exposure 1/640 sec; f5; ISO 200.

Tell us about a time you’ve photographed a government building.

The most high-profile institutional buildings I’ve photographed are the European Parliament buildings in Strasbourg and Brussels. I visited them as a journalist, so I could take photos not only of the exterior but also the interior. Of the two, I prefer the one in Strasbourg. It’s more open, transparent, and modern, so it seems to better represent the EU ideals (liberty, democracy, development) in architectural language. Taking photos of the Strasbourg parliament building is also much easier than the one in Brussels. Although both buildings are huge, Strasbourg has a much wider open space around it, and I could easily take photos even without a full-frame camera and wide-angle lens.

Corridors of Power: How to Photograph Government Buildings — Seek Interesting Angles

Image by Ikars Kublins.

Taking photos of the Strasbourg parliament building was an emotional experience. I was aware of the fact that this is the place where many important decisions for Europe’s future are made. This morning was very calm. The water was almost like a mirror; the sakuras blossomed, and I was satisfied with the photo despite the cloudy sky and absence of sunshine. I have processed this photo in several different color tone versions, but I like this one the most. Perhaps it’s not the most natural look, but somehow I like it this way.

Corridors of Power: How to Photograph Government Buildings — Anticipate Natural Lighting

Image by Ikars Kublins.

Pro Tip:

Of course, the best friends of an architecture photographer are a good wide-angle lens and sunlight. Whenever I want to take photos of a building, I check the weather forecast and suncalc.org to see when the main facade will be exposed to sunlight. On the other hand, the greatest enemies of the architecture photographer are visually polluting objects like traffic, tram or trolley wires, lanterns, or even trees. If you’re taking a photo of a building and notice that the composition is disturbed by objects you can’t avoid (for example, wires), you have to choose your position while keeping in mind that you’ll have to erase those wires in post-processing. It’s better for them to cross the more monotonous parts of the facade rather than the intricate details. That way, it will be much easier to remove them.

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2. “Squatting down and using a wide-angle lens can make a photo more dramatic.”

YingHui Liu

Corridors of Power: How to Photograph Government Buildings — Make the Most of Your Lighting

Image by YingHui Liu. Gear: Nikon D7000 camera, Nikon AF-S DX 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens. Settings: Focal length 17mm; exposure 1/50 sec; f4; ISO 100.

Tell us about a time you’ve photographed a government building.

This is the Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. The Scottish Parliament is not easy to access, and usually, people need to apply and wait for a long time to get in. When I visited, it was a sensitive time because of the referendum on Scottish independence. There was a demonstration outside the main gate. Before taking photos, I looked at the floor map to get the whole picture. That day, I somehow entered a room called The Debating Chamber. It had wood furniture, soft sunlight, and a dignified atmosphere. Suddenly, I felt a connection with this place, and I knew I needed to shoot it.

Pictured: [1] YingHui Liu. [2] YingHui Liu.

Pro Tip:

Government buildings are usually huge, so it is easy to lose that sense of their proportion. Although we always want to emphasize some specific point, be sure the perspective is right. Squatting down and using a wide-angle lens can make a photo more dramatic. You can’t take flash lamps into government buildings, so you need to use sunlight. Look up the weather, and find the sun’s position. If you are not satisfied with the light, come back the next day.

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3. “Some of the buildings are accessible only with guided tours…Try to avoid peak hours. Smaller groups give you more time to take photos.”

Jia Wangkun

Corridors of Power: How to Photograph Government Buildings — Avoid Peak Hours

Image by Jia Wangkun. Gear: Nikon D800E camera, Nikkor 70-200 VR II lens. Settings: Focal length 200mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f7.1; ISO 100.

Tell us about a time you’ve photographed a government building.

When I traveled across the East Coast of the United States and Canada, I took a lot of photos of government buildings. Buildings like the White House, state capitols, city halls, and courthouses are gateways into history. The most memorable is this aerial view of the White House from the top of the Washington Monument. Same-day tickets to the monument are available each morning without any fee. After I got to the top, the main government buildings and memorials were sprawled out before my eyes.

Pro Tip:

Most government buildings in the United States and Canada are open to the public, and the grounds are easy to access during the day. The only thing you need to consider is the weather and light. To get inside the buildings, you need to check the opening time beforehand. Most of them are closed on the weekends, and on weekdays, they open late and close early.

The most common restrictions for photographing inside a government building is that a tripod is not permitted. These interiors can be dark, but they have elegant decorations, so in those cases, a high ISO is unavoidable. Some of the buildings are accessible only with guided tours, and a reservation is highly recommended. Try to avoid peak hours. Smaller groups give you more time to take photos.

Corridors of Power: How to Photograph Government Buildings — Make the Most of Guided Tours

Image by Jia Wangkun.

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4. “While it goes without saying, be sure to avoid trespassing, and follow the law when photographing around government buildings!”

Sean Pavone

Corridors of Power: How to Photograph Government Buildings — Don't Trespass on the Grounds

Image by Sean Pavone. Gear: Nikon D810 camera, Nikon 24-70mm lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 30 sec; f8; ISO 100.

Tell us about a time you’ve photographed a government building.

Thanks to a connection, I was granted access to this view of downtown Jackson, Mississippi, overlooking the state capitol. I was chaperoned by a state police officer to the top of a government-owned high-rise. On the way to the rooftop, we had to pass through an immaculate office, complete with a massive state seal. It was only on the way down that the officer revealed we were passing through one of the governor’s offices. It was a rare opportunity and a great view.

Pictured: [1] Sean Pavone. [2] Sean Pavone. [3] Sean Pavone.

Pro Tip:

While it goes without saying, be sure to avoid trespassing, and follow the law when photographing around government buildings! That said, I find most U.S. state houses and capitol buildings are easy to photograph from the grounds, as the areas surrounding the buildings are often treated as public parks.

5. “If you want to take pictures without a crowd, prepare to be the first or last person in the group.”

Posztós János

Corridors of Power: How to Photograph Government Buildings — Work Fast and Plan Ahead

Image by Posztós János. Gear: Canon EOS 5DS R camera, Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens. Settings: Focal length 15mm; exposure 1/50 sec; f5/6; ISO 800.

Tell us about a time you’ve photographed a government building.

I live in Hungary, and Bucharest is about a one-hour flight away. The most exciting point of interest in the Romanian capital is the Palace of the Parliament, the seat of the Parliament of Romania. It is the largest administrative building in the world, with a height of 84 meters (276 feet) and an area of 365,000 square meters.

Corridors of Power: How to Photograph Government Buildings — Prepare Your Equipment Ahead of Time

Image by Posztós János.

Pro Tip:

Getting into the Bucharest Parliament building is relatively easy, but usually, you need to be with a tourist group. If you want to take pictures without a crowd, prepare to be the first or last person in the group. You have only a few seconds to take a good shot, so have your equipment prepared. No one can use a tripod without getting permission from the press office as well as a separate guide, and this is almost impossible if you’re just visiting Romania for a few days. Relatively high ISO and low shutter speeds are necessary.

Top Image by Posztós János.