Words by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays.
Always an interesting subject for photographers, standing stones and stone circles have fascinated people for centuries; but what is the best way to photograph them?
Camera - A DSLR or a Micro Four Thirds System camera, such as those available in the Nikon 1 range or the Olympus OM-D, will be fine.
Wide angle lens such as the Tamron 10-24mm.
Although standing stones change little through the day, the prime factors for photographing standing stones are lighting, atmosphere and, preferably an absence of people. Lighting can be good at either end of the day, but the absence of people usually restricts the keen photographer to an early start.
The problem with many stone circles – including my local circle, Castlerigg, just outside Keswick, is that they are relatively low in height, and very extensive in width – so if you are to include the whole circle, you need a really interesting sky to balance the long, thin foreground. A graduated filter
can be of enormous use here, as the stones early in the day may be in fairly low light, but the sky might be three or four stops lighter; without a grad, exposure for the sky will give a very under exposed foreground, conversely exposure for the foreground will severely over exposed sky. An alternative would be to bracket exposures, and join them using HDR software.
Compositionally, it's often best when trying to get the whole circle in either to take a series of overlapping pictures and join them as a panorama, or by using a fairly wide lens, to give the foreground stones more dominance in the picture.
Focus On A Part Of The Circle
An alternative way of portraying standing stones is by capturing part, rather than the whole. I spend a great deal of time looking at the relationship of the stones with each other, and their background, in order to create a picture that is well balanced. This technique also works well if there are other people present as it is much easier to select a few stones free of people than to wait for the whole circle to clear. This is particularly important if a group of stones – or their background – might benefit from afternoon light, when there are more people present.
Try Black & White
Consider also the best way to portray the stones – whether colour, or black & white, unless there is great sky colour present, such as sunrise or sunset, I like the timeless quality of black & white on standing stones, to simplify the image and render them as a set of neutral tones.
So next time you find yourself near a stone circle, set your alarm and capture the timeless quality of these ancient sites.
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