Leading up to Halloween you may like to spend some time in your local graveyard... you will find plenty to photograph and much of it will be in the detail. You should remember that graveyards are, by their very nature, places that should be treated with respect, but don’t let that put you off: as long as you behave yourself you shouldn’t get into too much trouble.
A zoom lens with close focusing capabilities will be useful and a tripod will certainly improve the quality of your pictures. If you fancy doing something a little more dramatic you could also consider using some 'off camera' lighting, either a flash or even a torch.
First, look around for interesting details, there shouldn’t be any shortage of these. They could be stone, lichen or moss, text on the gravestones, sculpture, ironwork, trees or the flowers left on the graves. When you have found something that interests you, look at it carefully and decide how best to make a picture out of it. Consider where the light is coming from, what angle will best suit the subject and how tight you should frame it. It is these decisions that will make the pictures ‘work’ or not. If you are getting in really close then try using different apertures: isolating the detail by shooting wide open or stopping right down to get the subject sharp from front to back.
When you are looking at detail it is usually best to try and frame in such a way that there is no distraction in the foreground or background – unless you are making some specific use of them. To do this you may need to get right in close. If your camera then struggles to find something to focus on, try switching to manual, focus as close as the lens will permit and then move the camera to get the subject sharp.
You can also get some spooky results by waiting until it is dark and then shooting with the camera on a tripod and ‘painting’ with a torch. Get the camera focused on what you want to photograph, a gravestone for instance, set the ISO to around 200 and the shutter to ‘B’ then do a test, open the shutter and ‘paint’ with your torch. With digital cameras you can see the result straight away so review the picture and adjust the amount of time you take to do your ‘painting’. If your torch is not bright enough you might start to get problems with noise, but it is easier to get subtle shading if you have a little longer so don’t use a super bright torch. It may take a while to get it right, but it’s very rewarding when it works.
Graveyards are full of interest; they represent local history, artistic taste, social position, tragedy, scandal and pride. They are also pretty much on your doorstep and they offer a rich source of material to a photographer.
Article by Ben Boswell of Minute Film.
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