Photo by David Pritchard
Stately homes are, in many cases, open to the public. Some are still lived in, with sections cordoned off from public viewing, but the rest is accessible, often with restrictions - no touching, often no flash and sometimes no photography. For those properties that do allow photography you have the opportunity to photograph grand designs, walls with magnificent paintings, and rooms with exquisite furniture and other items.
What Gear Do I Need?
You will need an ultra wide-angle lens to record interior room scenes something in the region of 10-20mm is best. For more detailed shots of the various trophies, antique collections and paintings you'll need a longer lens of around 100mm. Your standard zoom will be fine for most of the finer details. Tripods can't always be used so do check before you pack yours in the car. You're often asked to leave rucksacks and bags at reception areas so make sure you have a comfortable strap. A polarising filter will be very useful as many antique displays will be behind glass and the filter will help reduce reflections allowing the items behind the glass to be recorded clearly.
When you enter a stately home the first area is the reception area. This is usually a grand affair with huge central or split staircase. There's often plenty of window light for illumination and often lots of wall decorations. If you're charged an entrance fee there's likely to be a ticket table to obstruct a full view and it's the area where you'll find the most visitors wandering around and getting in the way too. So timing is important and finding the best angle for a wide angle shot. It's worth hanging around for a quiet moment to get the best shot.
Around The Home
You're then usually ushered along in a certain direction around the house. Attendants will be in many of the rooms keeping an eye on possessions while helping visitors with facts about the house. If a no camera rule is present they will be vigilant in preventing your photography. If not feel free to fire away, but try to avoid getting helpers in shots. Watch for mirrors in back walls of rooms that will reflect the tourists and also try to avoid getting barrier ropes in shot. It can be quite challenging. Ropes can often be cloned out, but stand on tip toes to make sure the rope is lower to the ground and not obscuring some important element that would be harder to clone out than a section of floor or carpet.
In rooms that have glass cabinets make sure your polarising filter is attached to reduce reflections and glare. For birds and stuffed animals try to crop tight on one creature. Focus on intricate carvings you'll find on furniture. Shoot the ceilings as patterns. If you include a chandelier watch the exposure - they are bright while the rest of the room will be dark and come out underexposed if you're not careful. If you can hold the camera steady (use a door or wall as support ) take a bracketed exposure sequence and combine in a HDR program later.
If the room is dark increase the camera's ISO setting as far as you can without noise. Most cameras can safely go up to ISO800 without too much noise. Don't forget to turn it back when you go outside or into much brighter rooms.
Outdoor Architecture Shots
For outside shots of architecture and statues use a tripod to keep the camera steady. Look for positions where sculptures can be positioned in front of the grand architecture and shoot with a wide aperture to throw the background building out of focus - frame tightly for even more impact. Use the polarising filter if the statue or building is set against a blue sky as the filter will make the blue darker and the stone will stand out better.
Try walking around the grounds to find the best vantage points for an overall view of the house.
At Chatsworth House, for example, you can get a shot from the gardens with the fountain and lake in front. While a walk onto the road into the estate provides a view from the bridge and climbing down to the edge of the river bank gives a view with the bridge arch as a frame.
Grounds & Gardens
Stately houses usually have magnificent gardens often designed by landscape gardeners and may include spectacular water features of cascades and fountains. Shoot into the light to get a backlit spray of water. Use a slow shutter speed to blur the path. Focus in close on gargoyles as the water spurts out of the mouth.
Visit the herb garden and shoot from a low viewpoint to get the sprigs of flowers against the sky. Then visit the greenhouses for more exotic plants and cacti. Depending on the time of year you will find a vibrant range of spectacular colours in the well kept gardens of stately homes.
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