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Photography In Graveyards

To some graveyards are spooky locations, but to photographers they offer masses of shooting potential. Pete explains why.

| Landscape and Travel
Graveyards, especially Victorian ones such as Highgate in London, can be very photogenic locations. Do some research to find ones that are of the older kind. They are usually situated in older parts of big cities or in small villages, particularly those with historical backgrounds. Communities that have a wealthy past will often have the more elaborate stones which often have far more intricate details and also provide superb Gothic backdrops for model shoots. 

Photography In Graveyards: Gravestone and leaf

Gear Suggestions:

To photograph graveyard details you just need a lens with a close focus facility. Most modern lenses will let you hone in on more abstract aspects, such as lichen, textures, intricate carvings in the stone, ivy climbing up the sides and inscriptions.  As long as the lens focuses as close as 0.5 metres you'll be fine. A lens with a slightly longer than standard focal length (somewhere between 60mm and 100mm) will help prevent distortion when you're up close.

If you're in the market for a new camera you can claim an M.Zuiko 45mm Portrait lens worth £279.99/€329.99 for free when you purchase an Olympus OM-D E-M5. Available from selected stockists including all Olympus Elite Centres before 31st December 2012.

A tripod is useful as some areas of the graveyard will be under the canopy of trees and will be quite dark. On bright days on open spaces take a reflector or small flashgun to pump some light back into the shadows on stones.

If you're going for more scenic detail take a graduated ND or grey filter to darken the sky. An infrared filter, or better still converted infrared camera, is a good way to shoot close ups of ivy or lichen covered stones.

And don't forget to wrap up warm if you're shooting in winter as some of the locations can be bitterly cold.



Firstly please respect the location - this is the resting place and sacred. Check the rules of the cemetery before going ahead. Some don't allow photography, some may restrict the use of flash, some will allow photography providing the shots don't include names, others may have a no tripod rule. Also respect visitors, they may be visiting loved ones and will resent some photographer trampling around nearby. 

Sharp Shots

To ensure a sharp shot and good depth of field you want to be stopping down to about f/8 or so, and that might mean slower shutter speeds than you can hand hold so a tripod may come in handy. If you don't want to take a tripod or the site has restrictions use a nearby tree, or stone to rest on. Shots from ground level can add to the spooky atmosphere and you won't find a sturdier support. Use your camera strap or clothing to prop the lens upwards and do a test shot to make sure everything you want is in frame. If not readjust the zoom or camera position and re-shoot.

Elaborate Carved Stones

Walk around the graveyard looking for the more elaborate carved stones. Some have fascinating detail that can be cropped tightly and used as single pictures or as elements in haunting or Gothic montages. Look out for flowers, skulls, faces, angels etc.

For Backdrops

Consider shots that you can add a backdrop to. Interesting stones that cut into the sky can be placed as silhouettes in front of large moons for vampire style digital work. To do a silhouette take a reading of the bright sky and expose for that. The cross or statue will then appear black and the sky can be coloured digitally to give a sunset or moonlight effect.


Sometimes the detail on stones is badly eroded and won't work as a single image, but shots of these can be used as texture layers for other photos. Build up a stock of images for layers. Textures in stone, ivy patterns, statue faces, detailed tombstone edges etc are all useful for montage photos.


Try shooting infrared as any ivy, lichen, tree leaves and other foliage will come out white, giving great contrast against texture of old stones and carvings. Most cameras can be used if you have an infrared filter. The photo will come out red, but you can correct this in your image editing program.


If it's a bright day with direct sunlight hitting the carvings you will find contrast is too high and the exposure will either give a burnt out highlight or black shadows. Metering for the highlight and using a flash or reflector to pump light back into the shadows will reduce the contrast problem. Just make sure you set the flash to a lower power ratio or hold the reflector far enough back so there's still a subtle shadow to give a sense of depth and bring out texture.


Stones that are laying flat can be useful backgrounds for fallen autumn leaves. Pick a single leaf and place it to one side for a more dynamic composition.

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31 Oct 2012 1:28PM
Great ideas and tips! thanks!
31 Oct 2012 4:57PM
We're glad you found them useful. Smile

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