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How To Photograph Ruins in 5 Easy Steps

Here's ePHOTOzine's guide to photographing ruins.

|  Landscape and Travel
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Historical ruins such as churches, castles and abbeys decorate our countryside and seaside towns but you'll also find a few smaller, but still impressive ruins closer to home. Walls, arches and columns are still dotted around a few towns and villages which are still photogenic even if there's not much of the structure left to photograph. If you're off on your travels, have a look online and at local tourism centres to find out what ruins are near to where you're staying.

Volubilis archaeological site
Photo by David Clapp -


What Gear Do I Need? 

For general shots of the building and the surroundings you'll need a wide-angle lens but take your longer zoom along too for getting in close to interesting architectural detail. A tripod's handy but if you want to travel light, try taking something smaller such as a tabletop tripod and use a wall to help you steady your shot. If there are any windows left in your building of choice a polariser will reduce reflections and the blue of the sky will be enhanced giving your image more contrast.


Do Your Homework

Many of our abbeys and other ruins are now looked after by the National Trust or English Heritage so you could be charged to walk around them, they'll have specific opening times and there maybe restrictions if you want to use your images commercially so it's worth a quick look on the internet or a chat on the phone to find out everything you need to know. That way you won't waste your petrol money.


Take A Walk

The first thing you should do when you arrive is stretch your legs on a walk around the ruin. This will give you the chance to scout for interesting detail and look for the best angle. Don't just stand and photograph the first pile of rubble you see as this won't give your viewer any clue into what the building is or what it was used for. Look for areas that have more definite shape and if you can, parts where nature hasn't completely taken over. Of course, some walls look great with roots growing through them and it can really emphasise how ruined the building is, so keep that in mind.


Roche Abbey

Photo by David Pritchard


Look Closer

Look for unique parts that make the building stand out from any other and if the outside isn't very interesting you could always take a peek inside to see if the hidden details give more of an idea of what the function of the building was. If the building still has an inside watch your exposures and check your histogram before you move on to make sure it's OK. Try shooting inside out through a broken window or use a long corridor to lead the viewer's eye through the image.

Signs are a direct way to explain more about the building you're photographing and they can often be quite interesting in their own right with features such as peeling paint and rusty bolts worthy of a quick photograph.


Tall And Wide

If you're working with a particularly tall building converging verticals may be a problem but by shooting from height this can easily be rectified. Steps, hills or shooting from another building are all ways you can correct the distortion or you could try stepping further back which gives you the opportunity to use the surroundings to give the building context.

If the grounds really do add to your image try shooting a panorama. Some cameras come with this function built-in but if yours doesn't just shoot several image moving from right to left or left to right and stitch them together with specifically designed software when you get back to your computer.

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