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How To Photograph Ruins in 5 Easy Steps

Here's ePHOTOzine's guide to photographing ruins on trips when you're holiday or a little closer to home at the many National Trust sites dotted around the UK.

|  Landscape and Travel
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Roche Abbey


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.


1. 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 polarizer will reduce reflections and the blue of the sky will be enhanced giving your image more contrast.


2. 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 may be 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.


Castle ruins


3. 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 a 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.


4. 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.


5. Tall And Wide

If you're working with a particularly tall building converging verticals may be a problem but by shooting from a 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 images 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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MentorRon 4 102 Canada
28 Jul 2019 5:56PM

I thought I read "how to ruin photographs in 5 easy steps."

Then I realized that's what most folk I see on vacation seem to be doing,
so I re-read the title. Hopefully some of those folk get to read this...

MentorRon 4 102 Canada
28 Jul 2019 6:04PM
Of course I had always wanted to visit Canterbury Cathedral, so I booked a 28 day all inclusive bus tour of Britain and Ireland from Canada which spent a day there. Guess what: a special event had it closed for that day SadSadSadSadSadSad I got one photo through the fence from the entry kiosk in the surrounding wall.
Did get some nice shots wandering around Glastonbury Abbey though SmileSmileSmileSmileSmileSmile
(But same thing has happened on both European bus trips through Paris (1974 and 2013).) One day each and those were the days the Louvre was closed. SadSadSadSadSadSad
Travel funds now depleted, so no next chance Sad
AlexandraSD 11 773 United Kingdom
26 Jul 2020 9:32PM
haha I also thought it was How To Ruin Photographs!

I should add, if visiting castles and ruins out of hours, be aware of electric fences...
themak 9 1.1k Scotland
27 Jul 2022 9:47PM
Not more selfie tips! Oh, I see, it's an annual thing.

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