Historic Site Photography Tips

This article provides some historic site photography tips. They are illustrated with images captured at Trim Castle in Ireland.

Quite a few people visit historic sites when on holidays, and enjoy documenting them in their photographs. The weathered and sometimes deteriorating state of historic sites are often brimming with character. At times it can be challenging to incorporate different composition approaches with this type of subject matter. It can be easy for us to fall into a habitual composition pattern with our images.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Look for symmetry.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/25, ISO-160

Many historic sites we visit may include passageways, windows, doors and other structures. Looking for symmetry can create feelings of depth and balance in our compositions.

Use pathways and other structures as leading lines.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/100, ISO-160

We can often find interesting structures such as bridges and low walls that can be incorporated as leading lines in our compositions.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 7 mm, efov 18.9 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-200

Pedestrian pathways at historic sites can serve as very convenient leading lines.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 13 mm, efov 35 mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-200

Use framing elements.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-200

Windows and doors can be used as framing elements for other structures and details at historic sites. They can work as horizontal compositions… as well as vertical ones.

Leaving one side of our framing element open gives us a lot of creative freedom. It can also make it easier to deal with wide angle lens distortion.

Use subject bleeds to focus a viewer’s eye.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 13 mm, efov 35 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-200

When we purposely crop part of the subject in a composition, that surface ‘bleeds’ off the edge of the photograph.  This can create more drama in an image and force a viewer’s eye to move in the opposite direction. For example, an image bleed on the right hand edge forces a reader’s eye to move to the left.

If we examine the image above, we find that the viewer’s eye is being forced towards centre frame. This is caused by the image bleeds that have been incorporated on all four sides of the photograph. Forcing a reader’s eye towards the centre of a photograph tends to create a feeling of compression.

Now let’s see what happens when the subject bleed on the right hand side is removed from the composition.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 11 mm, efov 29.7 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-200

Removing the bleed on the right hand side of the image creates more ‘air’ on that side of the photograph, and a more open feeling. The viewer’s eye is now free to exit on the right hand side of the composition, rather than being forced back into the centre of the image. The bleeds on the top, bottom and left hand side of the photograph force the viewer’s eye towards the structure on the hill. This helps to create a feeling of more depth in the composition.

Anticipate wide angle distortion.

When photographing historic sites and buildings we often use wide angle lenses. It is important to anticipate wide angle distortions and plan for perspective adjustments in post processing. Let’s have a look at an out-of-camera jpeg to get an idea on how to anticipate wide angle distortion.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 8 mm, efov 21.6 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160, out-of-camera jpeg

We can see severe wide angle distortion of the buildings as they tilt in towards the centre of the composition. I left a lot of room around the buildings to allow for perspective control adjustments to be made in post processing. Now let’s have a look at the finished image, produced from the RAW file with the wide angle distortions corrected in post.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 8 mm, efov 21.6 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

Wide angle distortions are also commonplace when using a door or window to fully frame a subject. Let’s have a look at an out-of-camera jpeg to see this type of wide angle distortion.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/160, ISO-200, out-of-camera jpeg

In this composition the inward tilting sides of the window are distracting, as is the angle of the structure on the hill. I knew that I wanted to adjust these angles in post so I left an appropriate amount of space in the original composition. Now, let’s have a look at this same photograph after it was adjusted in post.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/160, ISO-200

In order to give the framing element some context, it can be important to lighten it up somewhat to reveal some details. It’s a judgement call in terms of how much detail to reveal in the framing element. Unveiling too much detail can cause the framing element to compete with the intended subject in the image.

Incorporate visual layers to increase feeling of depth

Looking for ways to incorporate a number of visual layers can help create a feeling of depth in our photographs at historic sites. The angled stone wall and dry moat in the image below add visual layers and help to create a feeling of depth. The stone wall in the foreground also adds some colour balance to the photograph.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-200

Photographing from a lower angle and lining up a series of visual elements can also create a feeling of depth. Using a wide angle focal length helps to separate the elements. If we want a more compressed look, utilizing a longer focal length would be in order.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/160, ISO-200

The photograph above uses pronounced image bleeds on the bottom and right hand side. These direct a viewer’s eye to the top left corner of the image. This desired eye movement is reinforced by the right to left stacking of visual elements in the photograph.

Get in close to create a feeling of intimacy.

To create a feeling of ‘being there’ it can help to move in very tight to walls and other structures. These elements can then be used as leading lines into the body of the image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-200
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/100, ISO-200

Use natural light to highlight structure details.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18 mm, f/8, 1/10, ISO-3200

Depending on the location of the historic site we’re visiting, there may be urban areas in close proximity. Sometimes this makes capturing images with a window as a framing element impractical. By using the available natural light we can draw attention to the shape of window and door structures.

Using these historic site photography tips can help bring some variety to our photographs. These techniques can be applied to other subject matter as well.

All of the photographs in this article were captured using Nikon 1 equipment. If you would like to find out more about the Nikon 1 system, you may find our eBook The Little Camera That Could of interest. The eBook is available for purchase and download. It is priced at $9.99 Canadian. Readers interested in purchasing a copy can use the link below.

 

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Most of the images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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