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Some of the most iconic photographs are taken of the historical monuments, statues and buildings that represent our cultural and societal heritage but with millions of people taking photos of them every year how can you make yours stand out?
7 Basic Principles That You Can Use To Make Your Historical Monument Photography Stand Out – Tips, Tricks and Techniques.
Use Climatic and Weather Elements to Your Advantage:
When you’re photographing a historical moment you should be looking for extra elements that you can incorporate into the photography. For instance, in the photograph below, the photographer has shot the image early in the morning to capture the rising mist. This adds a strong sense of atmosphere and gives the Taj Mahal a timeless feel.
You can’t always plan ahead when it comes to the weather however if you get there at dawn you’re more likely to see the mist rising, particularly in climates like India. This means that, to an extent, you’ll have to think on your feet and work with whatever nature gives you!
In the photo beneath, the photographer has taken the image following a rainstorm and the wet streets catch a beautiful reflection of the architecture. The thick clouds hanging in the air behind the buildings add depth to the image and the skyscrapers disappearing into them helps the central subject of the photo to stand out better.
Choose the Time of Day.
When you go to take photos of a historical monument, especially a famous one, you’ll need to think about the time of day that you go. If you arrive in the middle of the day you might find the place swamped with tourists! However, most tourists on holiday don’t tend to get up early and as a photographer, you can use this to your advantage!
Consequently, it’s always better to arrive early in the morning while other tourists are still having their breakfast at the hotel or else later in the evening, by which time the tourists will have already gone. Not only will this give you more space to work and reduce the numbers of other sight seers who might spoil your photos, but it will also let you make use of the Golden hour, when the sun casts a softer light.
Sunsets and sunrises are a classic time of day to shoot historical monuments and there’s a good reason for this. The rising or setting sun adds pathos, atmosphere and great contrasts, shadows and lighting which can really help your work to stand out from the rest.
In the photo of the Statue of Liberty the sun is rising in the background which silhouettes the monument and the ship sailing across the harbor. This makes the image stand out more because of the powerful composition and hard contrasts of light.
Use the Right Equipment.
When you’re setting out to take photographs of historical monuments you want to ensure that you have the right equipment with you to make the most of the opportunity.
Using a tripod is an excellent idea because it will get rid of any shakes in your photos and will let you use both fast and slow shutter speeds while getting crystal clear shots.
A wide angle lens is a valuable item that you can take with you so you can really show the impressive size and perspective of the building. Alternatively, you can use a telephoto lens, with a tripod for stability, to zoom into particular details and features of the monument.
If you’re taking photos in very bright sunlight then a polarizing filter will give your photos more saturated colors while removing glare and reflections that can ruin the images. Similarly, if you’re working in poor lighting conditions then your tripod will help you to work with a smaller aperture to get clear shots of the monument’s features.
Return to The Monument More Than Once.
If you’re serious about capturing some top quality photos of any historical monument then you should try to return to the site at least a few times, if not more. This means that you don’t have to rely on pure luck when it comes to the weather and gives you the chance to work at different times of day.
A monument will look completely different during the night to how it looks early in the morning! Returning several times will give you a unique perspective on the building and let you take a whole series of photos. Sometimes, the most stunning photos are taken in unexpected conditions; for instance, an ancient cathedral may be more striking on a dark and gloomy day than on a bright sunny one!
Working at night can also present you with a whole range of options that are not available during the day. In the photo below, of the Cathedral in Cologne at night, is brilliantly framed by the city’s lights. The river that is shrouded in darkness paints an interesting and contrasting backdrop to the bridge that stretches towards the ancient Cathedral – something which would not have been possible during the daylight hours.
Research the History of the Site.
It can be really helpful if you do a little bit of research about the history of the monument before you arrive on the scene. You can find plenty of information on the internet but you can also browse tourist brochures and local history guides.
Having a good understanding of the history of the monument will give you great insights into the meaning of the place but it might also help you pick out special or pertinent features of the architecture to highlight in your photography. You can focus on parts of the architecture which helps to tell the story of the place and can give your work more meaning and significance.
Work on Your Composition.
While photographing historical monuments you don’t want to forget to use the basic rules of composition. This will give your photos a sense of harmony and the artistic qualities of an expert painting!
Work with the Rule of Thirds to position the monument in the frame, look for Leading Lines that you can use to draw your viewers gaze around the picture and use the Golden Rule to place objects in the composition!
Look for opportunities to find symmetries in the architecture and zoom in on unique features that make the building a special place. If the monument has an important cultural significance then you can include a plaque in the image or other elements of the building that represent its story.
You don’t always need to photo the entire structure and you can create some powerful compositions that focus on the details or features of the building. In the image below, the photographer has shot an inner courtyard of an ancient monastery.
The strong dark lines of the wooden roofing panels frame the image perfectly and the light coming in through the windows between the pillars give the hallway a mysterious feel that leads the viewer to wonder who may have walked these halls during the building’s past!
Look For Unusual Angles and Perspectives.
To make your work stand out you should be spending some time looking for unique angles, perspectives and ways to frame your photos. Avoid the typical perspectives that most people will be shooting and find ways that you can use the angles and perspectives in your shots to emphasize the essence of the historical monument.
For instance, in the photo of the Eiffel Tower, the photographer has managed to capture the imposing grandeur of the structure, with its huge bulking base and the tower reaching up into the sky. The perspective creates strong shadows at the base and highlights the bright tower stretching away from the viewer.
Take Your Monument Photography To The Next Level.
When you’re on site and exploring the possibilities available to you always keep an eye out for the details of the monument. Most people will instinctively try to get the whole monument into the frame but often, the most stand out photos, are more carefully composed to emphasize a special feature or detail.
Always take your time once you’ve arrived. Spend a while walking around the monument looking for interesting perspectives, unique ways to frame the structure and any leading lines or symmetries that you can use in your work.
A building or monument is more than just it’s exterior and keeping this in mind will help you to pick out the parts of the structure that you can use to represent the meaning, significance and feel of the site.
Which is your favorite monument to photograph?