A big part of any destination is usually the history of it through the years. This history is often encapsulated in historic sites that tell us so much about that civilisation and as well as mankind. As a travel photographer it is imperative that you can capture these sites which have usually already been photographed millions of times in a new and unique way. Here are 8 tips for photographing historic sites.
1. Do Your Research
Your first port of call should be to research the site itself and not just its opening and closing times. You need to learn about its history and why it was a significant historic site as by doing so you will understand the key elements that are not to be missed. You will need to research what photos already exist out there as you should try to find a new and unique way of capturing it. Finally, you need to start to think about the actual shoot itself and how you will go about capturing it. Think about the time of the day that would be ideal and which direction you need the light to be coming from. All of this research will help you ensure that you are able to do the site justice and help you capture unique photos.
2. Select Your Viewpoint
When taking a photo, most people just settle for the traditional eye level shot. Whilst this is absolutely fine and can allow for great photos, unfortunately most of the historic sites that you are photographing have already been captured at eye level. Sometimes simply getting higher or lower can give you an incredibly different perspective of that location and give you a completely different and unique shot. The key is to try and experiment and look around for places that others might not have thought about.
3. Vary Your Angle
If you turn up at any historic site you will usually see hoards of people standing around one spot taking photos at eye level. Whilst it’s always worth having these types of photos, it’s also worth just going beyond it and trying to find a unique new angle to capture the photo from. Sometimes this might not be possible, but for example photographing something from an elevated position like a hot air balloon can give you a completely different shot to what already exists. But you need to weigh up if the investment in a ticket for a hot air balloon is worth the photo opportunities.
4. Think About The Conditions
To capture truly great photos of historic sites, you will need to learn how to use the natural conditions to your advantage to capture the photo you will want. Most historic sites will be outdoors and whilst the usual custom of photographing in the golden hour might produce great results, sometimes it will not. This could be because the direction of the light isn’t right or it could be that all of the intricate carvings are producing harsh shadows and so photographing in cloudy conditions might produce better results. Or sometimes, like the example below, some mist can add atmosphere to the image. The key is to research the site and think about how you want it to look and plan your shoot accordingly.
5. Consider Tourists
Unfortunately, there’s no way around it. Historic sites are busy for a reason and it’s unlikely that if you turn up during busy periods you will be able to get the place to yourself. So you have two choices. The first is to try and wait for a gap in the flow of traffic to capture the photograph that you want but this might mean waiting around for a while. However, in most cases at some point you will get gap to take the photo that you want.
The second option is to incorporate the tourists into the composition. This often goes against our preconception of photographing historic places as people would usually prefer them clean without tourists in. But the benefit of including people in the shot is that not only will it give the photo a unique view, but it can often also tell a much better story.
6. Don’t Forget To Zoom In
It’s easy to be in awe of these historic sites, after all they are amongst the most incredible places on earth to visit. But sometimes it’s also worth taking a step closer and capturing things really up close. The details are often missed by the naked eye and capturing them can not only give a unique view but help give you portfolio diversity. Any research you can do beforehand will help, as you might find out about a detail of the site that has historical importance that you didn’t know about. As is often key with travel photography, you need to give yourself enough time to be able to capture these details and keep your eyes open for them.
7. Get Up Early
There are so many benefits to arriving early at any location. The soft early morning light is usually one of the key reasons. But another reason is that you often get busy places to yourself. So if you want to capture those clean uninterrupted views of the historical sites, early morning might be your best chance. Obviously the exception to this rule is when the sunrise at that location is actually a major draw for tourists in which case you will need to arrive even earlier to secure a good spot.
8. Be Respectful
Sometimes historic sites are UNESCO World Heritage sites but even if they are not, any historic site deserves respect. So be aware of your impact on the site and where you are walking and standing. Think about your tripod and if it is causing damage to the site and always ensure you follow the rules such as no flash photography. This is usually to protect the artworks from the light from the flash. If the site has religious connections also be respectful of how you behave and what you wear whilst visiting.
Historical sites are some of the most iconic places in the world to capture photographs of. A unique and beautiful photo of these places will always look great in any portfolio, but to capture great photos requires plenty of research beforehand, creative thinking, persistence and dedication. Follow these simple tips and you’ll be on your way to capturing great photos of historical sites.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. Dreamstime.
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