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Bringing Graveyards Home – How to Photograph in a Cemetary

Nothing seems to evoke the spirit of Halloween quite like a graveyard in the fall, especially in New England.

The New England fall season is crisp with chilly air in the mornings, and a hard, penetrating light which makes the brightly colored leaves of the trees blaze across the landscape. These blazing trees, slowly losing their leaves to fall’s inevitable march towards winter, often stand guard behind the wrought iron fences and stone walls of the graveyards.

These silent sentries, amongst the markers of the dead, offer up endless possibilities to create unique photographs. Pictures of graveyards and individual headstones can add additional spice to your Halloween décor!

Spooky, Ancient Graveyards of New England

The older towns and cities of the Untied States (especially the seemingly ancient villages of New England), have a wealth of graveyards. The oldest of these burial grounds have tall and narrow headstones made from slate. Upon these slate markers are carved images which are both thrilling and spooky. Weeping willows, urns, skulls, hourglasses, and Death himself are engraved into the stone. Words, names, and dates – all in English hundreds of years old – speak of the long dead beneath the earth. Epitaphs of dire warnings and bitter assertions have their place as well, as does quoted scripture, all of them portraying the afterlife in a cold light.

graveyard-alevi-kalmistuGrave markers from the Victorian and Edwardian periods are of a different style, but they are no less impressive. Angels and lions carved from marble; granite obelisks and orbs; mausoleums and chapels, all of these – and the earlier stones as well – can be turned into inexpensive and mood setting art.

Tips For Taking Great Pictures of Cemeteries

With the ready availability of disposable cameras, digital cameras, and cell phones equipped with cameras, there is a wide array of ways by which to capture these various headstones. The fact that many computers come with standard photograph editing programs is also extremely helpful for the preparation of the photos as well as easy upon the wallet. Whether a photograph is scanned into the system, or uploaded, editing can be done quite easily. Standard stock photograph paper is also available at fair prices, making the printing of the pictures fairly simple as well.

Here’s some tips on taking great photographs of gravestones to print out and frame:

  • Choose either an early morning or late evening for your photoshoot. Unless the day is severely overcast, the bright sun will often wash out the colors of a scene, leaving it flat. In the early morning or late evening, the sun’s rays are angled such that it will give your scenes a soft light and soft shadows, perfect for those eerie cemetery scenes. Remember, when shooting, lighting is all that matters.
  • Use a tripod. No matter how steady your hand, there is no way you can give your images that crystal clarity that a tripod gives.
  • Have a foreground, a middle, and a background. If shooting an entire graveyard, make sure there is something in the foreground, like a tree, a grave marker, grass, etc. Then, think of what’s in the middle – the graveyard, of course. Finally, the background – trees in the distance, a pale dawn sky, etc. This will all give your landscape shot a satisfying, professional depth.
  • Emphasize either the sky or the ground. Don’t place the horizon in the middle. This makes your photo boring, because both the sky and ground are competing for your attention. Decide which section of the landscape to focus on.
  • Watch the Weather Channel – for fog, of course! There’s nothing more beautiful than fog in a graveyard. Get up early in the morning (really early, before the sun rises) to get that perfect shot of fog at dawn. Fog happens when the dew point and the temperature are near equal.
  • For close-up shots of tombstones, think of interesting angles. Instead of shooting right in front, try shooting from below or above for an interesting effect.
  • Also for close-up shots, if you have a professional camera, use the smallest aperture – this will bring your foreground into sharp focus, and make your background blurry. If you want everything in focus (for instance, for a general landscape shot), go for a higher aperture setting.

Framing Your Spooky Masterpiece

Frames for your various photographs can be picked up at discount stores, second hand shops, and fleamarkets quite readily. The pictures don’t need to be permanently placed into the frames, of course, leaving the frames available for other holidays and needs as they arise.

Once the graveyard photographs are framed, the pictures can be placed on a variety of surfaces, and even used as backgrounds for stationary displays of Halloween villages and dollhouses decorated for Halloween.

Happy shooting!

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About Chris Molnar

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One comment

  1. How fabulously, deliciously creepy and historical. (Yes, I did say creepy AND historical! Hey, some of us Halloweenophiles are strange!) I used to scout out cemeteries in the northeast. Just fascinating information there. In all that time I never took a picture…this is an interesting idea.

    Well-written article, kudos…I love to see unique articles for Halloween.

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