Photographing a Church and a Graveyard

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A church and the graveyard can be a little unnerving photographic project due to some of the subject matter, but it doesn't have to be. This theme involves seeking out churches which have graveyards within their compounds, next to them or close by. For this you are most definitely going to have to visit the country or go outside of the city limits since it is very rare for a church that is located in a city to also have a graveyard side by side or even near it.

This project will be reminiscent an of old gone by era, when everything revolved around the local church or at least the church was the biggest building in town. Your images should focus on capturing interesting architectural details and points of interest on the outside of the church as well as interesting details and the usually richly detailed and decorated artifacts and religious themed components within the interior.

This will include statues of religious figures, donations repositories, candle stations, the altar itself, any stained window panes, the lighting fixtures, an organ if one is present and the ceiling which is usually adorned with quite elaborate lighting fixtures.

The photos should also include the more interesting parts of the roof since it is here where the best features are found, such as a cross, saintly figurines and so on. If the church also has a cemetery close by or next to it, then some of your exterior shots should encompass both.

Once you are withing the cemetery, concentrate and focus on some of the headstone details such as engravings of prayers and remembrance; however, please be very sensitive and do not record names. Some photographers purposely record the names of the deceased, and to each its own, I do not. The cemetery is very rich with religious motifs such as statues and effigies of saints, angels and many others. there are also plenty of religious symbols. So I do not see the necessity of recording names, unless it happens to have some historical element that makes the photograph special.

Flower vases and their flowers should be included as they can make powerful images. Their photos can give a sense of time such as wilting flowers that have been standing guard for a while and caring such as a beautiful fresh flower arrangement, as well as the feelings of those left behind towards their loved ones such as small religious images, portraits, pictures, tokens, white balloons, and even a fading kiss planted on the head stone itself.

Some headstones are marble and highly decorative, try to record reflections on the marble. However, most headstones are made of cement, with these record the effects of weather and texture. Include images that cover a wide angle of the cemetery to also include the gardens and outside decorations. Cover shapes such as curves and lines.

Be aware that you may not be allowed to photograph at some churches and cemeteries, do so sensibly and refrain from doing so if asked.

Most church exterior photos are captured during daylight, but some of the best images are done during sunrise or twilight. If you are able to use portable light, then aim some narrow beams directly at the headstones to create highlights, shoot from a distance with a long lens or use a shallow dept of field, just enough to capture the subject itself but eliminating possible distracting background elements.

Also consider using photographic filters in gold or tobacco. These add a slight yellowish to brownish tone to the entire image which serves to add a feeling of nostalgia to the shot. Some filters are half toned; only half of the filter has a shade such as some tobacco ones. Use these sparingly to add a surreal element to any sky area, works very well if clouds are present.

If your subject is found where there is snow, then include scenes of the building surrounded an covered in it. Use filtered light to avoid harsh shadows and record the exterior with some parts of the outside area included. The same holds true for cemeteries, If snow has fallen, then record images of the snow covered areas as well. This can also be done during the fall if there are trees nearby and their fallen leaves are within the area of the headstone and graves.

Some of the most attractive subjects are also ruins, abandoned churches and no longer used cemeteries. Focus of the details and aim to record the essence of what the building and locations may have looked like before they fell out of favor. Again the best shots are usually taken during sunrise and twilight.

Dave Fergusson Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Dave Fergusson Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) | Source

This modest theme is normally used as an artistic expression, a means of widening your photographic horizons. Rarely is this thematic project used to sell images.

However some very good and very tastefully recorded images are often displayed in fine art galleries and used by photographic publications. More than anything, this particular project can be a good exercise from which to gain experience in photographing difficult and sensible topics.

It also allows one, under some circumstances, to get creative with light, perspective and unusual angles.

Some scenes which are rather flat or have a muted color palette may benefit by being recorded in monochrome such as black & white or sepia for added intrigue and to create what seems as a ghostly atmosphere. Monochrome adds an element of mystery to such scenes. Follow link for a Photoshop tutorial in how to turn color into monochrome.

It is also advisable to seek permission from church and cemetery authorities before photographing on their property, although these are mostly open to the public there is a need to follow protocol and observe any set rules.

CC BY 3.0
CC BY 3.0 | Source

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Comments 12 comments

Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

I haunt cemeteries mostly for my ancestry research, you can find out so much about a town/city/area in a cemetery that I have written about in a hub, but photo art. DOH!!! Thanks again, Luis!


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LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Thanks again Lynn, BTW what does DOH mean? sorry I don't know that one, but I'm sure my kids know...lol


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 5 years ago from Jamaica

I think I'd be scared to do this project, the photos look so eerie. You did a good in explaining how it could be done. Thanks.


FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

I love the architecture of churches. There aren't any here who have a graveyard, not in the city section or any of the new churches, period. Our city's graveyard is on one of our mountains. I think I would stick to photographing the church itself unless I actually knew the person that died and then this would be for my own personal album.


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Cardisa: Chicken...lol but I understand


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

FloraBreeRobinson: Churches have some of the most exquisite architecture that can be found and photographing it is often very fruitful.


Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

Hey Luis, DOH isn't an acronym - its like a *head slap* could've had a V8 why didn't I think of that - doh!! lol!!


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

LMAO...DUH...I should have realized it...thanks


justom profile image

justom 5 years ago from 41042

Great hub Luis. I'm visiting the grave of John Buck, founder of Bucksport Maine in a couple of weeks. It's said to be haunted, I'll let you know about it when I get back. Lot of great old churches up there too. I need to get those other church shots I told you about scanned when I get back also. Nice work, as always! Peace!! Tom


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LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

justom: have fun and leave any ghost there...lol


randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

My husband and I just visited the Basilica in Washington DC this past week, and I did get some photographs there. The architecture and artwork are stunning. There are tons of amazing mosaics.


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

randomcreative: Thank you, sometimes we overlook the possibilities when we do not see those possibilities.

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