Photographing Unconventional Subject Matter

Looking through the shape of a Christian cross towards a stained glass window at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France

Pere Lachaise is the most famous cemetery in Paris. As well as being the resting place of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison it is a marvelous place to wonder around and explore the architectural relics within which the deceased have been laid to rest.

While a little tricky to navigate your way around the site, it's worth putting aside a good half day to do so. The cobblestone pathways and hilly terrain just add to the atmosphere as your traverse the row upon row of resting places throughout the cemetery.

How I Photographed Both Sides Of The Crypt

I made this image with a Canon 5D Mark II camera and a Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS USM L series lens at 89 mm with a shutter speed of 1/30 second and an aperture of f/11 at ISO 400. I chose to focus upon the stained glass window and used the aperture to extend the depth of field so that it brought the foreground (almost) into focus.

This is important as, while the rose and shape of the cross are important, I didn't want them competing for attention with the stained glass window. They are important elements in this story, but I wanted to make sure the stained glass windows dominated the composition. Frankly, I'm thrilled with the result. It's one of my favorite photographs.

A view down a long corridor at St. Sebastian's Cemetery in Salzburg, Austria.

It's Important To Approach Graves With Respect

Being careful to approach and photograph grave sites in a respectful manner is important. Nevertheless, such sites offer extraordinary beauty and are worthy of our attention and contemplation.

I rarely photograph gravestones for strictly documentary purposes (herein rests John Doe, died 86 years of age), preferring to concentrate on the abstract qualities inherent within the structures. To this end light, color, texture and shape guide my way.

To me the most important aspect of the image from St. Sebastian's Cemetery in Salzburg, Austria is the mood that's been created by the light (it was raining at the time I made this image) and by rendering the image into a warm toned black and white photograph.

The photo of Felix Artuso's grave with the Grytviken Wailing Station in the background is more of a straight documentary image. Nonetheless, the power of the natural landscape adds mood and meaning to this image. It speaks to me of isolation. All but one gravestone in this cemetery point home to Europe. The explorer Ernest Shackleton's gravestone points to Antarctic, his spiritual home.

Photographing Cemeteries eBook
9.97

I'm excited to announce my very first commercially available eBook Photographing Cemeteries - Transience, Transformation, Transition

Over three year's in the making this eBook features photographs made on six continents and includes a range of short essays on a wide variety of technical, aesthetic and conceptual ideas.

The most important aspect of the book, other than the beautiful photos, is an examination of the way I photographed each of the sacred sites and how a general documentary approach grew, by answering the creative call, into art.

This eBook is of the highest quality and is underpinned by nearly 40 years experience as a professional photographer. Hundreds of hours and a great deal of expense have been invested into this project. It's  been a wonderful experience which I'd love to share with you. 

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Tears for the Lost, La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina. An image of the Madonna shedding tears, with the ever encroaching urban sprawl in the background, at this beautiful and historic cemetery.

Your Photos Should Explore What You Love

Since my early years I've been drawn to stained glass windows. I'd like to think that my own photography, whatever the subject matter, explores the transforming and transcendental nature of light and, in doing so, provides myself and the viewer with a glimpse of the sublime beauty evident in all things.

I strongly recommend, whenever possible, that you explore unconventional subject matter as a way of increasing your own powers of observation and photographic prowess.  

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru