Everybody needs a hobby, and in my case, I like to photograph barns—the older the better—and as the Colorado landscape has become ever more urbanized I’ve been forced out onto the eastern prairie in search of old farm structures. If my avocation sounds interesting to you, here’s my personal rules for photographing barns. Keep in my that these are my rules for me. Treat them as suggestions for your own photography.
Rule 1: Always ask permission and don’t walk onto someone’s land as if you own it. Look for “No Trespassing” signs and honor them if found. I used to keep prints of my barn photographs to show people what I was doing, finding that once they understood what my photos looked like they would be more accommodating. Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t. Now I keep images on an iPad and iPhone. They’re more portable and don’t get wrinkled.
Rule 2: Follow the press photographers adage of “f/8 and be there” and keep a camera in your car as you drive around. The photo at the top of this post was made while my wife and I were on our way to lunch. I had a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 28mm-135mm IS lens on the floor in the back of my car, pulled it out, and made several exposures of this barn.
Rule 3: Select the smallest possible lens aperture to get the greatest depth of focus. In photographing barns, I prefer to shoot at the smallest possible apertures, preferring f/16 or smaller. The exposure of the above photograph was 1/60 sec at f/22 and ISO 400. And don’t forget that the total area of focus is one-third in front of the object in sharp focus and two-thirds behind to get all of the important details in clear detail. Most digital SLRs that have a monochrome option, also let you apply digital filters to the image as well so I’ll typically use a Red filter in to produce dramatic skies and snappy, contrasty images.
Rule 4: Use the lowest possible ISO setting. (OK I blew that one on the above shot.) That may result in slow shutter speeds which is why I always keep a tripod, often two of them, in my car’s trunk at all times, Using a tripod slows the pace of photography and spend the extra time making sure the composition is exactly the way I want. One of my favorite tricks is to look at each corner of frame before snapping the shutter. This eliminates unpleasant surprises—stuff that seemed to come of out nowhere to ruin an image—when looking at the downloaded digital images on my computer.
I urge photographers to not only document places they love but people as well. I’m always surprised that people spend lots of time and money restoring old photographs of their grandparents and great-grandparents after they have passed away but little time making snapshots and portraits of them while they’re still alive. Photographers should use their technical and aesthetic skills to not only photograph the people they love in the dignity of their old age but to display and preserve images these images in an album or website so future generations will know what these people looked like in contemporary surroundings, not just in old, restored photographs.
This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store