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How to Photograph a Castle

Castell Coch

Castles come in many variations, different sizes from the very large and complete like Windsor Castle to  some that are more like a gatehouse, or a piece of shaped land where a castle once stood. They represent different times, designs, uses and are in different states of repair. Some have water such as sea or rivers, some have moats around them, while others may be perched in the side of mountains, or buried in a modern town.

Most castles are a result of a number of periods of development, and up to the point where they were abandoned or breached for the last time. Many at some point fell into a far worst condition than we see today and have been in part renovated. Some of these renovations were to create romantic follies, others were at times converted to other uses, and some have other uses today from schools to hotels to garden centres to prisons, as well as impressive houses.

There is no cut and clear line as to what a castle is, at one end we have earth works, perhaps stretching back to Neolithic times with major fortifications from the 5th Century BC,  while at the other we have Victorian recreations. Perhaps what most would think of as a castle would be the stone structures built after 1066  and perhaps up to the point when later armoury with projected shells were able to knock down walls, negating their ability to provide a defence, after this the castle ceasing to be used and the sunken fort and gun platforms taking its place. This, however, would not include the Roman forts that were built of stone and very much like later castles. As developments have occurred throughout history few castles are tied to one specific time only, and therefore there is an overlap in any definition that you were to apply.

Throughout Britain over the years there have been a very large number of castles, and looking at many ordnance survey maps we can see many shown, some open to the public others in use for other purposes or not open.  Walk around any older town and you will see road signs and other signs that show at some point a castle was present, you may also see town walls or other stone structures that may have been connected with a castle, and be able to trace the history of other structures, such as prisons, back to previously being a castle.

The photographic challenges are varied, but the scale of structure is often the largest challenge, how do you show a significant part of a large structure that can often only be seen from inside, where there is limited space. In part the solution involves the use of wide angle lenses, and the need to consider perspective so that buildings  do not lean back.

The view with this lens is 180 degrees, (Nikon 10.5mm modified fisheye)  from ear to ear,
as you might say, but can cause curving on items at the extreme edges. It allows you to
 photograph extremely wide shots that are difficult without using it, like the one below, both
of these photographs are at Caerphilly Castle.

In a number of situations we  needed a wide angle but to also be close, so as to be able to see water, a moat or similar, and without the building sloping back the angle can be extreme, only being possible to achieve with a modified fisheye lens that can give 180 degree view.

Taking the castle from a distance may be more straightforward, but often there is the need to use a graduated Neutral Density filter or underexpose and bring out detail in the editing stage in order to capture the sky.

Where water, and reflections are involved, the use of a polarising filter may allow us to bring out more of the reflection, as well as making some of the clouds show more in some directions.

Bishops Palace Wells

Caerphilly Castle

Raglan castle

In many castles we an climb some of the towers, perhaps walk on sections of battlements, and in these cases the higher viewpoint may allow us to get a much better view if the castle interior as well as an idea as to what could be seen from the castle when being defended, although now there may be more buildings, trees and other items around. A lot of times we are recording the remains of parts of castles, the supports where floors were, the fireplaces now in a wall some way from and existing floor, openings in which a window once existed, or a staircase that now goes nowhere.

Views from up on the battements at Harlech Castle - this allows a different perspective, and may be a plan of the castle.

Click on smaller images to see a larger version

In photographing a castle we can look to try to tell a story, about what it was, its use, structure and  is now. We could also just look at it as a picturesque item or as a part of the scenery.

Before we visit we may be able to find out a little of what we can expect, if its owned by one of the national organisations or it's open to the public for fee, then its likely to have information on it on one website or another.  Eventually we will have location guides for a least all the major castles on this website. On maps we can see the landscape, and may be able to see possible places we could photograph it from. If its near the coast or on tidal water we can look at the tides for the date we propose to visit.

From what we can see, we may be able to see what time of day would be ideal to visit and have some idea as to how much time we will need there.

The next question will be what equipment to take with us, do we carry lots that we may use or work on the assumption that circular staircases in old towers are easier to use with less being carried, and manage with less. Are we expecting to take any panoramas that will require a tripod, do we need flash lights and with what we want to take will we need an assistant.

When we are taking the photographs, the points we need to consider include:-

  • depth of field

  • colour balance

  • protecting highlights from being burnt out

  • perspective so the buildings don't slope back unless we want them to

  • composition

We could also consider taking the images in black and white if we wished.


By: Keith Park Section: Castles Key:
Page Ref: how_to_photograph_castles Topic: Castles Last Updated: 03/2009

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