Photographing Stone Circles
Photographing stone circles is not easy, some like Avebury can only be photographed as a complete item from the air, due to their size and obstacles, while some others are difficult in that they are a small number of spread out stones relatively small compared to the area they cover. You also often have difficulty getting into a position to observe them and where you can in many cases there are people in your way.
In summer some are difficult to see let alone photograph due to the height of vegetation, while in winter they are often rather cold and bleak places to visit. With some all the stones have fallen over and are flat on the ground, or may even be mostly buried. Ditches may have been filled in and a number of centuries caused both severe erosion and some stones to break up.
You can of course photograph individual stones, and also look to feature groups of stones to show a curve or the proximity of different stone patterns.
If we stand back further and use a telephoto lens we can close up distance, making more distant stones both visible and proportionally larger, while if we use a very wide angle lens we can get far closer to the circle and get it all in.
Stones reflect well the colour of the light, so the time of the day can have a noticeable effect on the mood of the photographs. Shortly before sunset you get both a golden glow but also long strong shadows that may offer compositional opportunities.
The height the camera is from the ground can also effect the impression given, from lower the stones look larger, but often less can be seen, from a higher position you may get a better impression of the shape of the circle.
If we have a sky with white clouds on blue and are shooting at around 90 degrees to the sun we can add a polarizer to make the clouds stand out and the sky bluer, while in hazy conditions the polarizer may also help to cut down some of the haze. Using B&W and filters may set a mood, and often days where there is cloud can create interesting photographs.
Colour balance can be set accurately using PRE, but the auto white balance is usually close enough, as long as we are photographing in RAW format we can change the white balance afterwards if we wish.
Unless we go to one of the stone circles that is off the tourism trail, or go very early of a summer morning we are likely to have people in many of our shots. We have to decide if this is a benefit or a distraction, it can give a scale to the images, particularly if they are near to distant stones or walking on earth banks. But what if you donít want them, well you can wait and a gap may appear, or you may be able to manoeuvre so that the people are hidden behind a large stone, this is the approach we often use a lot when two of us are photographing a large circle or we would be in many of each others shots. Using a tripod you could take several images as people move from one position to another and then in Photoshop create a stack of images rubbing out the people on each layer so the layer underneath showed through. You can also use the multiple image facility on your camera (if it has it) to take up to 10 photos that merge in camera to produce a single shot. This makes the individual people far lighter and ghost like, compared to the items that are in the same place in each shot. Some people in dark clothes will disappear completely, and the effects you can get are worth playing with. Probably a more common approach is to use a clone tool to copy other parts of the scene on top of the people making them disappear, and has the benefit that you donít need a tripod or multiple shots. If you plan to do this then try to make sure none of the people are in front of the stone at the point you take the shot.
Most stone circles are accessible and have few if any restrictions, and are located in fields where you can photograph them from any angle and get as close to them as you wish. There are frequently cattle or sheep in the fields and their droppings as well as other mud makes it wise to have a pair or walking boots or wellingtons.
The exception to this is Stonehenge, which years ago was the same and many of us remember climbing on the stones, however now it is a managed and controlled commercial site. With a path around close on one side otherwise, some distance away from the stones. The sheer number so people visiting this site does make this a sensible move, and allows you to get photographs without people in but you do need a reasonable length telephoto zoom lens to get in close, we both used the 18-200 lens on our last visit and found this just about the ideal range, from wide angles to show the site or from where the path goes closer to telephoto shots from when further away. With tourism comes better car parks, toilets, food and shops, and of course promotion and more people. Compare this with Stanton Drew, which has 3+ remaining stone circles an avenue and more, over a far larger site, and no facilities, and few if any people. Its car park would hold only about 4 cars and at a £1 a person in the honesty box is far cheaper to visit. Three more stones are conveniently found in the garden of the Druid Arms, a local hostelry, and can be seen from a public area or from the large pub grounds. Plan the time right and you can get a good meal and use of facilities after discovering the larger site.
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