Why We Photograph What We Photograph

This photograph is part of a series about the ruins of an 18th century stone house. It was a bit of a surprise to find this building during a hike, especially one made of stone where this home is located. I thought it may be a good idea to discuss how I made the image.


It is important to have intent in your art. The method I teach and practice starts with asking 4 questions to help define your creative voice. It is a good idea to ask these questions when you start any photographic project, or even before taking a particular photograph. Here they are and how they applied to this image.

  1. What moves you? What moved me was the unique beauty of this 18th century ruin and its place in history. It is a large house for its time and still shows signs of opulence.
  2. Why? This is a beautiful piece of history that has fallen victim to fire and its environment. The house probably cannot be restored, but can be photographed artistically to help preserve it.
  3. What Do You Want to Say About It? Buildings this deteriorated might be stabilized so they won’t fall down. Once that happens, ruins become encapsulated and tend to lose their place in time. They lose their patina, so to speak. I felt compelled to record the home in its authentic state to illustrate how the remnants of our history can erode and be forgotten over time.
  4. How are you going to express it? I accomplish this though my style of photographing this type of place. I don’t do literal documentation, but choose to honor abandoned subjects and their history by photographing them artistically.

Composing The Photograph

This image presents several compositional elements:

  1. Focal Point – My focal point was the window on the other side of the building. Not only is it a place for your eye to be attracted to, it additionally hints at a landscape even more unruly than the building. You get a sense of the environment this home survived in since it had been abandoned.
  2. Leading Lines – The lines in the foreground window, fireplace, chimney, burned rafters and even the vines lead you to the focal point, but also allow you to “tour” the building’s interior.
  3. Depth of Field – I like composing this type of image with an extremely close foreground element which helps provide a sense of deep perspective.
  4. Color – Color is probably the most important and often ignored compositional element. When balanced, no single color dominates, when out of balance (not necessarily bad) the dominant color is where your eye is drawn. However, there is a lot more to this concept that would require a book, not a blog post. Anyway, my intent was to balance the colors. I desaturated the red in the bricks slightly and added saturation to the blues and greens in the walls to create a color balance that does not distract the eye on its journey through the image. If I had saturated the reds, your eye would be drawn to this once elegant fireplace and might miss the textures and subtle colors of the stone and plaster walls.

Post Processing

I’ve developed a style for processing this kind of subject based on not using HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, but drawing out the textures of a building like an HDR processed image. This approach makes the subject look more natural. By the way, I’m not opposed to HDR photography, it just doesn’t work for my style.

Outside of adjusting the color, which was mentioned above, the other post processing control I spent some time with was the direction of the light. The day was overcast and the light was very flat. To add contrast, which adds dimension, I brightened areas like the front of the chimney while slightly darkening shadow areas inside the building. The goal was to have some soft directional lighting coming from the right which was where the sun was located on this cloudy afternoon.

I hope you enjoyed this study of a photograph. Follow this link to learn more about finding your creative voice in photography.


Here are more photographs of this ruins