Imagine a scene depicting an old run-down cottage in a tranquil meadow or an old decayed fishing boat on a beach stretching into the distance – it does not really matter if the image is attractive or not, the point is that dereliction photography is about what you decide to record as a photograph. How you go about taking the photograph to stimulate the viewer is the challenge… the normal rules of photography such as rule of thirds and leading lines always apply, but what about breaking the rules? Ansel Adams said ‘There are no rules for photographs, only good photographs’.
Some scenes cry out to be photographed and I am sure we have all seen these and know that there is a photograph there somewhere, but the photograph cannot be ‘pictured’ in your imagination or in the camera despite using an array of different focal length lenses. My personal approach is to take time with the scene by analysing the scene components and by determining what makes the subject in the scene interesting. It could be the subject detail, an abstract, colour or form. Deliberately consider each of these individually and eventually it will ‘click’ when you recognise what you want to put into your shot…
Think of the composition in terms of the inter-relationship of shapes such as triangles, lines and number of component shapes. Strangely, some of my shots are taken straight on with the subject central – these shots rely on the subject and ‘mood’ to make the shot. In this example, lighting helps create the mood, using the colour and tone of the photograph. The range of muted colour and natural sepia reinforces the theme of age and decay. You must look for the detail and develop a deeper insight by educating your eye through learning and experience. Ansel Adams was also quoted as saying ‘A photograph is usually looked at – seldom looked into’. This deeper vision is important, for when there is no photographic ‘interest’ in the shot – then it will be a mere record shot.
Consider getting different people to critique your photographs. This will give you useful feedback as to what images work and why. Some time ago, a group of art teachers viewed some of my images. I was struck by their initial reaction to the colours and textures in the photographs, rather than the subject itself. These people are individuals, who, by nature of their job, have an educated ‘eye’ as they work with images all the time. It may seem really obvious, but I never comprehended just how much impact colour can have in photographs as I sometimes placed more importance on other factors. I now make more of a point to consider how I can incorporate or highlight colour and texture to improve my images.
To emphasise colour and texture, the angle of the camera and directional light is important to create shadow relief and give more of a 3d effect using available light to create shape. Try revisiting the scene at another time when the sun is in a different position, perhaps lower in the sky or giving light through different windows/doorways, you may be rewarded with a different opportunity you had not previously envisaged.
In the digital darkroom a mild use of HDR, contrast or saturation boost can also enhance an otherwise dull image, but must not be used to ‘make’ the image. I believe in photographic realism and always try to marry the memory of the scene in my mind with the scene in the photograph to make the image as realistic as possible. On some occasions when I have revisited the site I have underestimated the strength of colour that originally inspired me to take the photograph, simply because I thought people would think the colour was not realistic!
The most important factor about dereliction photography is getting out there and taking the shots. I actively encourage people to enjoy their photography and if you feel inspired you can send me a personal message on the ‘About me’ page.