Walking with the Dead

Call me weird, but I really enjoy cemeteries. I love wandering down the silent rows of graves, reading the names, and imagining their stories. The blank eyes of a stone cherub forever guarding the much loved child of heartbroken parents. The plain and austere gravestone of a nun, resting in peace after a lifetime of service to her God. Tales of tragedy and sadness, interspersed with memorials to a full life well-lived. The variety of headstone designs is wonderfully fascinating. I am in awe of the craftsmanship that is on show – it is a gallery of stone art built to last for generations.

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I find it relaxing to take time out of a busy day to enjoy the solitude and peace of a cemetery. The challenge of capturing a grave that best reflects its mood and story is cathartic in a way. Like a portrait of the dead if you will.

Many days I prefer the company of the dead to the company of the living.

My fascination with infrared photography started with cemeteries when I stumbled across the amazing work of Simon Marsden, an English photographer who specialised in infrared images of cemeteries, abandoned ruins, and moody landscapes. He was the master of spooky, atmospheric and often ghostly images, shooting primarily with an old Nikon F2 with Kodak HIE-135 infrared film.

I picked up an IR modified Olympus EPM1 off ebay for a good price. While the small sensor has some limitations in regards to noise, it has proved a fantastic little camera. I have so far printed up to 20×30″ on canvas with very good results.  Eventually when funds permit, I’d love to get a modified Nikon full frame.

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As show in the images above, a modified camera gives you clean and crisp shots. You can use higher shutter speeds and handhold, which is a big bonus.

I do however also like the softness and flare of IR film, It gives a sense of atmosphere you can’t achieve any other way.  To achieve this, I use PaintShop Pro’s  IR film effect over the top of a ‘normal’ IR image. You can dial the amount of the effect you want to suit your taste

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I find I keep coming back to the same headstones, trying different compositions, trying different lenses. It is an ongoing project that I have not tired of yet. The next two photos show how you can get quite different images using different lenses and angles. The first uses my magical Minolta RokkorX 50/1.4 taken from a little further up the hill. The second uses the versatile Oly 9-18/4-5.6 at 9mm, taken up close for a totally different perspective.

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Cemeteries aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but they offer a chance to play with angles and light, and also shoot a subject that doesn’t complain or ask if you can remove their blemishes.

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Thanks for reading my ramblings. You can find more cemetery images on my Walking with the Dead gallery

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