Castle on the Hill

Castle on the Hill

Before you ask…yes, the title of this picture was taken from an Ed Sheeran song :) The song itself didn’t inspire the photo though, and in fact this was a picture that, contrary to many of the pictures I put here on the blog, was deliberately planned in advance. On a chilly weekend in January my wife and I loaded up the kids in our car to take a little drive so our youngest would hopefully fall asleep and take a nap…which actually worked. Woohoo! As we headed south out of town we drove past this dilapidated, um, barn? Shed? Workshop? I’m not even sure. But whatever it once was, it had clearly fallen on hard times and as we drove past I had the distinct though that it would make for a good picture. So a few days later I returned to the scene on my way to work in an attempt to make good on my vision.

Going in to the shoot I knew I would need a couple of specific pieces of gear. Based on the proximity of the building to the main road, and the fact that right in front of where I stood to take this image there was a barbed-wire fence to keep out any trespassers, I knew I would need to use my D750 if I shot this with my 50mm lens. I could get no closer and no farther from the building than what you see here and I knew that if I shot this with my crop-sensor D7100 it would be much too tight and I wouldn’t be able to capture a sense that this building was part of a much larger landscape. I also knew I would need a tripod since I was going to shoot this early in the morning, and finally I understood that I would have to shoot in manual without Auto-ISO in order to get precisely the end result I was hoping for.

That advance mental preparation paid off quite well and on the morning I took this shot the sky was quite overcast which provided a nice even, and rather somber, light to the scene. I hopped out of the car, grabbed my D750 and tripod, and walked right up to the fence to take a few pictures. I shot this at f/8, ISO 100 to get everything nice and sharp and this particular image required 0.3 seconds to get a properly-exposed photo. (Bonus tip: if you’re doing shots like this with a tripod, use a delay timer so your picture isn’t affected by your finger wobbling the camera when you press the shutter button.) There was not much room to move around laterally either, which was fine because the spot I was standing gave me pretty much the exact view I was hoping for. I also composed the shot specifically with the pine tree on the right and the other two trees, sans leaves, on the left. I tried shifting my view a bit to the north but other trees soon entered the frame in the foreground which wasn’t what I wanted at all.

In the end I’m happy with how this turned out and part of me wonders what the history of this place is like. Since I don’t know, I like to make up my own stories which can be a lot more interesting than finding out what really happened. I’m also reminded of how, even though I’m a big proponent of spontaneous photography, it’s also a good thing to plan your shots and create a deliberate composition from time to time.


  1. Skip Conklin says

    I always look forward to your posts. This was an endearing article as always. I, too am a fan of old, dilapidated buildings. We have an old wooden shed in our back yard that I have photographed many times, especially during different seasons, green grass and trees, snow on the ground with leafless trees in the background, and against a background of color in fall. I really can’t say what I find so interesting or photogenetic about that shed, but It makes me feel like I’m in a different place in time.

    • Thanks Skip! I know what you mean about that old wooden shed, too. Isn’t it interesting how some structures seem to take on a life of their own? They sure do make good photographic subjects, and as I read your comment I was picturing a dilapidated old shed covered in snow with a few birds chirping in the background…you’re right, man. Scenes like the one you describe sure are special :)

  2. Stories are how we make sense of our world and put some order to it. If we don’t know the true story, we make one up. I discovered this some years ago as I walked to work. I would see some people often, but did not stop to talk to them. A few would eventually stop me and ask about me and my family and were surprised when they found out the true story. Photography is about telling the story that the photographer has in mind, whether it is reality or not. How well the photographer does can be determined by what story the viewer comes away with to a point, but the viewer’s experiences will always color the story to some degree.

    Thanks for the explanation of the thought process you used to capture this image.

    • Dennis, reading your comment reminded me a similar story from my own life. Almost every morning when I bike to work I cross paths with a retired couple who are out on their regular daybreak constitutional. We always wave to each other but I don’t know their names or anything about them–and this pattern has been going on for years! I’ve made up a few stories over time that explain who these people are and what they are doing, but I think it’s high time I just went over and introduced myself. In fact, I’m going to the next time I see them.

      Thank you for a bit of inspiration to get out of my comfort zone, Dennis!

  3. Great shot. The trees are nice balance. I would like to see this shot, in the winter, with low light and some long stark shadows.
    Thanks again for explaining your thought process.

    • Good idea Rebecca! If we ever get some snow here I’ll glad return to this scene for a follow-up photo!

      • You took it one step further than what I was thinking. The picture in my head had the dry dead weeds like you shot, but the added golden sun and long shadows. But now i want to see it in the blue shadows cast on the snow.

  4. Janet Richardson says

    Love the shot! Had a similar experience the last time I was in your neck of the woods. Dilapidated old house with fence prohibiting any closer of a shot, EXCEPT, middle of the day, wind blowing 35 mph gusts, no tripod, cold, cold, cold and in a hurry to get home:) After seeing your wonderful shot, I will plan to shoot that old house the way it deserved the next time I am up that direction. Thanks for the inspiration and the vision.

    • I know what you mean Janet! I’ve had many potential photograph opportunities come my way that just didn’t work out because nature had other plans :) If you do ever make it back to get the shot you missed the first time I’d love to see the result!

  5. I appreciate your blow-by-blow account of your planning for this picture. Well done!

    It’s unfortunate that you can’t get closer – l love taking close-ups of old buildings for their detail & character, even sometimes making an abstract out of the shot(s).

    And yes – imagining the stories that these kinds of places hold is so entertaining.


    • Glad you appreciated the details of how the photo was taken, Carol! If I ever find out who owns that property I’d like to go take a closer look at the barn but until then I’ll just have to imagine its own history and see what tales can be spun about it :)

Speak Your Mind