James Kerwin Photographic
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Photography doesn’t always go according to plan and of course images aren’t always perfect. This is my honest and open behind the scenes look into what I do as an architecture, adventure and travel photographer.

 

Photographing Overgrown Locations...

Abandoned locations are now super popular of course, but there are ways in which to make images stand out. And one of those is selecting to shoot overgrown buildings or subjects, when a building is overgrown it really adds something to the final image. A real mix of decay, architecture and the outdoors and more importantly, IMPACT.

Over the last 5 years I have come across a few places that are like this and I thought it would be good to talk about how I photograph them and how I then use post processing, before publishing my final results. A quick tip if you will!

 
 An overgrown chapel in Northern Italy, shot in April 2018.

An overgrown chapel in Northern Italy, shot in April 2018.

 

I find shooting these locations can sometimes be difficult especially if there is a breeze or stronger winds as this leads to the foliage moving in your frame, which of course is not something that you want in your final results.

One trick that I have taught myself is to split the scene up in my mind, so shoot the greenery first which usually means faster shutter speeds and potentially higher ISO values so that you can get your shutter speed somewhere around 100th-200th of a second (but of course this depends very much on the strength of the wind). Once you have shot the overgrown areas and are happy, you can then revert your settings back to shoot the walls of the building or the interior, this is usually f/8, iso 50-160 and then letting the shutter speed fall on the central exposure line (I always shoot on manual settings but this works on aperture priority as well of course).

I usually bracket both sets of images as well, as this then provides me with greater dynamic range and a choice of exposures. But of course you really need to protect those highlights when doing this - check each section of your frame carefully by zooming in upon playback when doing so.

Once I have all of these files, I combine them together in the creative cloud suite, software such as Adobe Photoshop and of course Adobe Lightroom. To do this I use a simple “layer mask” and pain the areas in to the unedited image using a soft brush. Once done, I flatten the file and then begin my final edit.

 
 Vegetation takes over a garden inside a former Sanatorium in Georgia. Image - March 2018.

Vegetation takes over a garden inside a former Sanatorium in Georgia. Image - March 2018.

 

This extra effort can be worth it and the results are much more desirable, especially if you are printing images or displaying them somewhere in large resolution. Imagine spending all that money printing a piece of work only to see the green leaves have all moved and blurred in your final print - it would not look great art all.

A great example of this is when I was shooting the below chapel in the south of France back in 2016, heavily overgrown but as it was a windy spring morning the bushes were swaying side to side during each and every capture and would have looked awful in the final results. So here I shot two images only and blended those in post processing. First capturing the green areas before shooting the interior, you know once I was happy I had a sharp section to blend in later.

 The first capture at f/9, iso 100 gave an exposure time of 0.3 seconds. As it was windy look at the result on that bush on the right side.

The first capture at f/9, iso 100 gave an exposure time of 0.3 seconds. As it was windy look at the result on that bush on the right side.

 Just by raising my iso to 800, I was able to increase that shutter speed to around 1/125 sec - leaving a much more pleasing result on the bush on the right.

Just by raising my iso to 800, I was able to increase that shutter speed to around 1/125 sec - leaving a much more pleasing result on the bush on the right.

 Shooting the foreground and interior/architecture separately, I was able to blend them together later for sharper results. This is my final edit.

Shooting the foreground and interior/architecture separately, I was able to blend them together later for sharper results. This is my final edit.

I’ve applied this technique a lot of over the last 4 years in particular and here are some of the samples in which it worked very well to accompany the image above. These images were taken in abandoned places, such as chateaus, greenhouses, asylums and villas across Europe. I love overgrown locations to be honest.

I hope you enjoy the full set, I shall be doing some more of these short written tutorials in the future weeks and months to accompany my new youtube channel.

Thanks for reading, have a great weekend all!

James.