Waverley Abbey has been a place I’d heard of many times but never got a chance to visit. Located in Farnham in Surrey Hills, it’s an English Heritage site hidden away on country roads (don’t trust Google Maps that will try and take you up a private track, follow the signs instead). That warm October afternoon we had some time to kill between things, the sun was shining, I had a camera in my bag and so we ended up going on
a bear hunt an adventure.
Mr 7 was hesitant at first (what, no playground and some old ruins?!) but as we got into it he loved imagining himself an archeologist, and I enjoyed talking through things with him and what he might need to look out for to figure out where buildings used to be (home education in action). Of course once we’ve found a super climbable tree it was game over for archeology – but not for the picture taking.
I thought I’d share some of the tips and tricks I use when taking photos of my son (or anyone for that matter) in a place like that. I must note that over time and with practice, you stop thinking about those things consciously, and just do it :)
P.S. I was shooting with a Canon 5D Mrk 3 and a 35mm fixed lens.
Framing is the name of the game
Framing is a great technique to have up your sleeve for taking photos at historic sights – or any architecture for that matter. Use arches, doorways and window frames as frame for your subject to stand, sit in, or walk through for added visual interest. Another framing technique is using (and in my case, blurring) foreground objects to create a visual frame leading your eye to the main subject of the photograph.
Casually showcase the location
Head-on shots of walls can become pretty boring, and so do pictures of people standing in front of the walls. If you want to include your family or kids in the shot, you can combine the two in a more interesting way, by photographing people at a wider angle while they are engaged in a game (or general silliness for natural smiles) while making sure an attractive background is present – but some way back. That’s the technique I use for my London vacation photoshoots, where I make sure we have a great London backdrop to any family activities. That way the focus is still on the people, but the location is also included but in a more interesting way.
It is a little trickier when photographing an only child as you need to be both the photographer, the mum and the activity provider. I would often ask my son to either run to me, or climb that thing I want to include in the shot (but be sure not to climb anything that looks unstable or with a sign “do not climb”), or just engage in a conversation while snapping holding my camera at a waist level (without looking, guerrilla style), hoping to get that spontaneous shot. It doesn’t always work but when it does – it’s pretty awesome!
Consider the time of day
The best (most beautiful) light is often found early in the morning or late in the afternoon – making it pretty tricky in the summer when the sun is up early and down late. In the autumn however, you start getting that beautiful golden glow from about 3pm in the afternoon, and that’s where we were exploring Waverley Abbey. The sun was still pretty high up in the sky, but filtering through the trees and lurking behind ruins make the light more manageable – and prettier.
Finally, have fun!
After all, visiting a historic sight is not supposed to be a photoshoot, but an enjoyable activity for you and the kids. After you think you’ve gotten a bunch of shots you wanted, pause and be fully present with the kids for a while, give them a break from seeing a camera in your face. After a while, you can pick the camera up again and take a bunch more shots. I find that my son gets pretty frustrated if I’m getting carried away with photo-taking (and as a result, there’s no cooperation from him anyway), so I have to remind myself to just stop from time to time.