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Historical Dwellings
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Historical Dwellings

Like settings from a fairy tale, castles, palaces, and other royal abodes stir the imagination with their grand and often fanciful architecture. Though the Gothic stone castles of Europe differ wildly from the ornate palaces of Asia, the challenge of photographing both is to capture their spirit of fantasy and history.

Many royal buildings—the castles along the Rhine in Germany, for example—were designed by their architects to appear imposing from great distances. One way to photograph them is as you first see them: rising through the mist like apparitions. Medieval castles were also designed to be as inaccessible as possible, so look for angles that reveal the inhospitable surroundings and the drama of their location. A medium telephoto lens (85mm to 135mm) will enable you to capture both structure and surroundings from a distance. From nearby, use a wide-angle lens to exaggerate the height of sheer rock walls or steep cliffs.

The other alternative, of course, is to tour the building and photograph it in all its royal detail. Close-up views of turrets or, in the case of an ornate palace, colorful carvings or mosaics make interesting subjects. If the building is open to the public, a tour may give you some strong visual opportunities looking from the inside out. Use a very wide angle lens (28mm), and try framing other parts of the building through windows or doorways or show distant views as they're seen from within.

The main problem you're likely to encounter photographing historical dwellings is keeping signs of the 20th century out of your pictures. A parking lot full of tour buses doesn't do much to enhance the romance of a medieval castle. Of course, you could include such modern juxtapositions to make a less idealistic statement. Don't be discouraged either if the weather turns sour. Storm clouds, rain, fog, mist, and snow often dramatize the settings and heighten the fantasy of such regal scenes. If the buildings are artistically lit, night shots can produce dramatic results, but bring a tripod to keep the camera steady during long exposures.

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