people outside a cottage - old picture

Photographic guidance

This guide has been created by experts from RCAHMS for use by Scotland's Rural Past volunteers and describes how to get the best results when photographing rural settlements and other historic sites.

Your Approach to Site Photography

When you arrive at the site you will be recording, the most important thing to remember first is not to take any photographs! Leave the camera in the car or in its case. Take time to look at all aspects of the buildings and their surroundings until you have a good understanding of the site and have identified the best locations from which to take your photographs.

Start by assessing the general layout and condition of a site. You can then concentrate on individual buildings and structures. It is helpful to make notes about the photographs you are planning to take. These are useful for future reference and for captioning images at a later stage.

If weather conditions are suitable, you could start your photographic survey by taking general views of the site to show its location, followed by views of individual buildings and details as appropriate. If the weather is poor, start with the interior photography moving outdoors as conditions allow.

You will also need to complete a Risk Assessment form before you start work. Look carefully at to the condition of the roofs of buildings. If they appear unsafe, wear protective shoes and headgear. Carry a torch if you are going inside a roofed building.

There is no limit to the number of relevant digital images you can post on the SRP website (within reason), but there is a limit to the number and size of images that can sensibly be submitted to the RCAHMS database. Ideally aim to submit a maximum of 10 quality images that adequately depict your site. Remember that sites comprising only one building may only require a single photograph whereas more complex sites may be better captured with several different photographs.

Further information on image sizes and file formats can be found on our Digital Images page.

Viewpoint, Composition and Lighting

Viewpoints are very important. By carefully selecting a viewpoint, important features can be highlighted and distracting ones hidden or cropped out of shot. The following tips are useful to remember:

In some cases, clutter can be relevant to the site and shouldn't necessarily be removed.

Normally subjects look better in bright sunshine, however north facing buildings are better photographed in overcast conditions. Photographing a north facing building in sunny weather normally creates problems with flare. This can often be reduced or eliminated by the use of a lens-hood.

The east face of a building will catch the morning sunlight, the south face will be lit for most of the day and the west face will be best suited for photography after about 1pm.

During the spring and summer months ie. April to September, the sun is higher in the sky and allows photographs to be taken earlier and later in the day and will produce shorter shadows.

The length of daylight suitable for photography is greatly reduced during the winter months and it is best to not photograph building exteriors during December and January. The light is also of poor quality at this time of year, creating long dark shadows, which can produce less than satisfactory results.

When possible, return visits to sites are often worthwhile in order to achieve better weather and lighting conditions.

When photographing the interior of a building, some form of supplementary lighting will be required, such as a flashgun or artificial lighting. When using a flash gun, or photographing in poor light, always use a tripod and, where possible, a remote shutter release.

Equipment

The SRP project will supply your project with an appropriate digital camera which can be used on full automatic for point and shoot photography, or on manual settings to allow for adjustments to be made to exposure and focus.

These cameras have a built in "pop-up" flash. This is suitable for details and small-scale views. The flash can be supplemented by a remote flashgun triggered automatically from the flash on camera to light slightly larger interiors and for more creative effects. Flash on camera produces flat, shadow-less lighting which is not particularly suitable if any kind of modeling is required to illustrate a subject's form or relief.

A sturdy tripod such as the one supplied by the SRP project should be used to allow slower shutter speeds in low light conditions and for accurate framing and setting up of the camera. A remote shutter release should be used in conjunction with the tripod to eliminate the risk of camera shake.

Please refer to the camera manual for detailed information on camera settings. We can provide expert training on photographic techniques for your project, if required.

Image Sizes and File Formats

The cameras have been set to record in the highest quality J-peg format. This setting should be kept throughout your survey to achieve consistent results from one group to another and from one camera to another.

Further information on image sizes and file formats can be found on our digital images page

© Historic Environment Scotland - Scottish Charity No. SC045925.