Roadside Photographs - Stonehenge, England

While we'll soon feature a separate category for "Photographs Far Away,"  we'll continue the tour of roadside photography with an international address.  If you're planning a trip to the United Kingdom anytime soon, one must-see and must-photograph is Stonehenge.  We'll include this in the roadside photography list because even though it takes a plane ride to get there (unless you're one of our British friends), it is truly a stop-and-drop-the-tripod shot.


Stonehenge is a mysterious set of giant slabs that still confound historians, even though they say they have solved the mystery about every two years.  Probably built between 3000 BCE and 2000 BCE, these huge monoliths must have been dragged, rolled, or magically set down because their type of rock does not occur in the vicinity of Stonehenge, some 40 miles south and west of London.  Photographing them is both easy and difficult.  It is easy because they are simply so interesting.  They can be difficult if you are not there at the right time or if there are hoards of people that you may not want to have in your image.  I was still shooting on film when I took this image, but the principles are exactly the same on digital.  This was also the second time I had photographed the area over a two-month period and should have known better than to press my luck by arriving exactly at sunset.   A dear friend was visiting me in London, and our schedule allowed for his last minute wishes to visit the site.  He was used to my routine of scrambling at sunset hours, and I'm afraid I left him immediately in the car while I set up my tripod at quite a distance from the actual stones.  In fact, I was outside of the cordoned off area.

I knew what I wanted since I was looking directly into the sun and watching the most radiant orange skies come to life behind the stones.  I took a meter reading off the sky just above the horizon, which is often a pretty good reading for an 18 percent grey, and adjusted my aperture to f/8.  I chose f/8 because I really didn't care if I had maximum depth of field (f/22) or an isolated depth of field (f/2.8).  The aperture f/8 or thereabouts is also considered a bit of a "sweet spot" in terms of contrast for lenses, so that is what I chose.  To be honest, I don't know what my shutter speed was.  I actually didn't care because I was on a tripod anyway and if the shutter speed happened to be 10 seconds long, then my tripod would keep it steady.  My guess is that the shutter speed was still around 1/125th of a second with the relative brightness of the sunset.  I bracketed the shot because I was on film, and (gasp!) I couldn't actually see what I was getting.  The key here is understanding that if you take a reading from the sky just above the horizon, a technically "proper" exposure, a sunset shot like this will plunge the foreground into a silhouette.  This is assuming that the sun is backlighting your subject.  Once you get the hang of it, the silhouette is probably the easiest way to get an interesting photograph, especially if the subject is iconic or recognizable such as this.  This image was taken on a Nikon F100 with a 28-70mm lens, and it was scanned and then cropped for printing in panoramic form. (Nikon replaced the 28-70mm with a 24-70mm lens.) At the time, I was also on a Manfrotto tripod similar to the Manfrotto 190XB.

HINT:  Stay as long as possible.  The people taking care of the grounds will eventually try to move you out of the nearby area, likely because they either want to go and have some dinner (bangers and mash) or because they are tired of wisking away youth who try to invade the area after dark.  Either way, your mission may be to capture some tasty sunset light followed by an extra helping of dusk light once the sun goes down.  If you get booted, move down the road a bit beyond the official ground and keep taking some photographs.  Silhouettes like this one are easy and can still be productive from a distance.

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DruidEnglandFebruary 2012Joel addamsLandscape photographyNikonOutdoor photographyPhotographic instructionPicturelineRoadside photographsSunsetTravel photographyUnited kingdom