Photographing old barns is a fascination of many photographers. We see an old barn or dilapidated building, we want to shoot it. While we were in Palouse, WA, we traveled the county, dirt roads and all, photographing buildings and barns left for dead. If we see a building in ruin on the side of a road (as we did in Mammoth Lakes, CA), we’ll pull over, not caring for our safety, and trounce through the decay, all for a shot. Over time, we have built a nice little collection of these photos.

Shooting a building in ruin seems easy. Just go up to it and shoot. You’ll end up with a photo of a building. But consider a few other items: 1) Have you shown the most interesting part of the building, perhaps the portion most in ruin? 2) Is the light on the building pleasing to the eye, showing off the building as opposed to the area around the building? 3) Have you shown where the building is located, perhaps near a identifiable landmark (we call this context)? Maybe you are lucky to be shooting a building that is the landmark, just looking at the building gives you context. This is rarely the case. Answering these questions in your photo is just as important as the building itself. There are many other questions to think about, but I consider these questions every time I photograph a building.

We are in Grand Teton National Park located in the Northwest of Wyoming. The park is known for its spectacular mountain range. We photographed them a lot, got nice photos, which will be (or already have been) shown to you. But, we heard about some barns that are no longer being used. On Mormon Row.

I walked right up to the barn, set up, and took the photo below thinking about my three questions. Using question 1 above, I noticed there was nothing special about a particular side. I decided to take the photo of the barn on an angle to provide a sense of depth in the photo. For question 2 I waited a couple of moments for a little sun. And for question 3, I made sure there were the Tetons in the background.

As soon as I took this shot I realized it shouldn’t work. I also realized I was blocking other photographers. Sorry!

Not bad but I wasn’t happy with the lack of prominence of the Tetons. They are important to my photo so I needed to gain a different perspective giving more prominence to the mountains.  To get this perspective, we had to clomp through the mud and brush to get to the optimal spot (perspective or context, question 3, is vitally important to this type of photo).  I tried to keep the same angle as my first attempt, still concerning myself with question 1. Once we got to the optimal spot that gave us the optimal composition, we waited for the sun. It was a mostly cloudy morning so we waited awhile. Finally, the sun appeared for a brief moment, lighting (remember question 2 above) up the barn. Click.

Not only are the Tetons prominent but there was a low cloud between the barn and the mountains. This sets off the barn even further.

Voila! What do you think of the two photos? Which one do you like best, and why?

Here are a couple of other photos from the area.

I loved the green roof so I like the photo. Unfortunately the barn is a bit boring.

Inside the home of the main characters from the movie, “Shane”, starring Alan Ladd (1953). I tried to replicate their view. BTW, they had a roof back then.

Thanks for reading. And, remember, it’s all about the light.