Ever heard of Houghton House? No? Actually, I am not surprised.
I lived less than 10 miles away for 35 years and only found out about the 1615 hunting lodge after I moved to Turkey! It's an English Heritage site, free entry, and a wonderful place to look around and have a picnic on the green lawns overlooking the hills of Bedfordshire.
I only found out about the property after I went on an internet search for places to visit near to my family during one of my summer holidays back to England.
Here's a link to the English Heritage website. The site includes an audio tour of the property, well worth a listen...but better if you are actually walking around the place!
So the dilemma at a place like Houghton House was, as is often the case at such ruins like the many castles, monasteries and abbeys up and down the country: how on earth to capture it, not just the architecture, but the setting and also the atmosphere of the place?
It was summer, but, as it seems with most of my visits around the UK, grey skies! Ok, a bit of brooding atmosphere, that's good! This visit was back in June 2016, just after I had changed from a variable ND filter, (a Tiffen I think it was), to the Lee Filter system and a big stopper. I wish I knew then what I know now about the Stopper, but it's all a learning process after all! Looking back at the two years since getting onto the Lee Filters, I think (hope) I am getting better.
As well as using the stopper for motion blur in the clouds, a number of images, especially internal shots that included the landscape through the open windows, had to be bracketed to keep shadow and highlight detail. Although it was a grey day, there were brighter patches of cloud and sky in between, making exposure tricky.
The first thing I had to do, and I think professional photographers will recommend this also, was to have a walk around. Have a look. Check out the location and the structure. What did I want to capture? How would I capture it? I was fortunate that no one else was around and for the majority of the time so I had the whole place to myself to ponder, save for a couple of dog walkers passing through, and the ghosts, of course.
The image I had seen that got me interested in the location, was the south front. After the long walk down the tree lined gravel drive, I took a couple of quick snaps from a similar angle but soon left this vantage point. Working too much from memory leads to a lack of creativity, I wanted to clear my head of what I had seen and compose shots with what I felt from the place. I explored. Having walked into, around, and out the north entrance. The magnificent north face demanded a photograph.
The north face of Houghton House, f/11, 12secs, 12mm, ISO100
Square on, across the lawn, was the obvious choice to begin, but for me, the shot wasn't as strong as the image above, a bit more menacing bringing the ruined architecture under blurred dark clouds, the angle also demonstrates the slightly precarious lean of the far wall.
Such view of the façades are all well and good, but a house like this I feel needs more said about it. I walked around the rooms several more times looking for details, and, thanks to England's summer rain, nice puddles gave interesting added dimensions to the detail work that remains inside the ruin.
Choose your future? Looking out of the north face, f/8, 11mm, ISO100 (bracketed 3 shots)
From inside the views are perhaps just as splendid as those outside. The strong walls being overrun with the slow onset of nature brings a wonderful juxtaposition that shows the building as it falls further and further to ruin, as with the shot below taken, facing north, looking up from the down stairs service wing to the grand window on the ground floor.
From downstairs, f/8, 10mm, ISO100 (bracketed 3 shots)
Although a lot more photos were taken, two more that stand are from the south east and south west corners, the former showing the full scale of the old building, the latter allowing us to see what the building sees as it still looks out over the Bedfordshire countryside.
Haunted, the south face, f/16, 1/60, 11mm, ISO100
Alone, f/11, 1/1000, 11mm, ISO100
It took around two hours to explore and take the shots of Houghton House, although I plan to revisit now that my filter skills have improved.
I hope on my visit in 2016 I was able to capture some of the character and former grandeur of the building, and perhaps also it's current mournful aspect. Photography is a useful medium to capture and share some of the history around us by doing our best to tell the story through the images...
Nature's victory, f/16, 1/50, 42mm, ISO100
Many thanks to English Heritage for their great work looking after the site!
What do you look for when photographing old buildings and ruins? What tells the story to you?
Share your ideas and images, post me a comment!
The Frustrated Photog.