Graven Images – Ideas for Cemetery Photography by Kristen Smith

Strange as it may seem to some, I find ceme­ter­ies peace­ful places and I enjoy spend­ing time in them.  I also enjoy pho­tograph­ing them.  I’m mostly fas­ci­nated by the over­all aes­thetic of a ceme­tery, how the stones are placed, the ways they’ve shifted and changed over time, the carv­ings and motifs through the decades, dec­o­ra­tive arrange­ments like walls and gates; it all fas­ci­nates me and I do my best to cap­ture the essence of a grave­yard when­ever I shoot one.

Haunting the Obscure by Kristen Smith

Haunt­ing the Obscure by Kris­ten Smith

There are some gen­eral guide­lines you should fol­low when shoot­ing bur­ial grounds.  The first thing to remem­ber is to be respect­ful.  These places rep­re­sent lives and his­tory and often sor­row.  If there are mourn­ers or vis­i­tors present, give them space.  Don’t crash a ceremony.

Also don’t touch or move any­thing with respect to the graves them­selves.  If one is dam­aged or fallen over, leave it.  Some­times branches or other debris fall on mon­u­ments and I always leave those as well, unless it is pho­to­graph­i­cally in the way.  I also avoid climb­ing over any­thing I don’t have to like walls or gates. And I never remove any­thing from a gravesite and I can’t imag­ine doing so.

Angle of Repose by Kristen Smith

Angle of Repose by Kris­ten Smith

My main inter­est is in old ceme­ter­ies.  Luck­ily in New Eng­land we have the old­est Euro­pean ceme­ter­ies in the coun­try and I’m never short of sub­jects.  What­ever your par­tic­u­lar inter­est is, find ways to accen­tu­ate what you find inter­est­ing.  It might be par­tic­u­larly mov­ing epi­taphs, or art­work and com­mon dec­o­ra­tive motifs or maybe just find­ing stones of peo­ple with your name.  Per­son­ally I like to show the over­all struc­ture and char­ac­ter of a ceme­tery as well as high­light some of the old­est or most inter­est­ing head­stones.  Decay­ing stones are always ter­rific sub­jects; lichen, cracks, weath­er­ing and even out­right destruc­tion can make for really inter­est­ing images.

Harriet Obscured by Kristen Smith

Har­riet Obscured by Kris­ten Smith

I will admit that after years of shoot­ing in ceme­ter­ies it does get tougher to come up with orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions.  Some­times approach­ing a grave yard in a dif­fer­ent sea­son helps, like win­ter.  Some­times it means get­ting there at a cer­tain time of day so that carv­ings are brought up strongly with shad­ows. Some­times it means find­ing unusual per­spec­tives and includ­ing other things like walls and gates in my com­po­si­tions.  Fre­quently I use dif­fer­ent post-processing tech­niques to bring out what I want in a photo.  This doesn’t always mean black and white or sepia, but I do use them since they espe­cially suit the older bur­ial grounds I haunt.

Keeping Watch by Kristen Smith

Keep­ing Watch by Kris­ten Smith

So don’t be afraid to step into that ceme­tery near your house.  Explore it respect­fully, pho­to­graph it cre­atively and walk away with a sense of history.

Kris­ten Smith is a New Eng­land pho­tog­ra­pher whose ceme­tery work can be found in her Graven Images Gallery


  1. gatti says:


    Love the work you’ve done on ceme­tery pho­tog­ra­phy. Def­i­nite sense of place and mood. Como­si­tion is also delight­ful (if that can be said about graves)… point of view, depth of field, angling the cam­era.… and so on.

    Curi­ous, have you done much if any work in New York state? If so, which cemeteries/towns have you explored.

    Thanks, and keep the blog rolling, M.

  2. Wicked Dark says:

    thanks for the com­ment and for get­ting out to a ceme­tery. nice com­po­si­tion with that shot and it’s great in black and white.

  3. Ikaika says:

    Oops. Here’s the link.

  4. Ikaika says:

    I just did my first attempt at pho­tograph­ing a ceme­tery. Haven’t had time to process most of them, but here’s one.

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