Photographing a Ghost Town Part 2: Adding a Human Touch

June 15, 2010 · 10 comments

in Tips & Tricks

In the second part of this series on photographing ghost towns, I am going to continue discussing my trip to Northern Minnesota and North Hibbing (First part you can find here). One of the most interesting aspects of shooting this kind of environment is knowing that at one time, the spaces, streets and objects were once owned and inhabited by real people. When details emerge that add that dimension to the photographs, they are important to pick up and use as inspiration for certain shots.

Mining Truck Tire

©Elizabeth Anderson, 2010

Steps Leading to an Abandoned Foundation

©Elizabeth Anderson, 2010

In these two photos, I wanted to show the two aspects that were most important to this community. One was the close-up of a tire which was on an old mining vehicle. To North Hibbing and this area of Minnesota in general, mining was the lifeblood of the people and the origin of the paychecks for most of the workers. This object in the middle of an abandoned space makes a statement about the passage of time but also the history and heart of the location.

The steps leading to an abandoned housing foundation also speaks to the other important part of this neighborhood, which were the families living there. These were the kinds of human touches I thought it was appropriate to add to my photographs.

Sewer Cover

©Elizabeth Anderson, 2010

Street Bench

©Elizabeth Anderson, 2010

Fire Hydrant

©Elizabeth Anderson, 2010

Light Post Detail

©Elizabeth Anderson, 2010

Scrap Metal

©Elizabeth Anderson, 2010

I think it is very relevant when photographing a ghost town to understand and appreciate the parts that once connected to a human being. Those aspects will add so much more to a photograph of this subject matter than just a landscape. It often involves looking twice at something that may seem small or insignificant.

Orange Flower Growing Out of the Street

©Elizabeth Anderson, 2010

Large Foundation

©Elizabeth Anderson, 2010

Foundation of Building

©Elizabeth Anderson, 2010

Taking advantage of the details like the small flowers or lines in the foundation are so important to adding life to the photographs.

The angle you choose to shoot can also add a tremendous amount of information. Some of this may depend on your location and what you can accomplish safely. This may mean shooting from far back to show the expanse of the space and capturing the amazing sky in the background. It may also mean getting down on the ground and zooming in on a detail that may be missed, but really helps contribute to the story.

Often, shooting more is better than less. Try many different angles of the same shot and take photos of things, even if you think you may not use them for a final later. You never know when adding that extra detail can turn out to be something you did not appreciate until you get home and look at it more closely. This is especially true when shooting a ghost town that you may not be able to return to easily or anytime soon.

The smallest detail can take a photograph of a ghost town from something expected to something that completely defines the personality and/or history of the location. Adding humanity to the photographs makes it more than an abandoned town.

For the third and final part of this series on shooting ghost towns, I will talk about the technical aspects of enhancing the photos you have once you get home. How can you take what you have and add something to them in terms of color, saturation or contrast to bring out the uniqueness of what you experienced.

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Elizabeth has written 21 awesome articles for us at Photoble

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