Oakland Cemetery

     I'm not a superstitious person, not really at least. I have a couple weird quirks and have a few beliefs that some people may deem strange. For example, even though I know the code to get into a friend's apartment complex without calling them from the box, I still use the intercom because I like the old fashioned idea of "calling on them" and asking if my presence is welcome. Like I said, I'm weird. Another one of my quirks though, is that I don't really like cemeteries - especially visiting them. Yeah I know, it's courtesy to visit the site of loved ones, but I don't like the idea of walking on theirs and others' graves to do so. If there is an afterlife, I can talk to people from anywhere. It just seems rude to walk over another's physical being just so I can communicate with someone I know. So when my buddies at the Georgia Tech Photo Club said they were going to Oakland Cemetery, I was incredibly hesitant.


     Oakland Cemetery is considered a tourist attraction in Atlanta. It's a very old cemetery, with lots of gorgeous architecture, history, and a great juxtaposition of being located right in the heart of Atlanta. Lots of my friends have gone there before to take pictures and returned with incredible images, but I always said no to any invitations. Well this time, with the persuasive help from a friend, I finally convinced myself to go with the GT Photo Club. I was terrified, but figured that I would just stick to the main walkways as much as possible and use a longer focal length if needed. Thankfully, this worked out wonderfully.

     Oakland is primarily a grid layout, with wide walkways throughout the entire cemetery. This was incredibly helpful in keeping me at respectful distances while taking pictures. I was truly blown away at the headstones, small mausoleums, and statues.  It really is a gorgeous place. We spent a lot of time going grid by grid, sometimes just reading and appreciating all that was there. I will say, there's not much to shoot once you've been there once, but I can see the appeal of returning. I was really surprised at seeing a lot of others photographers there working with models though. What struck me hardest was that the models were standing next too, and in some instances, practically on top of someone's remains. Definitely not my cup of tea.

     My favorite aspect of Oakland Cemetery was the fact that it's smack in the middle of the city. The juxtaposition of it all was more powerful to me than the cemetery itself. I spent a lot of time really looking for potential images that showed the fact that this old, historical, monumental place was in the midst of the hustle and bustle of traffic-laden Atlanta. These were my favorite images of the bunch.


     We were there in the late afternoon, which meant gorgeous side lighting and heavy shadows. A lot of images were done as HDRs, or High Dynamic Range. To accomplish this, photographers take images of a specific scene with multiple exposures and then blend them together. This allows for detail to be found in really dark shadows and also in really bright highlights. Camera sensors can’t process as broad a spectrum of light as the human eye can at a given exposure, so sometimes it’s necessary to use HDR to really describe a scene. To me, good HDR is when a scene is enhanced, but not so much that it looks fake. I always try to keep my HDR processes toned down so that it looks realistic.

     When I wasn’t using HDR though, I was using my flash to brighten up the shadows. This set up was much more fun for me and required some more know how.  The trick was balancing the ambient, or natural light, with the flash power to give a natural look. When using flash, you are typically limited by your max sync speed - 1/250 of a second. Now, in daylight hours, even approaching dusk, this isn’t nearly enough to darken the ambient skies. Faster shutter speeds equate to darker exposures. Since I couldn’t make my shutter speed faster, I had to make my aperture narrower. Aperture controls how much light passes through the lens and hits the sensor. By making the aperture narrower, the ambient light exposure got dark enough that the background had lots of detail. The new problem though was that now the shadows were really dark. Here’s where the flash came into play. Having introduced lots of shadow, I simply aimed the flash at those areas and adjusted it’s power setting to make them bright enough to my liking. I really like this look, as its a more natural way of expanding the dynamic range of an image and putting focus on the area being flashed. When used with people, this effect can look incredibly dramatic.

     This was a great trip and I’m glad I stomached my little quirk for this adventure. I got some great images, got to see a unique piece of history, and was able to hang out with some old Photo Club buddies. I highly recommend checking out Oakland Cemetery if you’re in the area. I hear it gets dressed up and hosts a parade for Halloween! I may have to visit again for that...

Mike Glatzer

Mike Glatzer Photography, Marietta St NW, Atlanta, GA 30318, United States