I need some helpful advice for for an onsite shoot coming up. We are going to the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. We are going to be there for almost an entire day.

What I need is advice on what to look for. Obviously the architecture is amazing. So I know to get some grounds and structure. There will be models but I'm not sure how they will be dressed or who will have access to them at what times.

I will have 2 lenses. An 18-55 mm and a 75 - 300 mm. I have 3 filters for each lens. CPL, ND, and a polarizer.
We are allowed to bring tripods and minimum accessories. Basically what we can carry and that's it.

So if anyone has photographed any dilapidated historical buildings and has some advice, it will be very appreciated.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This is highly dependent on what you intend to use the images for - is this a pre-arranged shoot as part of a school/university course? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 13, 2012 at 15:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe this location is pretty picky about photography (specifically use of images) -- hopefully you've already cleared / approved your shoot. \$\endgroup\$
    – D. Lambert
    Aug 13, 2012 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you want photos to look artistic (soft/ethereal) or like a documentary (sharp)? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 13, 2012 at 17:08
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Whoever downvoted this needs to stop being a jerk, it's a perfectly good question \$\endgroup\$
    – user9817
    Aug 14, 2012 at 7:50
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Clara: you need to stop calling people jerks. I didn't downvote, but I can see why someone might have, particularly before I edited the title. Down voting is an important part of the democratic process here. If you disagree, you should a) vote up yourself, b) comment in a positive way offering an explanation beyond "it's a good question", and/or c) edit the question to make it more clear. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Aug 14, 2012 at 12:29

4 Answers 4


The basics will apply to pretty much any situation:

Old buildings falling apart tend to have a lot of texture, rust, paint peeling off, old furnature etc that can be used as props. Maybe focus on the contrast between the old and the new? I you know how to do HDR, try that?

Concentrate on: Texture, Strong Verticals/Horizontals, Shadows, Color, Framing etc and Consider B&W for high contrast scenes?

(I know its nothing new and vague, but sometimes you just have to run through these things in your head when you're in the situation to see what would work best?)


The simple answer is to photograph whatever catches your 'eye' of interest. Personally I wouldn't be swapping lenses back and forth, just use one for half the time and the other for the rest.

Old, dilapidated buildings tend to be unlit so a good flash with a diffuser would probably be more use than a tripod but that depends on your style of photography more than anything.

If you don't know the place you could do a quick image search for 'Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio' which gives an idea of the type of images that one could get from a visit there.


The first issue with photography inside any building... Light.

I would carry (at least) one or two off camera flashes and a remote trigger, and one assistant.

You need to mainly use the ambient light but I am pretty sure the windows are not big ones. You do not want to make the illumination fake, just have enough to balance a bit dark areas.

Practice balancing both, put your tripod, take a shot on any building (start with your house) and try bouncing a flash on other wall and see how it changes. Do not over do the flash.

Obviously you will have large areas where you can only use ambient light.


This question seems a bit like asking how to go about taking photographs in New York City...there are as many ways as there are photographers.

Some General Options:

  1. Take pictures that express or help you find your artistic vision as a photographer. An artistic vision may be something that you arrive at the site with. It may be something that you discover at the site through shooting. It may be something that you discover while processing the images.

  2. Take pictures that document the building and its condition as if for historical reference or a court proceeding.

  3. Take pictures to show that show 'that you were there' as a tourist might.

Panoramas and close ups and macro photography each could fulfill any and all of these roles...well macro photography might have trouble with the the third. Each could be fulfilled by setting the camera on a tripod, narrowing the aperture, and letting the exposure run for several seconds. Each could be fulfilled by cranking up the ISO and shutter speed. Each could be fulfilled using a collection of off camera lights. The length of a string varies similarly.


  1. Experiment.

  2. Or not.


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