Anatomy of a smartphone photo #18: Graveyard Wonder

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In the latest in our occasional series on smartphone photography, I may have moved on from a Lumia as a day to day phone, but the ideas and ambitions are still there. In this example, I return to the graveyard featured in #17, but this time with oodles of December fog to add atmosphere. The result? One of the favourite photos I think I've ever taken with a phone.

My series 'Anatomy of a Lumia photo' (here's #1) has proved popular, even though I cheated with the HP Elite x3 instead for #2#3 had a lovely clock#4 was all about framing, in #5, I got down and dirty with nature, in #6 I had a rosy dilemma to solve, and in #7 I took a satisfying low light snap in appalling weather. In #8, I got extremely close to an impressive moth, in #9 Andrew Elliott was in Budapest at night, in #10, I was shooting in early morning sun, in #11, I shot 'wide', with a little help from Panorama mode, in #12 I kept repositioning and zooming until I got a water fountain just right and in #13, Jeff Appleton got a good look at The Northern Lights. Then, rounding off the series for its previous run (in 2017) was #14, looking at a glowing tower. Resuming in 2019, here's #15, looking at framing a waterfall and pond, and #16, steaming to the seaside with angles and perspectives, and finally #17, 'Remembrance', creatively shooting a Remembrance Day display at night.

The device used here was the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but I suspect that a Lumia 950 XL or even a Google Pixel or Huawei flagship would have managed much the same - this one was all about seizing the moment, braving the cold, and getting the positioning and framing just right.

Here's the main shot, anyway, you can also find the full resolution (HEIC format) photo on OneDrive:

Misty graves

The keys to the photo are:

  • the way the lights light up the fog, yet with the over-bright light source artily obscured
  • the eerie setting
  • the way any decent camera phone made after about 2013 (Lumia 1020 FTW!) can manage a really low light shot handheld, with no tripod needed and with minimal noise.
  • the 16:9 aspect ratio (rather than 4:3)
  • the framing by the tree branches at the top and the dark ground at the bottom

In fact, you can add into this last factor focussing, since it's only in the last few years that Dual Pixel auto-focus, laser auto-focus and (here) LiDAR autofocus have made sure that a scene is properly focussed even in the dark. (As many Lumia owners can attest, low light focussing was an eternal Achilles heel.)

As with all good photos that 'work', there are usually several previous photos that didn't work as well. Experimentation is the name of the game. Starting with eyeing up the church tower, fading away in the fog. "That's got to make for a ghostly photo" I thought:

Church 1

The tower was indeed 'ghostly', but somehow more impressive in real life than in photo. So I tried again, using a wintry tree as foreground focus, to be silhouetted:


The focus of the eye is certainly on the tree and less on the ghostly tower, but still the photo didn't reflect the mood of the location well enough for me. One last try at capturing the tower, this time up close and looking up, with some foreground greenery to add perspective:


They're all memorable attempts, but I still wanted to make more of the mist and the scene. Panning round, I noticed the floodlights could be masked by gravestones:


This is more like it. The composition wasn't right, of course, but I liked the effect, with graduated tones in the mist. So I swung round 180 degrees and, still under the tree branches, found ideal framing, more subject matter, and perfect light/mist:

Misty graves

Even the orange street light adds a certain colour and extra interest in the mist, while the multitude of gravestones add cinematic subject matter.

Again, you can find the full resolution (HEIC format) photo on OneDrive if you want to view it, analyse it, or simply use it, perhaps as a desktop background. (If you post it publicly, then an attribution and link would be appreciated.)

Thanks for reading, hopefully I've inspired you to head out on the next misty or foggy day and experiment with light!