How to Shoot a Barn

Well, that title is a bit presumptuous, but studies have shown that using the words “How to…” in the headline causes the story to rate higher with search engines.

When Friend Shari and I were on our way back from shooting Tower Rock Quarry and taking the scenic route where I discovered High Hill Church, she said to keep my eye out for old barns; there was one in particular she’d like to shoot again. She recalled doing it years ago and wanted to have another crack at it.


We were tooling along down 177 near Egypt Mills when she hollered, “STOP!” She was always good at that. I locked down thinking she saw an 18-wheeler getting ready to hit us head-on and heard everything loose in the car slide forward.

She had spotted her barn. I threw it in reverse and cut over on CR 634 (I think) and pulled off on the side of the road with the hazard flashers on.

What are you looking for?

Being a former shrink, she’s always curious about the thought processes that go into making a photo. After dismissing her (and most other folks who ask that question), I’ve started to think about it. I told her that I would try to explain how I looked at the overall scene and then drilled into a detail here and there. As we walked around, I explained that sometimes everything would fall into place. Other times, I’d shoot a frame and decide that something didn’t work. Sometimes a slight change in angle would fix the problem; other times, there would be some extraneous object that would intrude that I couldn’t work around, and I’d move on.

I’m a sucker for contrast

I love dark photos where the light hits something and causes it to pop out. Sometimes, like in this shot, the light is striking it directly. More often, I look for a strong back or sidelight to make it translucent.

Signs that it wasn’t a good shoot

Leica made some great photo enlargers. One of the neat things about them was that their negative carriers were cut just a little larger than a 35mm frame. That let pure white light project down on the photo paper if you printed full frame. It was a point of pride to have your print have that black border around it because it showed that you “cropped in the camera.” In other words, you visualized the final product when you pushed the button.

When I looked at these pictures, I found myself reaching for the Crop tool to hack out pieces that didn’t work for me. I might have thought the composition worked, but I hadn’t successfully ‘cropped in the camera.” When we did that in the real darkroom, we’d call it “pulling it out of our rear orifice (or something close to that).”

Here’s an example. This is the full frame photo of the splotch of red paint with an orange leaf in front of it and some tendrils of vine and their shadows on the gray, weathered wood.

I couldn’t find the center of interest. Is it the leaf? Is it the vines? Is my eye supposed to follow the vines up and down, left and right? What’s important?

Cropping helps, but it’s not the answer

In this print, I’ve taken the same picture, but I’ve cropped up from the bottom and down from the top so you don’t see any of the gray wood there. Your eye tends to go toward the lighter area of a print, so this keeps you in the frame better. It also brings your eye to the leaf. I would have cropped a little more off the left, but I like the shadow of the vine over there. If you look closely, you can see the vine, then the shadow. The shadows of the vines on the right become more prominent and more interesting. Still, if the first photo was a D-, playing with it barely raised the grade to a C+.

Photo gallery of barn pictures

It’s not one of my best barn sessions. I shot this particular barn when I was riding my bike in this area about eight or nine years ago. I didn’t capture Essence de Barn then, and I’ve missed it this time, too. Maybe this barn and I just don’t click. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.


21 Replies to “How to Shoot a Barn”

  1. Well, I don’t know why you are so critical of your work! It always looks good to me! and I especially like old barns! I think you did a great job here!

    1. Thanks. It’s just that I know there’s a picture in there that I haven’t shot. It’s just a matter of prying it out.

      I took a class at Ohio University where we were given an assignment to shoot something like 40 different pictures during the quarter, each illustrating one kind of technique or another: a photo containing only blue tones; a monochromatic color photo; a picture of running water, you get the idea.

      In theory, we were supposed to shoot these all through the quarter and bring them in for critique. In reality, I was too busy shooting pictures for the paper, so I put it all off until the weekend before the work was due.

      I shot all 40 pictures in one weekend and turned them in, figuring that I’d get a C, at best.

      The prof gave me an A. I figured that if my standards were higher than his, then he didn’t have anything to teach me, so I never took a class from him again.

  2. Well we all know that you are an EXCELLENT photographer Ken!! And those who didn’t…do now!

    I LOVE your barn photos!!!

    I almost think they’re my favorites of what I’ve seen so far…

  3. Ken, great job! I took the only photograpy class offer at SEMO. The instuctor was Mr. Cox. He asked me why I was taking the class knowing that I was a Sagamore staff photographer. My response was “three hours of easy A”.

  4. Ken, these were fantastic! Thank you for the lesson. We do appreciate the “How to” stuff, because we all want to improve if we can. Old barns have an interesting historical story to tell. Thanks for helping us learn about photography as we see their beauty.

  5. The barns, pipe organs, and churches of Perry Co. would all be great future projects. The pipe organ calendar could be complete with a CD of music. Like you need more peojects…just thinkin’

    1. If I stay in Cape much longer, I’m going to have to put a MO license tag on my van and find a new wife. I think she’s already researching how long I have to be gone before she can declare me legally dead.

      (She also dropped a casual hint about seeing the credit card bill come in with trip expenses: “Do you KNOW how much gas you’ve burned?”)

      Indeed, there are lots of projects in Cape and Perry Counties. I just have to find a way to make them at least break even.

      Gentle reminder: My photo book, Tower Rock: “The Demon That Devours Travelers” is available at the

      Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum
      P.O. Box 53
      75 Church Street
      Altenburg, Missouri 63732

      10:00am – 4:00pm



      The price is $14. They will mail it for $5 shipping and handling if you contact them by phone, mail or email.

    1. You’ll have to ask her.

      I think I heard her say she became a general contractor refurbing up old houses when she figured she could fix buildings better than she could fix people.

      I HAVE noticed that her conversations are a bit odd. She sits behind me and all she says is, “Uh huh?” and “How did THAT make you feel?”

  6. BTW I love the barn photos. I never appreciated what was right in front of me the entire time I lived in SEMO. I’m discovering a new way of looking at all the beauty lurking around a barnyard.

    1. Jean,

      It doesn’t matter where you live. You could be in the city or in the country. Slow down. Look around. If something catches your eye, explore it. Don’t be afraid to talk to people.

      I hardly ever get turned away if I walk up to someone and say, “I’m really interested in your ….” How old is it? Did you build it yourself? Is it hard to maintain? Would you do it again? Do you know the history of it?…” The possibilities are endless.

      I used to say that everybody has a story, but that was before I met Lester R. Motley. I’ve mentioned him before. A reporter came into my office whining that she didn’t know what she was going to write about. I said, “Everybody has a story. I’ll prove it. Grab the phone book. Open a page at random and stick a thumbtack on the page. We’ll go find that person’s’ story.”

      Well, to my chagrin. Lester R. Motley on Summit Blvd. HAD no story unless the Guinness Book of Records has a category for Most Unremarkable Man in The World.

  7. Too bad most children today do not have an opportunity to develop intimacy with an old barn which was built in the same style as this one, hay loft above and stalls below. Six decades ago mine was at “Aunt Bessie’s” farm, located along Rt.34 in “Gravel Hill”, halfway between Jackson and Marble Hill. It is impossible to forget laying in the hay, reading, while rain danced on the roof. Sadly, last I looked at it, vegetation had grown up all around and part of the roof was gone. Old barns … going the way of the buggy whip.

  8. Hello – just saw your pics of this barn as I googled “Red barn Eygpt Mills”. This was my grandparents barn and I have been curious to try and find some pics of it (they are in the process right now of tearing it down). Is there a way I can purchase any of these pics from you? And do you have any others? Also – I noticed that you mentioned the one friend who you were with had taken pics your friend Shari had taken years before. I would be curious to see those too. Anyway you can email them to me? Thanks for your time. (By the way – the barn was/is off of Co. Rd. 627.) **SMILES**

      1. hello!! You are very lucky to have taken the photos when you did. I believe they tore it down a about two or three years ago. You dont realize the beauty of something until it is gone, so I love and greatly appreciate these photos. Who doesnt love a good ol barn!!! I live about a mile away from where it stood, on 634.

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