Capturing Beauty at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

Oakland Cemetery is one of Atlanta’s largest garden cemeteries and the final resting place for over 70,000 people. Its Victorian-style tombs, monuments, and gravesites are gorgeous, with many flowers and oak trees dotting the landscape. Each mausoleum and monument has a unique architectural style, symbolically representing that person or family.

While visiting a cemetery may not be high on someone’s list of places to photograph, I find walking through the historic Oakland Cemetery a very peaceful and contemplative experience. I’ve previously toured Oakland Cemetery at night but always wanted to take photographs there during the day.

Since I’ve never shot black and white film before, my main goal for this visit was to practice shooting Kosmo Foto Mono 100 35mm film while learning about the history of Oakland Cemetery. I booked the guided tour on Oakland’s website, dropped a fresh new black and white film roll into my Canon EOS-1N, and made my way down to Atlanta’s most well-known cemetery!

Mausoleum at Oakland Cemetery on Kosmo Foto Mono 100 film
Three headstones in front of a mausoleum at Oakland Cemetery

Brief History of Oakland Cemetery

Oakland Cemetery was established in 1850 and was previously called the Atlanta Graveyard. This sounds morbid, and I am glad they changed it to “Oakland,” considering it has beautiful, massive oaks throughout the cemetery. The graveyard was relatively small at 6 acres, but the need for cemeteries increased as the population grew.

To meet this necessity, the cemetery expanded to 48 acres, the size of Oakland today. The cemetery is enormous, and after walking around on the tour, I wish I had brought more Kosmo Foto Mono 100 because I quickly ran out of film to take photos.

Today, you probably wouldn’t guess there are over 70,000 buried here since many are in unmarked graves. Our tour guide mentioned that you often see people having a picnic on an empty field. But most don’t realize that beneath their picnic blanket lies thousands of unmarked graves. It is slightly eerie to think about it this way, but I find it sad that we will never know who these people were and their life stories.

They are now using ground-penetrating radar to discover these unmarked graves, allowing them to get a more accurate estimation of how many people are actually buried in Oakland.

There are well-known people buried at Oakland Cemetery: Bobby Jones, Maynard Jackson, Carrie Steele Logan, Dr. Joseph Jacobs, Kenny Rogers, Selena Sloan Butler, and Margaret Mitchell, to name a few. The stories of all interred at Oakland, and their contributions to Atlanta are fascinating.

Today, the cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places and maintained by a nonprofit group of volunteers called the Historic Oakland Society. They oversee many restoration and preservation projects and provide educational guided tours and special events.

Gravesites at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

Kosmo Foto Mono 100 at Oakland Cemetery

Choosing the Film

There are no mysterious or creepy vibes walking around Oakland Cemetery. There are many unique photographic opportunities, and you’ll often see photographers taking pictures of all the monuments, mausoleums, flowers, and sculptures. In the fall, you’ll also see a bunch of pumpkins and fall decorations. And when we went in October, the weather was crisp and sunny—a perfect fall day.

Kosmo Foto Mono 100 sat in my fridge for the longest time, and I figured trying a black and white film at Oakland was the best idea. Shooting in black and white is not my first choice, and I enjoy shooting more in color, capturing the world as I see it.

But it’s spooky season, and I wanted my pictures to be timeless and dramatic, and I felt Kosmo Foto Mono 100 did precisely that. The exposures came out moody and peaceful, capturing how I feel about Oakland. Plus, the Kosmo Foto Mono 100 packaging box is pretty awesome – I love the retro space look, the graphics, and the colors of the cosmonaut.

Kosmo Foto Mono 100 is repackaged Foma 100, but Kosmo Foto is very transparent about the film’s origin. The proceeds from the film support their website, which provides film photography-related content, such as news and camera reviews.

Using a Filter and My Settings

I shot Kosmo Foto Mono 100 at the recommended box settings on my Canon EOS-1N. The contrast between highlights and shadows in black and white film is important, so I selected my subjects carefully. However, this was a challenge since I could have easily taken numerous images at Oakland Cemetery.

Our tour was mid-morning, a few hours after golden hour. Taking advantage of the early morning light, I tried to take as many photos as possible before the light became too harsh around noon. Some headstones were cast into the shade by the giant oak trees, while others stood in full blast of the sun. The sun’s golden rays filtered through the leaves, making little spotlights on the flowers. This dance between light and shadow and Kosmo Foto Mono 100’s grain helped me create sharp, contrasty images.

Flowers on Kosmo Foto Mono 100 film
Graves where soldiers are buried at Oakland Cemetery
Pumpkin
This pumpkin reminds me of the pumpkin in the opening scene of the 1978 thriller Halloween.
Flowers on Kosmo Foto 100 film

My photographer husband recommended using a red filter, and I am happy I did since it made everything more dramatic. In fact, I wished I had used the red filter for all my photos. A red filter blocks the blue light wavelengths, which causes the blue skies to be darker in black and white film. I found that it’s perfect for a cemetery, as it provides a nice stark contrast between the sky and the headstones.

"Mother and Daughter" monument at Oakland Cemetery
One of the most famous monuments photographed at Oakland Cemetery is the “Mother and Daughter.” I used a red filter for this image.

How You Can Visit Oakland Cemetery

Free Admission

Admission to Oakland Cemetery is free if you want to visit and take some photos. However, there is a fee if you want to do a guided tour or attend a special event.

Address and Hours

The GPS address for Oakland Cemetery is 248 Oakland Avenue SE, Atlanta, Georgia 30312:

The cemetery is open daily from dawn to dusk, but the visitor center and museum shop have different operating hours. You can visit their website for more information regarding hours and tours.

Parking

Parking is free and near the front gate, but the parking lot is small. Since we got there early, we had no trouble finding a spot, but people were waiting to park when we left in the afternoon.

You can park on the street on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive or Oakland Avenue. You can also drive through certain parts of Oakland Cemetery and park, but you must leave room for other cars to pass by.

Entrance gate to Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta on Kosmo Foto Mono 100 film
The Front Gate to Oakland Cemetery

Booking a Guided or Special Event Tour

I booked the general tour called “Sights, Symbols, and the Stories of Oakland” through the Historic Oakland Foundation website. They have a calendar of available dates and times, but these tours are usually on weekends and Wednesdays. They also have special topic tours if you want to dive more into Oakland Cemetery’s history. However, the general tour is the best if it is your first visit to Oakland Cemetery. The tour guide will give an excellent overview of Oakland’s history and its residents’ stories.

Prepare to walk for the general tour, though. The tour is around 90 minutes long, visiting the main sections of the cemetery. Bring a good pair of shoes and watch where you step. Not all the headstones stand tall and upright.

My favorite tour is the “Capturing the Spirt of Oakland Halloween Tours.” We did this tour in 2019; seeing the cemetery at night was a unique experience. Volunteers wear time-period costumes and perform monologues of people interred at Oakland. The performances are not scary but more history-focused and entertaining. Tickets for the Halloween tours usually become available in July. Book this tour in advance since spots fill up fast.

Bell Tower at Oakland Cemetery
The Bell Tower at Oakland Cemetery

Final Thoughts

While walking around Oakland Cemetery after our tour, a passerby recommended coming back in the spring to see all the flowers blooming. If the cemetery is this beautiful in the fall, I can imagine how gorgeous it is in the springtime. This also gives me all the more reason to come back with more Kosmo Foto Mono 100 film. It’s a good film stock that provides sharpness and preserves details in the shadows. Plus, I love buying film to help support the film community!

Have you been to Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta before or tried Kosmo Foto Mono 100 35mm film? If so, please share your experience below!

If you want to see my double exposures at Oakland Cemetery and the Doll’s Head Trail, visit my article Hike the Unusual Doll’s Head Trail in Atlanta.

Tombstones at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

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