Capturing Beauty at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

Last Updated on March 29, 2023

Oakland Cemetery, also known as a “garden cemetery,” is one of Atlanta’s largest cemeteries and the final resting place for over 70,000 people. It is gorgeous with its Victorian-style tombs, monuments, gravesites, and many flowers and oak trees that dot 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. To me, this name 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 Atlanta was quickly growing, and the need for cemeteries increased.

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 the film.

Today, you probably wouldn’t guess that 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.

Technology is now used to run 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

As mentioned above, I find Oakland Cemetery peaceful and calming. I don’t get any spooky or creepy vibes. It is a beautiful garden cemetery providing many unique photographic opportunities. You’ll often see photographers walking around taking pictures of all the monuments, mausoleums, flowers, and sculptures. In the fall, you’ll also see a bunch of pumpkins and fall decorations.

Pumpkin
This pumpkin reminds me of the pumpkin in the opening scene of the 1978 thriller Halloween.

Kosmo Foto Mono 100 sat in my fridge for a while, saving it for the best moment to use. Since it was October and the weather was crisp and sunny, I figured trying the black and white film at Oakland was the best idea.

Honestly, I prefer color-negative films over black and white. I enjoy shooting in color because I like capturing the world as I see it. I’m the person who doesn’t even like wearing sunglasses much because I love seeing the world the way it is.

However, I loved using Kosmo Foto Mono 100 at Oakland Cemetery. The exposures came out moody and peaceful, which captures how I feel about Oakland. Plus, the packaging box for Kosmo Foto Mono 100 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.

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. This was a challenge, however, because 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
Flowers on Kosmo Foto 100 film

My photographer husband recommended using a red filter, and I am happy I did. In fact, I wished I had used the red filter for all of 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. Plus, the red filter makes everything look more dramatic.

"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 regardings 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 will 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, I highly recommend the general tour 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 back in 2019, and seeing the cemetery at night was a different experience. Volunteers wear time-period costumes and perform monologues of some of the 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 Cemetry 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!

Tombstones at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

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