Photographing Church Interiors

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by david_matuszek, Apr 24, 2005.

  1. I am about to embark on a long and hopefully rewarding project of
    documenting the interiors of the churches in a small Massachusetts
    City. I am doing this project mostly in Black & White, with some color
    work. I will be using mostly 4x5 and some 8x10. Since all of these
    exposures will be made with available light only, dose any one have
    any hints and tricks to make my life easier? I will probably be using
    Efke films developed in Rodinal or PMK.
  2. You are going to need time exposures, even with 400 speed B&W, since you will also have to stop down to get enough DOF. Even gets trickier if you work in daylight and there are stained glass windows in which you want to preserve some detail. I photographed a church organ with windows on each side by working at dusk to get exposure of the windows and waiting until dark to time expose the rest of the sheet with church lighting on. I also found that I could "paint" the organ with a high-power flashlight during an exposure of several minutes at f22 with good results. Needed several tries to get the reciprocity failure accounted for, and I wouldn't dare to try to do this in color!
  3. I did a lot of photography in Roman churches (mainly altars) about 10 years ago; for scientific, not "artistical" purposes, that means that even little details should clearly be visible...

    I agree that it is often very difficult to take usable photographs with the available light. But I had no choice: I didn't have a car and could carry only a case and a tripod.

    In particularly difficult situations I also used - like Howard proposed - long exposures and 2-3 flashes with a little battery-flash...

    I mostly used a slightly contrast-reducing development.
    To make a good print often required a lot of darkroom-work; I started to use multigrade-paper then because I could use different graduations for different parts...

    Now and then I have to re-use these negatives and with Photoshop these corrections are much, much simpler and faster...
  4. David -

    Your project sounds like a lot of fun. Good luck with it. Hope you can share some of the results when you are done.

    Church interiors, especially the the older, traditional structures that you are likely to find in a small town in the Northeast, are likely to feature dramatic lighting - spotlights on altars, with the surrounding areas (often dark wood or stone) in fairly murky darkness. You can record these scenes by blasting away with stobes, but the resulting flat illumination will not convey the emotional depth that exists in these buildings.

    By the way, don't forget incidental light sources such as candles. At least one of the exposures in each sequence should have altar candles lit - you may have to put them out for the longer exposures at the end of the sequence, but you want the final image to include the candle flames.

    An alternative approach is to selectively adjust the lighting to reduce the contrast range that the film has to deal with. Spend some time making and recording light readings of the scene - both the shadows and the highlights. What you will find is that the required exposure for the shadows will be considerably longer than for the highlights.

    The approach I have taken is to separate the scene into segments based on the illumination level. I first do an exposure for the highlights in the brightest area. Then, without moving the camera, I turn off the lights illuminating those brightest highlights, and then do a second exposure for the next brightest area. I repeat this process until eventually all artificial lights have been turned off, and the final exposure picks up the effect of the ambient light coming through stained-glass windows, etc. The result is a negative that retains the range of illumination in the room but with manageably lower contrast.

    I have even done this in color in an instance where some of the lights were fluorescent, and others were incandescent. I used tungsten film and did the exposure for the fluorescent light through an appropriate compensating filter. The light through clear windows recorded with a blue cast on the film, but most of the windows were stained glass and provided their own color.
  5. David,

    If the stained-glass windows are attractive, you may want to take a telephoto lens to capture close-up detail without having to do extensive cropping. . .perhaps not even large format.

    Consider using scale (people) models in a few shots. . .three or four people seated four to six rows in front of you, their backs to you, so the churches don't appear totally empty.

    Finally, if circumstances permit, an interior "aerial" shot--a view from an upper or ceiling level of a service underway--is always interesting.

    Good luck!
  6. David: Trevor Hare, who posts over on PN's Leica Photography Forum, posts some of the
    most beautiful church interior shots I have ever seen, Although he photographs mostly
    with 35mm cameras/lenses, his photos appear as though they were made with LF
    equipment. The pictures feature dramatic lighting, excellent contrasts, and razor-
    sharpness. You might try contacting him for some ideas. Most of his work is done in his
    native England.
  7. Sounds like film with wide latitude is a necessity-- FP-4+ or even HP-5+ would probably be better choices, as might some of the 200 speed offerings from Bergger and J&C. Well diluted Rodinal and what I call "semi-stand" development (3 minutes between agitations) would help with the wide latitude needed and to tame the overexposed highlights (windows). So would PMK or the FX/TFX-2 formulations when diluted 1:2:100 and using stand or semi-stand processing. I've processed FP-4+ in TFX-2 and like the results for my N and N+ exposures (I tend to use Rodinal at 1:50 or 1:100 for N and N-), but I'm still fine tuning all of this for my sheet films. TFX-2 gives an effective 1/2 increase in film speed for FP-4 and most other films, perhaps even a full stop on the optimistic side, and does very nicely, especially in the midtones and highlights....

    Best to decide what is most important in an image-- highlights, shadows or midtones before exposing and developing, as film, exposure and developer choices all intimately interact to control the final result. Since this is a long term project, it would be interesting to test several films and developer combinations on otherwise identically exposed negatives to see what the results are!
  8. Color will actually be easier, assuming that you use a film like Fuji NPS and scan it. You can squeeze a remarkable amount of range out of this stuff, just give it plenty of exposure.
    Adding fill light in the dark areas will help a lot and you may be surprised how much light you have to add to see any effect at all when you're stopped down on a dark church interior. It won't be that hard to get a completely natural "un-lit" look. A single mono light and multiple pops will get you where you need to be and its not too hard to carry one light, an extension cord and one stand. Adding fill light will really help you balance any windows or bright fixtures.
    Fuji Acros has the least amount of receprocity departure of any B&W film but if you know your current films then they may be best for you. Acros may be the fastest film in long exposures.
    Remember that a metered 1-2 minute exposure can turn into very very long actual exposures with standard B&W films. Depending on how dark your rooms are you might need 30 minutes or more.
  9. Shooting B&W in the cathedrals in england, I used Tmax 100 when I had time (at f45 meant exposures around 45minutes) and Tmax 400 when I was a little short... both handled well, and if I did it again, I'd just shoot the 400. It almost never blocked up in the highlights - tho it did make for some tricky burning to get the stained glass right.

    If you want to keep detail in the glass in color, either shoot multiple exposures, or try shooting just after the sun has set, but the sky is still lit.

    Severly overcast days can help too - if you have some interior lights to balance. (This helps the B&W too...)

    Have fun.
  10. David,

    First, make sure you know the reciprocity characteristics of the film with which you are working, especially the colour, because you will likely be using very long exposures.

    Second, if you can scout out the particular church a little beforehand, it is very useful to note at what time of day you will get the best ratio between the light coming in the windows and the illumination of the interior. You don't want the windows to consist almost entirely of burned out highlights. For the same reason, you will have to work out your development times very carefully. In traditional churches, and unlike many other old buildings, the light inside can change dramatically in a very short period of time, simply because of the very large areas of glass.

    A final note: I have got some very dramatic colour shots of the light through stained glass windows projecting images onto the floor, pews, or walls. At the right time of day, usually when the sun is low, smaller stained glass windows are like large, out-of-focus slide projectors and the images they project can be very ethereal, if you catch them at the right time.
  11. I would also go with a silver rich 400 speed... souped in a compensating, speed raising developer like Diafine or a split developer like Divided D23. These will keep your highlights under control but give you great shadow detail like you should have.
  12. i agree burning( or special proccessing ive never done) will be nessesary when doing large stained glass.. severely cloudy day is good advice as you will get the window or the pew, not both in one exposure in bright day light.. if your going to do several churches id' do at least one good outdoor shot so you can get the "feel" of where your at as your looking at the interiors.. with cathedrals with extensive stained glass some of the best (multiple) window shots are at night taken on the outside, with lights on inside.. our church is a very old catherdral in helena montana and its a nightmare for everyone, including wedding photograpers.. except one guy who makes and sells 360 degree interior shots .. they are pretty awsome, probably done on the the computer.. exposure is good(balanced) throughout the long thin mounted pictures that he sells. i would practice this tecknique as it is the best interior rendition of the cathedral ive seen.. dave.
  13. Read this article for some good info:
  14. One other thought-- pick your time of day for shooting with some care and forethought and you might be able to minimize the contrast issues. With most of your light coming only from one side, especially on clear bright days, the windows may not be quite so hard to hold detail in.

    Of course, finding a way to provide some diffuse fill light for the shadows inside, using reflectors, diffusers and/or fill lighting, will make everything a lot easier and look better as well. You can get a lot done in that 45 minute time others have mentioned!
  15. 40 minutes... TMax 400
    (that lady didn't move for about 2 hours...I've got several exposures with her in place)
  16. edit/ Even with north light from an overcast day, the pillars on the left, and the floor
    required some burning to bring them back down to acceptable levels... the shot from the
    same day including the rose windows was almost unsalvageable - but I did not have time
    to come back on a darker day (or later that day even) I pulled the processing a bit, and
    burned the printing exposure to get some detail...

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