Architecture-travel-photo-St-Edmundsbury-Cathedral

Picture 1: St. Edmundsbury Cathedral Church (Facing east)

By focussing on architectural photography, specifically church photography I have found four main factors that have contributed to improving my photography. They have also elicited positive feelings I hadn’t expected and motivated me to continue photographing more churches and cathedrals. I’d like to share these factors in a way that is useful for you and other photographers who are wanting to develop and improve their photography. These factor are:

  • Practical benefits that have made photography enjoyable (read article here).
  • Creative challenges which have facilitated both a technical and artistic progression.
  • Aesthetic appeal and interpretation of architecture which is fun and rewarding (e.g. see a church that looks like a UFO here).
  • The Fourth dimension is how spiritual, emotional, philosophical thoughts and feelings provide inspiration, motivation and substance.

Last week I discussed the practical benefits (which can be read here) and this week I’ll be discussing the creative challenges.

To give you a little background the main reason for me visiting my local cathedral church was to capture some images to try out HDR photography. Previously I tried out HDR photography with the usual subjects: exotic sports cars (my van), glamour models (my wife), incredible vistas (my garden), wild animals (neighbours cat), however when I saw the look of despair in the eye of my teddy bear when I picked him up I knew it was time to leave the paraphernalia at home try something else.

I’ve found that by focussing on photographing churches or even just one church I’ve developed simple challenges over time that have helped me develop my technical ability and creative vision. Even if you’re not into architectural photography, you will find that many of these challenges can be applied to other genres such as portraiture or landscape photography. They are not technical challenges that you are faced with whilst taking photographs but are personal challenges. My list is not exhaustive but will cover six areas that have kept me interested and motivated. If you can think of others that have kept you inspired and motivated please leave your comments below.

Architecture-travel-photo-St-Edmundsbury-Cathedral

Picture 2: St. Edmundsbury Cathedral Church (Facing east)

Tech Details [Picture 1]:

Camera Make: Nikon
Camera model: D800
Lens: Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8
ISO: 100
Focal: 22mm
Aperture: f16
Exposure value range: -3 to +3 (one stop intervals)
Shutter: 0.5 sec to 30 secs
Software used: Lightroom, Photomatix Lightroom plugin,
PS6 + plugins Nik Collection, Topaz

Tech Details [Picture 2]:

Camera Make: Nikon
Camera model: D800
Lens: Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8
ISO: 100
Focal: 24mm
Aperture: f16
Exposure value range: -4 to +3 (one stop intervals)
Shutter: 0.4 sec to 13 secs
Software used: Lightroom, Photomatix Lightroom plugin,
PS6 + plugins Nik Collection, Topaz

CHALLENGE 1: Try to see what makes this church different from others
Photographing churches has opened my eyes to a new world. I used to think that all churches are the same and that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. This may be true if you don’t look closely but it’s like saying everyone in the world looks the same because they all have two eyes, two ears a mouth and a nose. It wasn’t until I picked up my camera and visited a church that I actually started to see a beauty in architecture I had never noticed before. I therefore find it a challenge to capture and convey what makes each church unique (For example see the combination of the terracotta tile flooring around the altar with the floating cross (pics 1, 2, 3) or new gothic style lantern (pic, 3).

CHALLENGE 2: Try to see the same scene in different ways
One benefit of capturing images for HDR photography is that it provides a range of exposures to see the same scene in different ways from darkly underexposed (low key) to brightly overexposed (high key). It is unlikely that these high key or low key scenes would be seen if only the ‘correct’ exposure was taken first time. Seeing these different exposures enables me to visualise church scenes in new ways that I don’t normally see with my eyes. Another way of seeing a scene very differently very quickly is by taking the shot in black and white. This too has helped me to visualise scenes in different ways (compare pics 1, 2, & 3).

Architecture-travel-photo-St-Edmundsbury-Cathedral

Picture 3: St. Edmundsbury Cathedral Church (Facing east)

Tech Details [Picture 3]:

Camera Make: Nikon
Camera model: D800
Lens: Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8
ISO: 100
Focal: 14mm
Aperture: f16
Exposure value range: -4 to +4 (one stop intervals)
Shutter: 1/8 sec to 30 secs
Vertorama: 8 series at 15 degree increments
Software used: Lightroom, Photomatix Lightroom plugin,
PS6 + plugins Nik Collection, Topaz

Tech Details [Picture 4]:

Camera Make: Nikon
Camera model: D800
Lens: Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8
ISO: 100
Focal: 14mm
Aperture: f16
Exposure value range: -6 to +2 (one stop intervals)
Shutter: 1/25 sec to 10 secs
Vertorama: 10 series at 15 degree increments
Software used: Lightroom, Photomatix Lightroom plugin,
PS6 + plugins Nik Collection, Topaz

Tech Details [Picture 5]:

Camera Make: Nikon
Camera model: D800
Lens: Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8
ISO: 100
Focal: 16mm
Aperture: f16
Shutter: 1 sec
Software used: Lightroom & PS6 + plugins Nik Collection, Topaz

Location details:

Worth a visit? Oh yes!!
Key features? Incredible newly built lantern tower
Photographer friendly? Yes
Permission required prior to arrival? No
Tripod friendly? Yes
Cost? Free (but donations welcome).
Parking? I parked here: 52.247470, 0.719916 (enter into google maps)
Best day to visit? Weekday when it’s less busy – lovely garden and grounds.
Interesting fact: The Gothic style lantern tower featured was only recently completed in 2005 whereas  other parts of this cathedral date back to 1065!!
Website for more info: stedscathedral.co.uk

Location of St. Edmundsbury Cathedral Church: 52.243958, 0.717366 

CHALLENGE 3: Try to photograph the same subject in different ways
By photographing the same subject it has forced me to become more creative. When I went to Norwich Cathedral for the first time with a camera I took the most obvious shot – a wide angle from the back of the church facing the altar. Although it looked okay it hardly seemed worth driving all that way for just one shot. That’s when things become creative. I started to try new things and gradually returned to try other things such as:

  • Setting my camera at different focal lengths / lenses (see pics 1, 2 & 3).
  • Adjusting my tripod to different heights (from lying on the floor to standing on tippy toes).
  • Trying landscape vs portrait orientation (compare pic 1 & 2)
  • Seeing what would happen if I used different apertures and focussed at different distances.
  • Moving closer to the subject and repeating all the above (compare pic 1, 2, 3).
  • Seeking out another scene/subject within the cathedral or church and then repeating all the above (e.g. pic 4 & 5)
  • I also experiment with horizontal panoramas or vertical panoramas (also known as vertoramas, e.g. pic 3)
  • sometimes I ditch the tripod and shoot handheld.[Note:  All pictures in this article were taken at St. Edmundsbury Cathedral Church].

CHALLENGE 4: Try to photograph the same subject in different conditions
Returning to the same place and experiencing it in different light has let me appreciate the importance of light. Light can dramatically effect the atmosphere. For example, visualise taking the shot during the day compared with taking the shot at night when everything is illuminated by artificial light. Over time I have come to appreciate:

  • Where the light is coming from (east, south, or west)
  • Where are the shadows being cast,
  • Whether the shadows have hard/soft edges or no discernible edges,
  • What is being most illuminated,
  • How is the light effecting the colour of the stain glass windows
  • Whether the light shining through the stain glass windows is castling colours into the church.
Architecture-travel-photo-St-Edmundsbury-Cathedral

Picture 4: St. Edmundsbury Cathedral Church (Facing east)

CHALLENGE 5: Select the best
Although not necessarily a creative process it definitely contributes towards creative development. When I select the best image to process out of a batch, I learn which images look rubbish, or which ones look better and why. Which do you think look best out of pictures 1, 2, 3 which are fairly similar? Which do you think is the best shot of all five?

CHALLENGE 6: Try to process your images in unique ways
This can be the most rewarding and/or frustrating part of the process. Theoretically, another photographer can take exactly the same picture as you by using the same camera, lens, focal length, aperture, shutter (or bracketing series), in exactly the same conditions (e.g. night time with artificial illumination). Even if there are slight changes in the settings, camera, conditions, many photographs taken by different photographers could look the same.

It’s easy to apply default filters to an image or move a few sliders such as contrast, saturation, exposure which will result in producing images that look very different but is this a worthwhile challenge? I doubt it. However, it does becomes a challenge when you create and express a specific feeling or mood, or when you draw the viewers attention to specific elements of your photograph. The creative process can begin with wild experimentation using sliders and filters but usually ends up with purposeful tuning.

I love the fact that the possibilities and options are endless and allow for almost infinite possibilities. When you consider how many ways a single exposure shot can be processed it’s mind boggling. Consider for a moment that lightroom alone has over 50 sliders which have value adjustments ranging from -100 to +100 and this is before utilising selective adjustments or exporting to another program such as photoshop. We then have the option of using more than one exposure for digital blending or HDR photography. Once again our possibilities dramatically expand as there are so many ways to blend or tone map an image. All these options contribute to allowing us to produce work that is original and a distinct reflection of our personal taste.

corridor inside Bury Cathedral

Picture 5: St. Edmundsbury Cathedral Church (Newly built entrance corridor)

In conclusion
It was surprising to discover the possibility of so many challenges with photographing churches, or even the same church. I have embraced these challenges and continue to seek out new challenges whilst trying new things. I believe that creativity is a product of experimentation with a little bit of knowledge mixed in. Thus by trying and learning new things we naturally develop our creativity. I have found the whole process enjoyable and rewarding and feel that it is never ending, which is both daunting but also something to look forward to.

Leave a comment below with your thoughts, personal challenges or questions. I’m happy to exchange and would enjoy hearing from you.

Sharing is caring! Support my work as a photographer.
Leave a comment below as I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading.

14 Comments

  • Jess says:

    Beautiful photographs and interesting read. I’ll definitely be following your blog!!

    • Timothy Selvage says:

      Thanks Jess be sure to subscribe. For now I’ll just be aiming to post once a week. But we’ll see how things go 😀 I’m glad it was interesting.

  • Hua Ma says:

    Lovely pictures. Great work Tim. Keep posting ^.^

    • Timothy Selvage says:

      Thanks Hua – I’ll try my best to keep them coming. I’m regularly updating my gallery so keep checking it out for new pics!!

  • Lee Sanborn says:

    VERY well done, Timothy – Thanks !

    • Timothy Selvage says:

      You’re a good man Lee. Thanks for leaving a comment here! Maybe one day we’ll have a feature on Portugal… lol. Keep me posted with your travel itinerary. One day 😀

  • Abke says:

    Great work

  • Scott says:

    Stunning images.
    Lots of technically competent people with cameras running around, Timothy explores what make his images stand out, “Work”. We all get into a rut and this article reminds us that we need to be exploring all the time.
    Thanks.

    • Timothy Selvage says:

      Thank you for you ongoing support. I know that ‘rut’ very well, hopefully we can all help each other to get out of it!!

  • Tony says:

    Great photographs. Well executed and distinctive. Particularly like your write up about your passionate approach. Well done

    • Timothy Selvage says:

      Thanks Tony for taking the time to leave a comment and for noticing how I feel about my photography. It’s always a pleasure to exchange with others, it keeps the fire burning.

  • Great blog! Was really nice to read. You are a gifted photographer!

    • thanks Mika for taking the time to read it!! I know I waffle on a bit sometimes lol 😀 so I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ll be keeping the blog update once a week (for now) so keep an eye out. If you like you can also subscribe. Good to see you on G+ feel free to share my work or posts with others if you think they’ll find it useful, interesting or appreciated it.

Leave a Reply