I posted photos of Christ Church at 60th and Park Avenue in Manhattan, the 32nd church/synagogue gallery on my website notmydayjobphotography.com. I love photographing houses of worship, which provide ornate designs, symmetric lines, and vibrant, detailed stained glass windows.
Upon entry, the focus of Christ Church is the beautiful mosaics, particularly of Christ on the apse above the altar, with gold leaf as the background. According to the church, there are seven million tesserae in the church. Tesserae are cubes of glass set in cement at uneven angles so that they reflect the light in a sparkling manner.
Ralph Adams Cram was the architect of the church, which began construction in 1931. Cram was an influential and prolific architect in the Gothic style, focusing on houses of worship and collegiate buildings. His works include: Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, Saint James’ Church, Saint Thomas Church, all in New York City, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Princeton University, Rice University, University of Richmond, Phillips Exeter Academy, The Choate School, McCormack Post Office and Courthouse in Boston. He was the supervising architect at Princeton University for over 20 years and the head of the Architectural Department at MIT. He was on the cover of Time Magazine in 1926.
Here are three of the nine photos of the church on my website (click on any photo to see all of the photos). The first (above) is a photo shot about 12 inches off the ground with my Canon T2i on a Manfrotto tripod with a 17-55 f2.8 Canon lens. This is my favorite angle, a very low and symmetric shot, capturing broad, sweeping details of the church.
One of the challenges of photographing in churches is the dramatic light contrast; some areas of a church around windows are very bright while other areas away from the windows are very dark. This great light contrast is difficult for a camera to deal with. To address the contrasting light, I bracketed photos with various shutter speeds ranging from 5 seconds for a normal exposure, 1.3 seconds for a 2-stop underexposure, to 20 seconds for a 2-stop overexposure at 100 ISO, f5.6, at 17mm (27mm with 1.6X crop factor). The normally exposed photo was fine in many places, but overexposed around the lights and apse. On the other hand, the underexposed version looked great around the lights, but way too dark in most other places. The overexposure version was fine on the dark wood pews, but generally blown out in other places.
I used High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing to average out the lighting contrasts. I am generally not a fan of HDR, but I think it works in this situation, providing an image consistent with what my eyes saw that day. I used Photomatix software to combine the three images to get the best of the three images. However, the result from Photomatix was too strong for my tastes. To tone down the HDR effect, I overlaid the normally exposed image on top of the HDR image in Photoshop Elements. I then worked with the opacity slider with 0% as the HDR image and 100% the normally exposed image. I settled on about 50%/50% to give the natural look I was looking for. I then straightened the image and finally cropped it.
The photo below is a simple shot of the mosaic ceiling. I love photographing ceilings in churches and always come up with a few ceiling shots. Here I wanted to capture the intricate and elaborate mosaics; the artists must have had sore necks from looking up, inserting all of the small glass pieces into the ceiling. This was shot at f5.6, 100 ISO, 5-second shutter speed, 24mm (38mm with 1.6X crop factor). Not much postproduction processing on this photo, except for straightening and cropping.
The last photo is of the apse mosaic, a close-up of Christ. Specs were 55mm (88mm with 1.6X crop factor), 100 ISO, 1.3 seconds.