I posted photos of beautiful Church of the Holy Trinity in New York City on my photography website notmydayjobphotography.com. The Episcopal church is located in the Yorkville section of Manhattan at 88th Street between First and Second Avenues. The church architecture is French Gothic style of the 13th century with many stunning stained glass windows by Henry Holiday of London and entrance doors designed by Karl Bitter. Church construction began in 1898. The church website has detail on the church history.
Holiday (1839-1927) was an English historical genre and landscape painter, stained glass designer, illustrator, and sculptor. Starting in 1861, Holiday was a stained glass window designer for Powell’s Glass Works. During his time there he fulfilled over 300 commissions, mostly for customers in the U.S. He left in 1891 to set up his own glass works in Hampstead according to Wikipedia. Holiday’s stained glass work can be found all over Britain and some of his best work is at Westminster Abbey.
I attended a Holy Trinity Sunday service several weeks ago. The atmosphere of the church is very friendly and inclusive with a nice sermon by Reverend Mark Collins. After the service, I introduced myself to Mark, who graciously gave me a tour of the church. He had to go to another event, but allowed me to take photos of the empty church, with instructions on how to get to the balcony.
I took Mark up on his offer to shoot from the balcony, which offered spectacular views. Using a tripod, I bracketed three exposures of the nave at 17mm (27mm with 1.6X crop factor) with my 17-55mm Canon lens, 100 ISO, f6.3, with exposures of 1/2 second (proper exposure), 1/8 second (2 stops underexposed), and 2 seconds (2 stops overexposed).
Bracketing exposures in churches is necessary because of the very uneven lighting; some areas of the church, particularly around windows, are very bright while other areas away from the windows are dark. Because of the great contrast in lighting, no single exposure captures what the human eye processes. The correctly exposed version was too dark in places and too light in others. The underexposed version was way too dark for most regions, but captured the bright windows nicely. On the other hand, the windows in the overexposed version were almost white with little color, with nice details for the darker areas of the church. Like Goldilocks, my task in post-production was to ensure that all of the areas were not too dark, not too light, but just right.
To accomplish this task, I generally turn to High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing. HDR is a digital photography processing technique in which multiple exposures of the same scene are layered and merged using image editing software such as Photomatix. The result is a print with a wider range of tonal values than what a digital camera can produce from a single exposure. Although HDR does a good job of averaging out the lighting in a contrasty image, I generally don’t like the exaggerated definition resulting from the process. To mute the effect, I took the HDR image in Photoshop and copied the same properly exposed, non-HDR image on top. Adjusting the opacity slider gives me control in toning down the effect to create a more realistic portrayal. I liked the result with about 50% HDR image and 50% proper exposure non-HDR image. However, the bright windows were still too light and overexposed. I then copied the windows from the underexposed version that was generally too dark, but had just the right color and exposure in the windows. I pasted the window part and aligned with the appropriate window. Adjusting the opacity slider provided nicely exposed windows. Finishing touches included straightening and adjusting for the Keystone effect (non-parallel columns). The final result looks like the scene my eyes witnessed that Sunday.
The process took several hours, but I had a lot of fun. I spend less time on close-ups of stained glass windows as I generally use one underexposed image.
Church of the Holy Trinity services are at 8 am and 10:30 am Sundays.