Thursday, October 18, 2012


I last visited St. Josephat's Basilica about a year and a half ago.  (See my post of May 10, 2011.)  I thought I would return and see if I could improve on what I did the first time.  I would say the results were somewhat mixed.  This time I did a few things I failed to do in 2011.  First, I took more shots of the exterior of the church.  Second, I took my tripod and hoped that no one would object.  Third, the greatest architectural attractions are the interior dome and walls, and I determined to get more shots of those features.  On the other hand, last time I had shot more details features in the church, including the stained glass windows, and I probably should have done more of that this time also.

First, the exterior.  Except for the large, impressive dome, this church does not project an exceptional exterior.  Here is a shot from the rear of the church, offering a clear view of the south side of the building.

Clear, except for a chain link fence extending from the left.  So in a second shot I elevated the camera's view and zoomed in to eliminate the fence.

Better, but it does not give as much of a sense of the overall size of the church.

Here are a couple of shots from the side, which show the building's exterior symmetry.

Nice clocks.

Now on to the interior--and to the challenges I needed to deal with:

First, as usual, there was a general lack of lighting in the interior.  This time I prepared for this by bringing my tripod.  (More on this later.)

Second, although there was a light overcast, the day was generally quite bright.  This should have been a good thing, but, in fact, it created a great contrast between the amount of light coming from the interior surfaces and the amount of light coming through the windows.  My camera did not have the dynamic range to cope with this.  As a result, as will be apparent in the following shots, I had to choose between underexposing the interior surfaces or allowing the light coming through the windows to be "blown out."  Generally, I chose the latter.

Third, the color of the light was difficult to gauge, and I found myself moving from one white balance setting to another.  Since I shoot in raw format, I knew I could always modify the color balance in post processing.  Eventually, in post processing I chose a custom color balance that I thought was as close as I could get to the color I had seen and converted all of the interior shots to that setting.  I thought that worked quite well.

Finally, my most wide-angle lens is my trusty Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 zoom.  In a sense, 24mm should be considered wide-angle.  However, my camera has a "crop sensor."  It is smaller than a full-frame sensor and as a result captures only the center portion of what the lens transmits.  It does not capture the peripheral portions, which, of course, is the essence of wide angle.  So because of the crop sensor the effective angle width of the shot was equivalent to a 36mm lens.  The solution, naturally, would be to get (a) a true wide-angle lens and (b) a camera with a full frame sensor.  Someday.

OK, so the biggest attraction is the massive dome.  As I have done in other settings, I took images of the dome simply by placing the camera on the floor directly pointing up and took the shot by remote release.  This is where my lack of a true wide-angle becomes apparent.  Here is the best  I could do.

Here is another shot that I cropped as a square.

I admit that I had to play a little with the placement of the camera to get it centered under the dome.

This time, too, I determined that I would take some dome shots taken at an oblique angle.  Here are a couple of those.

And here are a couple more that, while they are not centered on the dome, are, nevertheless, symmetrical.

I like these shots quite a lot, because of their abstract qualities, particularly the latter of the two.

These shots nicely illustrate the extreme amount of detail incorporated into the interior of this basilica, a truly amazing amount of work and workmanship that went into the creation of this architectural marvel.

The sanctuary/apse is also noteworthy.  Here is a wide-angle shot from the back of the nave.

This also reflects the majestic height of the ceiling.  Here is another shot at a closer range.

And some closeups of aspects of the apse.

One of the things I wanted to accomplish was to give a sense of the size of the interior of the basilica.  I thought one way to do this was to take some shots from the "corners" of the interior, as in the following shots.

Perhaps these give a sense of the size, at least the height, of the interior.  But they also illustrate the problems I was having with dynamic range, as the windows (and in a couple of cases parts of the walls) were generally "blown out."  Even so, the shots are pretty dramatic.

And here are a couple more wide-angle shots of the front of the church that I think do a good job of giving a sense of the size and majesty of the interior.

Finally, here are a few shots of interior "details."  When I took this first shot, I didn't realize what I was photographing.

When I got home I realized that these were the tops of the confessional booths that ranged on both sides of the nave.  I should have included the lower portions of the booths also.

And here are a couple of statues at the back of the nave.  This first I had shot before from directly in front.  This time I chose to do it as a profile shot.

And the following bas-relief at the back of the church was interesting, not especially for its artistic qualities but for the fact that the lighting was from below, creating an eerie, somewhat ominous effect.

A few additional notes:

As I had indicated, I brought my tripod this time and hoped that no one would be offended or tell me that it was not allowed.  Not to worry.  The only people I saw were a couple of parishioners and a couple of workmen doing some sort of construction in the church.  I was as unobtrusive and respectful as I could be.  Late in my visit I did notice a sign that advised professional photographers to check with church officials and obtain permission to take photos in the church.  However, I felt that since my interests (and abilities) were strictly amateur, I did not need to get special permission.  

Even though I was using a tripod, I noticed that a number of my shots lacked the sharpness I was striving for.  I'm not sure what the issue was.  My guess is that because the exposures were quite long--anywhere from 2 to 15 seconds, any sort of disturbance--such as the camera strap lazily swinging back and forth--was enough to affect the sharpness of the shot.  I got enough sharp shots, though, that I was happy with the overall shoot.

Finally, I will admit to modifying (ramping up somewhat) the contrast in the shots, particularly of the interior surfaces.  I did this in large part because I felt that the dim interior light was muting the ornate detail.  In short, I felt that I was bringing the contrast back to what it would have been had the interior been well lit.  Either that or I just liked the effect.

Taken with my Nikon D7000 with Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 lens.

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