Thursday, July 10, 2014


My recent visit to the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota, has whetted my appetite for shooting more interior architecture.  In addition, I recently read an article providing tips for photographing cathedrals and other religious venues.  As a result, earlier this week I found myself returning to the Basilica of St. Josephat on Milwaukee's south side for another session.

I have, of course, shot St. Josephat's a number of times, and most of my posts on those sessions have looked similar to one another.  To some extent, the complexity and extreme ornateness of the building's interior seems to compel me to keep trying to perfect the shots that I have taken in the past, most of which draw on that ornateness as well as the building's overall symmetry.

While the text of the article I read included some tips for photographing religious venues, it also provided copious photos to illustrate those ideas.  And I think I learned more from the photos than from the narrative, as many of the points the author made in text were ones that I was already familiar with through my own experience, such as dealing with challenging lighting conditions and being respectful of the nature of the venue.  If I had to list some of the points that I gleaned from the article, they would include the following:  Don't be afraid of asymmetrical compositions.  Look for details as well as wide-angle views.  Incorporate foreground elements to provide more context.  Shoot at an angle to create a better sense of space.  In this shoot I have tried to incorporate some of those ideas, with mixed success.

When I was at St. Paul's, I missed having my tripod and had to ramp up the camera's ISO setting significantly (generally between 1000 and 2000) to keep shutter speeds at a reasonable level for handheld shots.  I brought my tripod to St. Josephat's and was able to keep the ISO setting at a more reasonable level of 200.   The difference in resolution might not be noticeable given the size of resolution used for this blog, but it is quite noticeable, at least to me, when comparing the shots on my computer.

When I first arrived at the basilica, I could get into the vestibule area, but the doors to the main interior area were locked.  And for a few minutes I feared my trip was going to be in vain.  I did get a few detail shots in the vestibule, including of this lovely rose window.  Then someone came to open the rest of the basilica.

Here is one of the early wide-angle shots I took, looking toward the sanctuary.  This shot is a very familiar one for its symmetry, but at least I did incorporate the two angels on either side of the central aisle who are holding basins of holy water for the congregants' use.

Below is another image that I liked, perhaps because I managed to have the shot look directly down the aisle while at the same time being off-center and incorporating one of the angel sculptures.

I also think it helped that I took the shot from a low perspective, perhaps a couple of feet off the floor.

It was a bright morning and I was taken with the reflection of the sanctuary elements on the polished floor of the center aisle.  Here is another shot that emphasizes those reflections, again taken from a very low perspective.

So then I tried a few shots taken on a slant, if you will.

In this first I managed to include the angel on the left as well as a portion of the central dome.  And here are a couple more that were taken landscape and incorporate the angel on the right, whose face was being lit by the sun streaming in the windows (while the face of the angel on the left was in shadow).

I did a lot of experimenting with these angle shots and hopefully learned from my experience.  First, I learned that if the angle is greater than a certain amount, probably around 30-40 degrees, the shot doesn't seem to work.  The distraction is too great.  Second, incorporating either the floor or the ceiling as a significant element may be important.  I think it serves to "ground" the viewer in the scene.  Third, foreground elements also help to ground the viewer.  Of these last two shots, I feel the second is better, even though the sculpture is in the center rather than being off to one side.  I think the difference is that the second shot incorporates the floor.  Or perhaps its simply a matter of personal preference.

Among the most attractive features of the basilica are the central dome, of course, and the high arch supports at the "corners" of the nave.  And I took a number of conventional shots of these features.

(I can't help myself.  I do like the symmetry incorporated in the above shot.)

But I also took some shots on a slant that features both elements.

There's a lot going on in this last shot, perhaps too much.

Here is another unorthodox shot of the "rear" of the basilica featuring the ceiling, rose window, and pipe organ.

And yet another that features a corner of the stained glass ceiling window in the apse.

I did like this composition for the complementary arches that frame the window.

As mentioned, the morning was sunny and the stained glass windows were beckoning to be shot.  Here are a couple of those.

I am continually amazed at the workmanship that has gone into this basilica, in part explaining why it has been awarded the basilica designation. I also noted that the light from the stained glass windows was illuminating the pews and took this detail shot.

The variation in color is subtle, but I liked it.

I also took a number of shots of the spiral staircase leading to the pulpit . . .

. . . including a shot detailing the leaf work in the staircase's railing.

In this first shot I wanted to feature the leafing, with the stained glass window as a contextual background element.  This was shot with the aperture at a wide open f/4.  While that allowed the leaf work to "pop," I felt it left the background window too ambiguous.  So I tried another shot at f/16.

Now the leaf still pops, but the stained glass is more recognizable.

Finally, I spied a ceiling in a side chapel that had escaped my notice in past visits.  Here is a symmetrical shot that I got using my tactic of placing the camera on the floor directly under the ceiling.

This image, taken at f/10 for 6 seconds, has great resolution.  In keeping with my efforts to take more unorthodox shots, I took other shots rotated at an angle to the orthogonal, as in the following.

Because this shot incorporated some of the brightly lit stained glass window in the lower right, the camera shutter exposure was only 4 seconds, rather than 6, at the same aperture of f/10.  As a result the image was darker, and I brightened it some in post processing to match the other image.  I think I like this second image better, even though it cuts off the ceiling's upper and lower corners (because I don't have a true wide-angle lens).  The four corners of the image manage to show off the four very different features that abut the ceiling.  This is my favorite image of the shoot, both for its freshness and for the image's technical quality.


1 comment:

  1. All beautiful, but my favorite was the stained glass windows and the rows of seats. You are so talented with the picture taking.