Monday, March 16, 2015


I first got to photograph the interior of the Cathedral of St. Paul, located in St. Paul, Minnesota, last summer and had another opportunity this last weekend with my new camera.  As with most religious venues, the cathedral was relatively dimly lit, despite the bright sunny day.  I didn't have my tripod, so essentially everything was handheld, and I needed to rely on my camera's low-light capabilities.  And I will say that my new camera did a better job than its predecessor in the low light.  The other, and more significant, difference with this session was the wider angled shots that the new camera was able to capture.  As a result, I found myself favoring such wider angle compositions, which created more unusual looks.

Here, for example, is a traditional first shot from the rear of the nave looking toward the sanctuary.

This clearly includes more of the side features, as well as a portion of the cathedral's central dome.  And here is a complementary shot from just in front of the sanctuary looking toward the back of the nave, centering on the cathedral's main rose window situated behind the pipe organ.

Note the evident "tumble house" effect in these shots.  Note also the vignetting in the upper right and lower left of these two shots.  Embarrassingly, it took me about 25 shots to realize that the reason for this vignetting was not a problem with the lens or camera but with the fact that I had left the lens hood on the lens--totally unnecessary in the cathedral's low light interior.

At one point during my visit I tried to shoot the central dome with the camera on the floor pointing directly up. 

This was a little disappointing, and for the most part I only have myself to blame.  First, although I was able to place the camera fairly precisely directly beneath the center of the dome, I failed to have the camera point straight up and as a result lost a little of the periphery in balancing out the image in post processing.  Worse, I failed to keep my own head out of the shot and as a result had to crop the shot further to eliminate the unintended selfie.  Lesson learned.

I should also point out that the lights in the center of the shot were extremely bright, creating an extreme range of illumination.  In addition, the star-shaped light fixture actually hung down considerably from the actual dome, creating a depth of field issue.

I did like the semicircular roman arches which created some interesting abstracts, as in the following shots.

This latter shot features the apse on the lower left and a side rose window on the lower right.

One issue I noted was the fact that the interior surfaces are still undergoing repair and renovation, as indicated by white patches of plaster that are apparent here and there.

Although I am still enamored by my camera's wide angle capabilities, I did take some "smaller" shots, including the following, a black & white of a pair of sculptures (twins, I think), one of a number of similar such sculptures in alcoves situated in an area behind the apse.

And speaking of the apse, here is a shot of its ceiling.

I believe the bird is intended to represent the Holy Spirit, a symbol I have seen in other apse ceilings.

I also took some detail shots of the artwork in the arch areas, including the following.

I liked the following "vertical" image of the dome and related arch areas seen beyond some foreground support structures.

I like this shot for its unusual perspective and because it seems to do a good job of conveying depth and dimension.  It might be noted that this shot gives the impression of a great deal of light in the interior.  That was simply not the case.

On my prior visit I was able to get some very good shots of the ceilings in a couple of side prayer areas.  I had less success this time, I think because of very bright ceiling lights in these chapels, making for a very tricky dynamic range.

The cathedral featured a large wooden cross in the center aisle at the rear of the nave.  I don't know if this cross is permanent.  My guess is that it has been placed there in conjunction with upcoming Easter celebrations.  At first I found the cross to be an obstruction but in the end decided to incorporate it in one of my wide angle shots from the very rear of the nave.

I liked how this created both foreground and background interest, even if the cross was not quite centered on the aisle.

But my favorite shots were the following that featured the dome from an oblique perspective, creating very stylized images.

I spent about 1-1/2 hours photographing the cathedral's interior, taking a total of 100 images.  I have retained about 20, which is pretty typical for me.


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