Friday, February 27, 2009

Churchyard trees

click photo to enlarge
Churchyard trees are the bane of my photographic life - but I wouldn't be without them! Most English churches are surrounded by a few, or many, trees. Those that aren't are often in the uplands, on moorland fells, by the sea, far out in wind-swept marshes, or in the concrete jungles that are our great cities. But in villages and towns trees surround the church, often the biggest, oldest and most interesting specimens in the settlement.

In almost every churchyard that has trees the dark green, evergreen yew (Taxus baccata) will be found, often many specimens, sometimes in an avenue flanking the main path to the south porch or west door. This long-lived tree is a symbol of everlasting life, a deterrent to the farmers of long ago who let their cattle roam free (its berries are poisonous), and the source of the English archers' longbow. Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is nearly as ubiquitous, its red berries and prickly leaves, a reminder of Christ's crown of thorns. Quite a few churchyards have laurel bushes and trees. These were planted by the Victorians who valued it for its association with victory, particularly the victory over death that Christianity offered believers. The rest of the trees to be found will reflect the locality and its soil, the taste of the church council, and the fashions of the past few hundred years - in the second half of the twentieth century many flowering cherries were planted. To walk through an old churchyard full of trees, such as the one above at Swineshead in Lincolnshire, is a real pleasure, and offers variety and interest whatever the season. Today the snowdrops and aconites were in full flower, and the first crocuses were starting to appear.

So, since these are clearly places of great beauty, why do I describe the trees as "the bane of my photographic life?" Well, if you're interested in photographing church architecture, and want an image of the whole building, you find that they are invariably planted just where you wish they weren't - often obscuring the "best" viewpoint from the south-east. Winter is the only time that a reasonable view of the south elevation of the medieval church at Swineshead can be secured. And, even then (as you can see), I had to move farther to the west than I would have liked, and shoot through a tangle of branches. However, I was thankful for the appearance of a shaft of afternoon sun from behind quite thick cloud, that illuminated the building and separated it from its surroundings, thereby helping me in my task.

For more images of this church and its churchyard see here, here, here, and here, and for a bigger, black and white version of the image above click here.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/500 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On