Thursday, May 12, 2011

Photographing stained glass windows

click photo to enlarge
The very best photographs of church stained glass come about when the exposure is carefully planned. What is it most important to get right? Well, you have to ensure that the camera is steady using a tripod if necessary, that colour balance is accurate and that your exposure (or stacked multiple exposures) capture the full range of tones from the lightest to the darkest. But in general it's not camera settings that are the most critical factor - any reasonably competent photographer can bracket a few shots and get a decent exposure. No, what usually separates the satisfactory shot from the first class one is the quality of light and the background of the window outside the church. I always find that a shot taken on an overcast but bright day produces the greatest fidelity. Sun and gloom are both difficult to work with, the former being slightly harder than the latter. And, the presence of trees, nearby houses or a part of the church itself as the backdrop to the window is usually intrusive because of the way these elements selectively change the colour and brightness of the glass.

However, if your aim is to take an interesting photograph (as opposed to an accurate one), or if outside conditions cannot be changed, it's perfectly possible to work with the restrictions I note above and achieve an acceptable image. Today's pair of photographs do, I hope, illustrate this. The first shows the triple east windows of Essendine church in Rutand and were taken early on a day in February when the morning sun was streaming through the brightly coloured glass.The reversed image that each window has projected onto the nearby wall is not the sort of effect that you'd want to have in a good stained glass window photograph, but it does make for an interesting shot, the indistinct quality making a nice contrast with the sharpness of the actual glass and lead. The second image was marred by the projecting building behind the leftmost figure - you can see some above and to the left of the head, and this had to be compensated for in post processing. It resulted in the colour of the white draperies of this figure being a different colour from the others; something that I didn't quite manage to correct. Moreover, a single exposure could not capture all the tones and colours because the left side of the window was so much darker than the right. Notice, for example, that some of the small red, blue and green pieces of glass in the border that frames each figure are recorded as black. Despite these shortcomings I think the shot has enough to offer in the form that I present it - though its more subtle colours do look dull by my juxtaposing them with the brighter hues of the more modern glass above!

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Main Photo
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/20
ISO: 500
Exposure Compensation: -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On