I just recently finished a project shooting the beautiful stained glass windows for Morningside High Park Presbyterian Church in Toronto for their “Stained Glass Sundays” concept. This was an interesting challenge for various reasons. Made even more challenging by the fact that I wanted to present each of their 10 windows in a different way. I know I’ve often mentioned the benefits of practicing the common concept of going out to shoot the same subject in as many ways as possible, but rarely has that presented itself so literally on a shoot. So I wanted to not only share the images but also explain some of the fun challenges and solutions I came across while working on these. It was a lot of fun to actually be put in a situation where I could practice applying different views on the same subject. I hope you enjoy looking at them as well. Click through to read more and see larger versions of the images above.
From a technical perspective the difficulties stem from the fact that you’re usually balancing very high contrast ranges. For the interior perspectives, it’s balancing the very dark interiors of a church with the directly sky-lit windows. A situation that will usually either result in completely black interiors, or completely white and detail-less windows. And for exterior perspectives it’s the opposite; where the building is either lit by the sun or spotlights (at night) and the interiors are in blackness. The latter issue of underexposed windows is most straight forward and solved by softlighting the windows with as much even coverage as possible. Lighting interiors to lower contrast varied a lot often depended on how much or which part of the surrounding area I wanted to see. For instance side-lighting the stonework around the windows to increase texture, or backlighting pews for shaped silhouettes against the windows.
Then there’s the fact that the subject matter is a two dimensional piece of art. One that you don’t want to distort with perspective too much and one that really has to remain the highlight of each image. That means you’re essentially shooting them all straight on. This was probably the most fun and difficult part. In some cases I had to shoot from a ladder to get the right perspective, and in other cases I was lying on the ground with a longer lens to make use of some interesting foreground subject. For instance using the pews to frame the windows, or using a reflection off of a communion table to add another dimension. Other times I just waited for the sun and clouds to move so that the light could stream through in an interesting way. Making use of various times of day was definitely a great way to see things differently. Shooting a few at night was a big contrast and allowed me to light paint some texture onto the exterior of the building. Almost all required the use of supplemental lighting to highlight either texture or shape the flat ambient light onto the walls around the windows and reduce the extreme contrast.
It was a great day of shooting and I kept thinking of how rarely you actually get to use and publish all the different ways you try to see the same subject. As more are released by the Church in their “Stained Glass Sunday” project, I will try to post them here as well.