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Photography is a favorite hobby of countless people. Now with inexpensive digital cameras and cell phones and other devices that capture images, it seems everyone has a camera of some sort. Digital cameras make taking photographs very inexpensive compared to film cameras. Because of the cost of a roll of film, the limited numbers of photos that could be taken on a roll and the expense of having the film developed, people were more cautious about how many pictures they took. For a small amount of money, we can purchase cards for our camera that can take a thousand pictures. We can take ten pictures of the same subject and immediately discard nine that we don’t like or even all of them and start over.
It always amuses me to watch a group of tourist alight from a bus with digital camera in hand and immediately start taking pictures, not even sure of what they are viewing. We allowed photography at the Washington Cathedral. Often I would just look in amazement as fifty students walked through the door and before they even had a chance to see what was in front of them start shooting.
MY LOVE OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Photography and woodworking have always been important hobbies of mine. Since my web page is mostly memoirs of our Cathedral Quest, I have decided to share with you other memories and experiences.
A LITTLE FAMILY HISTORY
My great grandparents emigrated from Wales in 1860. They had four sons and two daughters. One of the sons, Will, was my mother’s father. My great grandfather, Evan J. Davies, had a very strange will (I have a copy) which stipulated that if any of the children married they would receive $1000 (that was in 1917 – equivalent of over $16,000 today) and would be cut out of his will. My grandfather and one other son were the only two who married. The other son, Ben, did not have any children. My mother was the only child of Will who became a widower when mother was a year old. So when my grandmother died, my mother was raised by her grandparents, her father, two bachelor uncles and two old maid aunt all living in the same house – a rather large house in Huntington, West Virginia. She had many interesting stories to tell about her upbringing. The family picture on the right was taken in 1892 when Uncle Oley was five years old (standing on right). When I was born the only persons still living were Uncle Oley and the two aunts. Our family’s Sunday tradition was either they came to our house in Ashland, Kentucky – 17 miles away or we went there. So after this rather lengthy memoir, you can see how Uncle Oley was so important to me. Uncle Oley was born in 1887 and died in 1980 at the age of 93. When I was in college at Marshall University, which was four blocks from their home, I lived with Uncle Oley and the remaining aunt,“ Aunt Dee”. I have many stories to tell about those four years.
Uncle Oley was an avid photographer. He never went anywhere without his camera. The year that I was born he bought a Kodak Bantam camera. The ad to the left is from a May 1938 National Geographic which someone gave me several years ago as a birthday present. The original price was $115 reduced to $87.50. This was a very expensive camera for its day. On today’s market that camera, before being reduced, would cost $1,733.04 or $1,318.61 on sale. I have this camera on my bookshelf along with several of my old cameras.
PHOTOGRAPHY HAS CHANGED IN THE LAST 50 YEARS!
When I was twelve, Uncle Oley gave me a Kodak Duoflex camera for Christmas. It was a reflex camera, box shaped with a top viewer that you looked down into to see the image. It took a film that produced 2 x2 negatives. He also gave me a darkroom set (he never had a dark room). I set up dark room in our basement. As I developed from a twelve year old to a teenager, I also developed hundreds of pictures. I must have pretty good as I still have them in albums and they haven’t faded. I had a little business of taking family pictures of our friends and neighbors and printing them with a Christmas mask so they could send them as family Christmas cards.
By the time I was a junior in high school, I was a serious photographer. I became the official photographer for the high school annual. My equipment, furnished by the school, at the time was top of the line. I had a 4 x 5 Speed Graphic camera – the old press camera. The 4 x 5 film was loaded into a two sided plate. This slipped into the back of the camera. A slide was pulled out so a picture could be taken, then you put the slide back in with the black side on the outside before you removed the plate and turned it over and took another picture. Sometimes I would forget which side had been used and come up with an interesting double exposure. The flash attachment was almost as large as the camera and flash bulbs were size of a standard light bulb. It wasn’t long before the strobe light was developed to replace the old flash and the school bought one for me. The trouble was that the battery that you wore over your shoulder weighed a “ton”. One of my assignments was to cover all of the high school foot ball games. So armed with about five plates (they were also heavy), this huge camera and the strobe light with the battery slung over my shoulder, I raced up and down the foot ball field trying to capture the 10 most important plays as that was all the film I could carry. By the end of the game I felt as tired as those who had actually played!
I also had a great darkroom at school- I had the only key to it. It was a great place to hide. It was very well equipped with a huge enlarger that accomodated the 4 x 5 film. I had a note from the annual sponsor asking that I be excused from class to take pictures. I used it frequently in R.O.T.C. when we were going to do something strenuous. The officers never kept the note so I got a lot of mileage out of it.
My interest in photography continued in my adult life and my camera became more and more advanced as technology improved. I had a darkroom in every house that I lived in. I was also able to make colored prints from slides using a process call Cibachrome. I looked Cibachrome up on the web page and it is still used and is presently called Ilfochrome. The process made beautiful 8x10 enlargements. I have a number of pictures framed and they are still beautiful.
I used photography in my church ministry. I did a number of slide tape shows. This was before computers and programs such as Power Point. I used 35mm slides, two Carousel slide projectors, a device known as a dissolve control which made the photos fade into each other on the screen plus a large reel to reel tape recorder that carried music and narration on one stereo track and an inaudible beep on the other track that activated the dissolve control. I had a very popular slide tape show called “Creation”. I narrated on the tape, along with music, the Creation Story from Genesis, as I showed nature slides illustrating the different days of creation. I was asked to present this to many organizations. I put together a number of others shows illustrating the history of the parish and the activities of the year. I almost needed a moving van to carry all of the equipment. How different it is now with the use of digital camera and Power Point software!
Now as I teach my church architecture classes, I put all of my slides and illustrations on Power Point. How much better this is than the old slide tape programs. All you need now is a laptop computer and a projector. I have been fortunate that the colleges have provided this equipment. So now I carry a finger drive and an extra CD.
So you can see that I am a serious photographer who goes back to the “old days” of photography. At this point I want to stop reminiscing and give a few practical suggestions about taking “church” pictures.
SUGGESTION ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHING CHURCHES
· Camera type
I don’t think there are too many people who still use film cameras except for some professional photographers. I bought my first digital in 2003 before going to England. One of the main reasons was that people were having their films ruined by airport security x-rays. Those who still use film now carry their film in a special container. Traveling with a digital camera is much safer, the x-ray does not damage image cards. I, also find a small digital camera much easier to carry around. You also look less like a tourist. My present camera has many features that allow me to take photos in a variety of situations and still be compact. My most recent camera is a Canon Power Shot SD 950 IS. It is wonderful. I wear it in a pouch on my belt, and when I go out with my camera, which is always, I have two extra batteries and an extra card with me. I take four batteries on the trip and charge the used batteries every night. There is nothing worse than having something that you wish to capture and your battery dies and you don’t have spare. This happened to several people on our last trip.
· Camera Settings
Many digital cameras have adjustable resolution and compression settings. My camera’s resolution setting range is from 2592 x 1944 to 4000 x 3000 pixels. It also has three compression settings. If I set it to the highest resolution and highest compression I will only be able to take 188 photos on a 1GB card compared to using the lowest settings which will allow 3258 images. Of course the highest resolution produces the best photograph, but unless you are making big enlargements the difference between the higher and one a little lower are not very noticeable. The difficulty is that the higher setting , the more memory you use on your computer and the download is slower when emailing or placing them on a web site. I tend to use 3264 x 2448 at normal compression, so if my pictures download slowly I apologize, but when I took them I wasn’t intending the put them on a web site. High resolutions photos also use more ink when printing.
One of the great disappointments of our Cathedral Quest is the number of churches that will not allow any interior photography. On one hand I agree with the policy because flash or even the sound of a shutter without flash (some camera allow you to turn off the shutter sound) is disturbing to people who are in the church for the purpose of meditation and worship. In my ministry I would never allow pictures to be taken during a wedding – not even by the professional photographer hired by the bride and groom (I wasn’t very popular with wedding photographers). More than once I have stopped in the middle of ceremony and asked someone to stop taking pictures. On our Cathedral Quest, I have been asked several times to stop taking pictures. I also have been known to snap a few –not looking through the viewer with my camera at my side or inside my jacket. Please don’t report me! Even that doesn’t help because sometimes the red dot shows on a wall. I have heard story about people having their cameras confiscated by security and mailed back to their home.
There are many beautiful and wonderful church interiors that I, and others, would love to have in their photo collections. Most of the more famous churches have lovely books or postcards for sale – another reason they don’t allow photos. They want to sell their books. Almost all of these pictures are copyrighted which means that I cannot copy them to put into this web page. I do respect the copyright law and hope those who visit my site will also respect this protection. We have found several churches that didn’t have a book or post cards to sell and would not allow photography. What a disappointment!!! I may even tell you later which ones.
There are churches that allow interior photography but no flash. Most of the time stepping into a huge cathedral and taking a flash picture is a waste of batteries and card space. I would tell people snapping a flash picture the minute they walked into the Washington Cathedral that most flashes wouldn’t carry for a tenth of mile. Generally, not using a flash does not present a problem with cameras with adjustable ISO settings. I can adjust my ISO to 1600. Sometimes there is no objection to using a tripod, but I have been told several times to put it away. In 2005 I bought a compact tripod for our trip to Paris. The first day I pulled it out to use it, I realized that the bracket that attaches the camera to the tripod was at home on my dresser. I brought all that way for nothing. So pushing up the ISO, and manually lowering the shutter speed and increasing aperture will produced satisfactory photos. Shutter speeds less than 50 to 35 of a second may blur your picture if you don’t have a steady hand. If you can’t use a tripod, I would suggest that you place your camera on the top of a railing, back of a pew or chair and set the automatic timer. That way you don’t accidently move the camera as you press the shutter.
· Stained Glass
Stained glass windows are my favorite part of church interiors. I never got tired of looking at them at the Washington Cathedral. I have photographed all of them which I have in an album. It was breath taking to see how the reflections of the stained glass on the walls changed from hour to hour as the location of the sun changes. Taking pictures of stained class is a little tricky. I can’t believe the number of people I see that take “flash” pictures of stained glass windows. This, of course, usually blocks any light coming through the windows. The whole purpose of stained glass is to let the light shine through them. Light is very important to the beauty of any church. It also has a profound theological and spiritual significance. “And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw that light, that it was good.” We are also called to let God’s light shine through us.
If you have not had experience in photographing stained glass windows, may I suggest that you to a local church that has stained glass and practice. It will give you and better understanding before your cathedral quests.
When taking photos of interiors, it is sometimes difficult to have enough light to capture the interior plus to be able to see the colors in the stained glass. I generally just take the windows and increase either the shutter speed or raise the aperture setting in the manual mode. One of the advantages of a digital camera is to be able to immediately look at the picture and if it is not to your liking then you can take it over. I would also suggest a camera with a good zoom lens. Many cathedral windows are in the clerestory (the top section) and are hard to photograph without a zoom lens. I would strongly urge that you to carry a small note pad and write down the photo number and the subject. Most cathedral guide books identify the various stained glass windows. My favorite stained glass windows are in Sante Chapelle in Paris. I didn’t take enough pictures the first time we were in Paris, so on the second visit I photographed every window. I used my tripod until some nice lady told me to put it away!
· Exterior photos
A second problem concerns exterior photos. I have found that many old cathedrals have been surrounded by other buildings as time moves on. Cathedrals like the Washington Cathedral, or Notre Dame Paris, Reims as an example are in a location by themselves and are easy to photographic. There are others like Cologne, Freiburg, Rouen where it is impossible, with most cameras, to get the full view. There are too many close buildings and by the time you can get the height the sides are blocked. My camera can take panoramic shots, so sometimes I take the full lower half and then the top and “stitch” them together when I print them. Often they look a little distorted but one can get the idea of what it is supposed to look like. Some wide angle lens give a “fish bowl” effect. There are some amazing photos of churches in books where the photographer was either in a helicopter or hanging off the top of a nearby building. These, too, are generally copyrighted.
Another problem I have encountered photographing the exterior of churches and sometimes the interior is restoration. This is both good and bad. It is good in that these historic structures are being preserved through the donations of governments, foundations, church funds, and private individuals. Almost every church that we have visited has had some type of restoration in progress with much scaffolding in place. The disadvantage is that for the present, you cannot capture the full magnificence of the building in your photographs. The good news is that someday you can return and see the completed restoration. For example when we visited Milan in 2004, the entire front was covered with scaffolding and a protective cloth. When we returned to Italy in 2008, we inquired about Milan Cathedral and found it was still covered so we didn't go back to Milan. The good news is that in December 2008 it was fully restored to its original splendor. It would be worth a trip just to Milan to see it.