British Heritage – Places of Worship

Every town or village has a local church and the majority are prime real estate for the photographer. With their stained glass windows, steeples, spires, and gothic details, they provide a range of opportunities for images. Village churches are often the more picturesque and tend to offer larger grounds for wider compositions, while larger cities offer the grandness of a cathedral or an abbey.

British Heritage - Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral sits high on the hill, making it appear to rise above the city

It’s always worth spending some time planning your shot – especially if it is close enough to home to keep revisiting the scene – look for the best angles and the best time of day, when the sun is in the perfect position. Some may have floodlights that come on in the evening, and finding out when they come on will allow you to balance them with the dusk to keep some colour in the sky. If possible try to go inside the church as there may be details to shoot, such as candles or even the light coming through stained glass windows. Make sure you take a tripod though, as they may be dimly lit. The grounds may also include a cemetery; gravestones, especially older overgrown ones, can make great subjects or foregrounds and the interaction between the plants and the tombs is often an interesting juxtaposition.

British Heritage - St Peter?s in Oare, Kent
The inside of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral in all its grandeur and some beautiful stained glass

Shoot Stained Glass Windows

First, turn off the flash – it will reflect off the glass.

Diffused, even light is best for capturing an even exposure across the whole window. On sunny days the shady side of the church will give better results.

Windows are usually high up. To minimise perspective distortion stand as far back as possible and zoom in to fill the frame. This reduces the angle at which the camera must be tilted.

British Heritage - Stained glass
The picturesque village church of St Peter’s in Oare, Kent

Alternatively, create deliberate dramatic perspective distortion by shooting from close range and below, using a wideangle lens.

Fill the frame with the window, excluding as much of the church as possible, and take a meter reading from the window.

Set a mid-range aperture (such as f/8) and if handholding the camera make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to avoid camera shake (at least 1/60th second with your kit lens, or faster if using a tele-zoom). If you can’t achieve such a speed, raise the ISO setting.

British Heritage - Stained glass

Look for interesting details within the window to zoom in on. If the sun is shining directly through the stained glass window it can often project patterns of brightly coloured light onto the ground or nearby pillars, which can make interesting photos too.

Tips For Church Interiors

  • British Heritage - Liverpool?s Anglican Cathedral

    Check on whether photography is permitted. Sometimes a permit is required for photos, or for the use of tripods.

  • Don’t shoot during services and periods of worship, or photograph people at prayer without their permission.
  • If shooting towards the altar get as square on as possible to avoid distortion and achieve a symmetrical composition.
  • Avoid tilting the camera if possible, as this will cause the sides of the church to converge inwards, especially with a wideangle lens.
  • To balance your exposure, try combining shots using HDR effects.

Go Visit… Top UK Locations

1.  Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire
2. Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire
3. Durham Cathedral, Durham
4. Peterborough Cathedral, Cambridgeshire
5. Highgate Cemetery, London
6. Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey
7. St Peter’s Anglican Church, Oare, Kent

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. British Heritage - Places of Worship
  3. 3. British Heritage - Ruins & Walls
  4. 4. British Heritage - Grand Buildings
  5. 5. British Heritage - Coastal Buildings
  6. 6. British Heritage - Bridges
  7. 7. British Heritage - Uniquely British
  8. 8. British Heritage - Stitching Panoramas
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