Wednesday Morning Church

· Reading Time: 16 minutes

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Foreboding Sanctuary“, Canon 5D Mk3, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, No filters

There are just some days that I have some time available and want to get out and do something with the camera.  I didn’t have a lot of time, but I did have the morning available before my day got busy.  With Toni getting up early to go to the gym, I found myself up at 3am.  I had been contemplating a couple of different locations that might work for sunrise since there was a decent chance of some colors in the sky.  I really couldn’t think of much locally that I wanted to shoot with the conditions, but there was a subject that Toni has been asking me to shoot for some time now.  Actually, I had shot this particular subject quite a number of years ago and she really liked how it turned out.  Of course, it has long since dropped out of my catalog and I don’t have it handy online anymore. It was a church in downtown Greensboro that she liked so much.  I had shot it under a night sky with some interesting clouds overhead and it really had an eerie feel to it.  There were things about it that I didn’t like, but had no ways of working around it back then.  These days, I have a much more versatile bag of tricks at my disposal and I thought that it was about time to try it again.

Since I was up early enough to really plan out the morning, I went ahead and got out of bed and started to look at the weather.  It was raining, and that was supposed to continue until just at sunrise.  This gave a great possibility of some fantastic conditions developing in the sky.  It was a toss up as to what I was going to get.  I could deal with color in the sky here just fine, but my main focus was using the blue hour to get somewhat the same effect that I had gotten back when I first shot it.  The lighting on it was interesting from the street lights as well as the accent lights with the landscaping.  All I needed was a moody sky to put over it, and the low clouds would give me just that.  If they cleared early enough, I was expecting to get some vibrant color which would introduce a completely different mood to the image.  Either way, I was looking forward to the chance to revisit this church.

The only variable that I needed to worry about was the rain.  If the rain didn’t stop in time, I would really be unable to do the shoot at all.  I knew that for the most part, my camera would be pointed up and I would be using a wide angle lens.  There was no way to protect the front element of the lens from rain, and with the bright street lights, I knew that any drops on the glass would show up in the image as ghosting.  It was worth the risk since the church was only about 30 miles away.  Staying local with questionable weather is always a good plan.  I was on my way to Greensboro shortly after 4am, with plans on getting there and in position by 5:30.

Steeple in the Storm“, Canon 5D Mk3, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, No filters

The closer I got to Greensboro, the heavier the rain was falling.  I was kind of expecting this since the front was moving from the West.  It was going to come down to a matter of minutes as to whether or not I would be able to get the images I had in mind.  When I got downtown, I got parked out of the way and grabbed my gear for the short walk up to the church.  It was still drizzling, but it was getting lighter which was a good thing.  When I got to the church, there was a car parked out front which was one of the problems that I ran into with this location before.  The church is right on the street and the straight on shot is negatively affected by cars on the street.  I wasn’t able to get the whole church in the frame with my last rig only able to go to 17mm wide.  That meant I had to step out into the street which meant that I captured a couple of cars.  While this isn’t a terrible thing, it dated the image, and created some things that really didn’t tell the story that I was trying to convey.  This time, I had my magical Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens which is the cheapest piece of kit that I carry.  I actually have several filters that are more expensive than this lens was.  The reason it is so cheap is that it is fully manual from focus to aperture selection.  It slows my process down a bit when I use it, but the tradeoff is it is a remarkably sharp piece of glass and has great optical characteristics.

I knew that I would be using that lens for at least some of the shots that I had in mind.  When I was looking at the layout of the church, I knew that I had the right lens for the job this time.  I looked at the straight on shot that I had gone for last time and saw that it would more than likely work out well.  I was also wanting some different perspectives that might be even more dramatic, so I kept looking around.  I started to get very interested in the corner of the building which showed a lot of promise when I was looking through my cell phone to test compositions.  It was hard to imagine just what I would be able to capture with a 14mm lens based on the phone, but I had an idea that it was going to work out well.  I also spotted a sculpture in the front of the church which I had included in the original shot years ago, but this time I was interested in it as its own subject.  I could see a few compositions with it if the sky cooperated.  I also looked at some of the details of the church and started thinking about isolations that I could do.  This was going to be a full study of this property by the time I was done.

Magic in the Air“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

I now had no fewer than three compositions in mind, but the rain was still falling.  It wasn’t much, but it was enough to dot the front element and cause some issues with the image.  The time was getting closer and closer to blue hour and I was really needing the rain to break so I could get the camera out and give it a try.  Fearing that I wasn’t going to have time to set a shot up with the rain, I went ahead and decided to give it a try and at least start getting the exposures down right.  I chose to go with the corner view first as this was my favorite composition that I had come up with.  If nothing else, I wanted that one in the bag more than anything else.  I set the Manfrotto Tripod up right at the corner of the intersection behind a parked car (for my safety) and put the camera on the Acratech Ballhead to get the composition dialed in just right.  I quickly saw that the Rokinon was exactly the lens for this shot.  To get the composition that I wanted, I needed to mount the camera on its side, using the RRS L Plate.  That allowed me to get the height of the building from about 20 feet away.  That left the narrow side of the frame needing to include the entire building which was a pretty big thing to ask, but the Rokinon did it quite easily.  The perspective of the shot was dead on with what I was hoping for.  The corner of the brick wall came to a nice dramatic point that brought you right into the composition.  This was going to work out well!

I wiped the lens off and dialed in my exposure, manually setting the aperture to f/11.  I cranked off a 2 minute exposure which was a little hot in the highlights and followed that up with a minute exposure which was just right.  Fortunately, I had wiped the lens off between shots.  However, the drops did mess this shot up when I looked at it on the computer.  I had gotten the shot that I wanted at the corner at least, so I moved back to the front of the building.  I flipped the L Plate so that the camera was horizontal now.  I backed up just into the road, in front of the car which was parked there.  I had to carefully frame up the composition, extending the center column of the tripod to decrease the perspective distortion a little bit.  Again, the 14mm lens soaked up all of the scene and I was able to get a composition that included everything that I wanted with enough wiggle room for a bit of lens correction in post processing.

I wiped the lens clean once again and set my exposure.  With blue hour fully in place, I only needed a 30 second exposure, so I was able to come out of bulb mode for the remainder of the shots.  I was taking a series of images as the sky changed, paying attention to wipe the lens after each image.  Most of the early ones were no good because of ghosting from the water drops picking up the street lights.  However, toward the end of the series the rain actually stopped and I was getting nice dry images for a change.  An added benefit was that the sky was actually getting some color to it.  I was lucky enough to have a blend of good blue hour AND a colorful sunrise setting up.

Golden Orb“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

Feeling that I had a good image from the front, I wanted to move onto another composition.  Remembering that my lens had stayed wet at the corner of the building, I decided to go back and capture a dry image at the corner and hopefully get a little bit of the color in the sky.  I went with the exact same composition that I had shot previously and made a series of images with slightly different skies in each one.  I was actually feeling much better about this set of image now that the lens was staying dry.  I was confident that I had nailed my first two concepts for compositions.  It was now time to move over to the sculpture which I had considered if the sky was looking good.  There was no color above the sculpture, but there was a lot of texture in the sky, and that was plenty good enough.  I actually didn’t want a lot of color since the sculpture had a copper colored sphere at the top of it.  I thought that a nice cool toned sky would work really well with this one.

It was time to put the wide angle lens away and switch to something a little more versatile for this subject.  I grabbed my 24-70mm lens which was just perfect for getting a good composition of the sculpture.  I didn’t need any visual tricks, and in fact, I shot most of the compositions at 50mm which is about as close to normal as you can get.  I tried vertical and horizontal shots to make sure that I got something that was usable later on.  The one that I had the best feeling about was a horizontal image that I shot near the end of the series.  That composition actually became “Magic in the Air” and turned into one of my favorite images from this shoot.  The mix of warm and cool tones in this composition just knocked my socks off and immediately got me thinking about the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  In fact, I almost named this one “The Eye of Sauron”, but felt a little odd doing that since it was a sculpture named “The Trinity” and was sitting in front of a church.  There was something just magical about it under that dawn sky and I loved the image from the start.

This orb caught my eye so much that I kept working with it, only with a different lens.  I replaced the walk around lens with my 70-200mm telephoto which allowed me to get some abstract shots of the orb in the sculpture.  I wasn’t sure how these would turn out, but the basic premise was to capture the bright orb in a low key setting provided by the three parts that held it up.  While I loved the interaction of the parts which are shown in the wider angle shot, I was captivated with the visual textures on the orb and wanted to focus on that with the abstract isolations.  The glow of the orb really worked well for this image and gave plenty of contrast, bot in color and tonality.  The isolation really worked out better than I had hoped.

Hang a Shingle“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

Having spent about 15 minutes on the sculpture, I noticed that the sky was starting to go flat.  It was time to consider packing it up, but there were a couple of other things that had caught my attention while shooting other aspects of the church.  I really liked the green shingles over the main entrance and saw some interesting patters there.  With the flat light from the overcast sky, I was going to have a great opportunity to photograph a section of those shingles.  Since I already had the telephoto lens on, I decided there was no time like the present.  I got into position and started to find my composition.

It would have been all too easy to get the layered composition with nothing but horizontal lines, or perfectly symmetrical at the top of the arch.  That wasn’t what I wanted.  I wanted just a little bit of the brick to provide a color balance, and I wanted an asymmetrical composition to add drama and visual tension to the image.  I found that with the slope on the right side.  There was a good deal of rust present on the shingles that added to that warm color accent that I wanted.  I framed it tight, knowing that I was going to crop to a 16:9 or 16:10 frame in post  to accentuate the curved border between the textures.

Looking in the LCD, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a winner or not so I didn’t spend a lot of time on it.  I adjusted the composition slightly and shot a second image which was my last from this section.  I was hoping that it was going to work out, but if it didn’t I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it.  I had some really interesting images in the bag already and I was excited to see how they turned out with processing.

An Inner Glow“, Canon 5D Mk3, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, No filters

Before calling it a day though, I wanted one more image.  The lamps on either side of the main entry were quite interesting, and I liked the stone background they had.  I had been looking at them for a while wondering if there was a composition that could be had with them.  Here I was with a long lens and a few more minutes of good light.  Why not just take a very tight shot of the top of the lantern with a blurred stone background?  That was just what I did, and I think it turned out really well.  It just goes to show that sometimes simple is best.

I would like to share a bit more about this image, and also Foreboding Sanctuary at the top of this entry.  For the sake of full disclosure, these lanterns were not lit during any of the shoot.  However, the glass was yellow, and I could really envision them being lit up.  When I got home and started editing these two images I decided that there needed to be a warm glow of light behind that glass.  It helped to draw the eye to the main entrance of the church in the first shot, and gave the isolation shot some much needed life.  It was a simple process in Lightroom and there was no digital trickery that went on, just a bit of dodging and burning with the lamps.  It was a minor adjustment, but one that I felt needed a bit of explanation in this entry.  I am really happy with how they turned out, and I think that both of the images still have a very honest quality to them.

When the morning was over, I had shot a total of 31 images which is very low for my normal amount these days.  There were no HDR series images, and no panorama shots done.  In fact, there were no filters used for any of the pictures at all.  It was a return to simplicity for me.  They were all single exposures, no filters, and in several cases, using a full manual lens.  I enjoy embracing simple when I can, and this morning turned into being all about simplicity.  It paid off with six images that I deemed as keepers from the 31.  In fact, every compositional idea that I had with the exception of one made it into this entry.  That one wasn’t a bad image, but it just didn’t have a story to tell.

Speaking of telling a story, I have mentioned several times about the first time I shot this church.  I have described it, but I’m imaging that the vast majority of those who are reading this blog don’t have a clue what the image looks like.  I went back in my archives and found the image.  It was shot in June, 2009 which was just over ten years ago.  I have come a long way since then, but the image really isn’t bad at all.  I just don’t like the cars in front, and the color is slightly washed out.  I wanted to add it here to have a point of reference for the images that you have just seen.

“Gothic”, Canon 40D, 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5, No filters

As you can see, I was well in the road, and might have been across the street to capture this view.  The street lights were not really my friends, but I made them work as bookends for the frame.  The cars out front detract from the image as well.  At least the sculpture was not blocked by the cars and makes a nice center piece to the whole composition.  The sky was interesting, but a little dull compared to the artificially lit foreground.  After all of these years, I am just now noticing that the lamp on the left of the main entry is burned out.  It is interesting going back to previous attempts at subjects like this and seeing what differences time makes.  You might like this one better than the new images that I shot.  There are aspects I like better here, but overall, I love the new images for the compositions and colors.  They are all much simpler and have fewer elements in them.  The perspective might throw you off, but I did that on purpose for a bit of drama in the images.  I’m just excited that I was able to eliminate the cars that I had to include 10 years ago!

Thank you for joining me with this latest trek.  I hope you enjoyed it, as well as the pictures.  Don’t forget if you are in the market for any photography supplies, click the links that I have included here as it helps me maintain this website and keep providing new images for you to enjoy.  It doesn’t cost you any extra, and really does help me out.