It was concluded early in the process that church congregations would not work for this assignment. See full text
A first outing to St Stephen Walbrook today. No great shots but a few to give a flavour of the place.
Fig. 1 The church is approached from this direction up a narrow pedestrian-only road flanked by tall, contemporary office blocks and no lens I possess would capture the whole building and its surroundings in a single shot and so this is a composite Brenizer stitch (Wikipedia) using Affinity software. The image would have benefited from less harsh lighting and so will be repeated on a subsequent visit.
Fig. 2 This is the dark and spectacularly ugly pulpit. It is difficult to get an uncluttered angle.
Fig. 3 In the centre of the church is a massive, plain, (roughly) circular Henry Moore altar. The plain window in figs. 5 and 6 can be seen.
Fig. 4. Candles on the altar.
Fig 5. The windows are clear but not flat glass (the Victorian stained glass was replaced). The church is closely surrounded by modern office blocks, which are visible but distorted by the glass. On a bright day, the lighting differential is extreme. Fig 6. is a merge of five exposure-bracketed images.
Fig. 7 The church doubly reflected in a large window on the recently-opened Bloomberg building.
Fig. 8 The tower.
Fig 9. Another reflection of the dome and tower in the building behind and a demonstration of three eras of London buildings in close proximity.
A second visit today using just the Fuji X100S with a fixed 35mm (equiv.) lens. They were preparing for a harvest festival service and so it was busier than usual. There's good and bad news - there are no restrictions on careful tripod use inside the church, but my requests at both the neighbouring office blocks to photograph the church from above were turned down - I haven't tried the one at the back yet.
This time the weather was too dull for the exterior shot - no harsh shadows, but a tedious sky. Fig. 9 image is an 11-image stitch which nearly works.
Fig. 10, the altar is nearly there - it includes some detail in the windows. The blurred bottom left corner is part of the pillar I rested the camera on, the effect was supposed to be aesthetic, but it is too out of focus and a crop will be needed. It's a good snap, though.
I am always drawn to this rack of candles (fig. 11). On my first visit there was only one candle but today, perhaps because of the forthcoming service, there were more. There must be some opportunities for shallow focus here, but it is difficult to frame a shot as there is a lot of clutter on the left that I am trying to avoid. I will try again next time with a wider angle lens.
A wider lens than 35mm (equiv.) is also needed for the dome. I have tried another Brenizer stitch this time (fig. 12), but that is silly because the solution is the right lens. Exposure is difficult because there is a central section with windows that always burns out: whatever the weather it is always much brighter than the gloomy interior of the dome.
I am still looking for a decent, (relatively) uncluttered angle on the pulpit (figs. 13-14). Settling for an incomplete image of the major feature might be the answer, perhaps supplemented by a close-up detail. The latter would provide an additional lens characteristic towards the brief.
The shot of the window is strengthened by the inclusion of the small round window to lift the dark surround. Recompose next time.
In the text section I will consider the list of subjects.
Fig. 16, Dome interior. I started with multiple shots, quartering the dome in case that proved necessary. The whole is just about manageable with the G80 and the slightly wider 12-16 (24-120) zoom. The problem is the Cupola (I had to look that up) which always overexposes. Even with a +/- 2 stop bracket the cupola has little detail - to achieve fig. 16 I have had to take the cupola from the -2 image, process it separately and paste it back on to the rest of the dome and there's still very little detail there. Next time I might try the same general bracketed shot and then spot meter (or manually override) just for the cupola separately and paste that in. A less sunny day might be better, but then the rest of he dome's interior becomes very dark. But is is an improvement. I will nominate fig. 16 as the first image for submission as it is nearly good enough but can be improved. It therefore has been granted the accolade of a border.
Fig. 17, front exterior is not good enough for reasons explored below.
Figs. 18-20 The mosaic of St. Stephen. This is located beside the stairwell leading up into the church (see fig. 18). There are two obvious shots, the whole piece from the top of the stairs (fig. 19) or a detail (fig. 20). Both of these options are rather ordinary. I might see how close I can get next time to pursue the "viewpoint" aspect of the brief: there's an old Pentax manual macro lens in a cupboard upstairs and an M43 adapter somewhere.
Fig. 21 I am still banging away at the altar and candles, this time with the 45mm (90mm) prime at f/1.8. I have taken several similar images on each of my visits. I am trying to capture the complex surface of the altar's side and to include the candles for a pretty composition and defocus the far candle composition and emphasise the scale of this ?-ton beast. They are ok but not great and there is always something in the background to distract from the composition (although the lectern is less noticeable this time than in fig. 4 above). I will try again next time.
Fig.22 The pulpit in its full hideous grandeur. This is difficult to photograph effectively because one image cannot convey how large it is and at once how ugly it is. Fig. 14 from 4th October shows just the canopy and part of the dome above, perhaps the full dome shot could incorporate the canopy. Alternatively, the Moore altar is to the right of fig. 23: maybe the alter and the pulpit could be shot as one.
Fig. 23 The Font is famous and should be included as a subject but the cover is dark and drab. I had thought to use a detail of the font as an example of shallow focus but this will only be possible with a little fill-in flash if HDR (as used in fig. 24) is to be avoided. Shoot it again.
Fig 24 The Old altar is similarly dark and dull and strongly back-lit on a sunny day. It should only be included in a general view.
Fig. 25 Back to the (relatively) new Henry Moore altar is a thing of beauty with two principal aspects, size and detailed surface texture. The latter is explored in the ongoing candle closeups, the altar as a whole could be shown as part of a general internal view or in combination with the pulpit, as discussed under fig. 22. A person is needed in the shot for scale.
Figs. 26-27 These are general interior views. Both are panorama stitches and both have problems. They are incomplete and will need reshooting with a wider view to form whole images that can be cropped satisfactorily. The assignment brief enjoins that all the images should be in the same format and I have tentatively chosen square.
I now have four shots of the exterior, three of which were taken for the course and one in March this year on my first visit to St Stephen.
Of the four, the first is the most effective at establishing the immediate environment, notably the Starbucks on the church's corner, but the lighting is ruinously harsh. The other three views are from similar directions which give a clearer view of the dome, but the March image (which I cannot use) is the best because it has diffused lighting and a leafless tree. This will have to be redone from both angles with better lighting before a winner can be chosen.
The stated targets for today were:
And it went pretty well. 16 images have been uploaded for consideration and they will be broken down into groups. Most of the shots were taken with the new 7-14mm (14-28mm equivalent) wide-angle zoom. It is a pleasure to use.
Fig. 28 see the post above on exterior shots. The dull lighting was better than the previous harsh lighting, but some sky detail would have helped. Again, there is a better shot from a position to the left when the tree has shed its leaves.
Figs. 29-30 One of the specific targets for the day was the reflection of the church facade in the large Bloomberg window, as first seen on 24 September. It was learned that it is not possible to capture all of the church while simultaneously getting all of the window. It is also not possible to spend too long on this shot (which is next to the main entrance) without attracting the attention of security guards who, quite reasonably, think I am trying to photograph the inside of the building through the window. This shot will probably have to be dropped from the final selection.
Figs. 31-32 show the Starbucks in the separate building which adjoins the south-west corner of the church. It would be desirable to show the coffee shop in the front exterior shot as an example of commerce encroaching on heritage, but is, as seems likely, there is only space for one such shot, it is more likely to be from the north-west side as that gives a clearer view of the architecture.
Fig. 33 As noted in the blog, I spent some time chatting with the verger on this visit, mostly about access to the tower to photograph the dome exterior (answer - not possible). He told me about a raised courtyard behind the church which does give a view of the dome and the cupola and also emphasises the nearness of the office buildings. A variant on this shot is likely to be included in the final selection, again it will be improved with fewer leaves and a more interesting sky.
Figs. 34-36 The new wide-angle lens makes short work of the dome as a single shot but, inevitably, exposure is still an issue. Even on an overcast day, the light in the cupola obliterates any detail. Fig. 35 is exposed for the spot-meter setting centered on the cupola and even then it is over-exposed. Nevertheless, it is an improvement and the cupola from fig. 35 (1/125 sec; f/8; ISO 800) had been superimposed on fig. 34 (1/8 sec; f/8; ISO 800) to give fig.35. This needs to be shot with a tripod and even greater exposure variations applied.
Fig. 37 The possibility of including the pulpit canopy in the dome shot (thereby not devoting one of the 10 slots to such an ugly fixture) was considered (see 18th October). Although this would be possible with bracketing as regards exposure, this has been rejected on aesthetic grounds. A single shot incorporating the altar and pulpit might be a solution, see fig. 40 below.
Figs. 38-40 a general interior shot is needed to establish the unusual design, layout and contents of the church, not to mention its spectacular grandeur. The essential choices are West-East (fig. 38) or East-West (fig. 39). The former is the likely choice as the church entrance allows a wider shot.
Fig. 40 is the first attempt take the Henry Moore altar and the pulpit in one shot. this was taken with the wide angle zoom as this lens was used for all the interior shots on the day. Taking the shot with a longer lens from a more distant viewpoint will allow a larger image of the pulpit. Note, the "original altar" is that large piece at the "back" of the church in figs. 38 and 40: more dark wood.
Fig. 41 The verger lifted the (dark wood) cover on the font to allow a photograph. It is difficult from any direction to show the whole font without a cluttered background. it is not an exciting piece. I am still inclined to photograph a detail of the cover as a shallow focus shot, as in fig. 23, 19th October. This is still on the to-do list.
Fig. 42 The best window shot is still the brightest day, 24th September.
Fig. 43 The plan to shoot a detail of the mosaic with an old macro lens did not work because the position on the stairs does not allow a close enough approach. I am still intending to show a detail, but possibly try a "head shot" with a telephoto next time.
As noted in the blog, it was a dull day, so no sky interest and the leaves haven't fallen off the trees yet. The targets set for the remaining trips were:
These were the first images taken. The shots of 19th October (fig. 23) established that fill-in flash would be needed and the Fuji is best suited for this. Flash is not favoured within the church and so only a couple of shots were taken when no-one was around. It took an HDR merge to produce the earlier shot (which has a prettier background) but the Fuji accomplished this admirably with one shot on the macro setting. Fig 44 is the better composition but fig. 45 is better focused. I will probably go with fig. 44.
Four shots were taken of the head within the mosaic, all at slightly different angles, of which fig. 46 is the pick. Fig. 47, a close-up, does not work because of the excessive perspective distortion and the lack of contextual information. Distortion is inevitable given its positioning, fairly high on an entrance wall (see figs. 18-20, 19th October) and fig. 46 this gives the best perspective of the set. It is a straight choice between this "head shot" and one showing the whole piece, fig. 19 or fig. 43 from 26th October.
The altar is the most beautiful piece in the building and the pulpit the ugliest and so this image, combining the two, is rather pleasing. The camera was resting in slightly varying positions on one of the pillar ledges as the exposures were 0.4, 0.3 and 0.12 seconds. It is unfortunate that the church is cluttered with temporary furniture. It is difficult to choose which image to use:
fig. 50 shows the subjects at their largest but the pillar on the left is badly placed.
fig. 49 is a better arrangement of pillars and lights, but at the price of a smaller image of the main subjects.
fig. 48 is better again, with more window detail, but the subjects smaller still and pews in the foreground.
An interesting general view remains elusive. Figs. 52-54 are spoiled by the table in the foreground, while fig. 51 is enhanced by the piano, that makes it the pick of this group. It is very similar to fig. 39 from 26th October.
Not on the list for a reshoot, but always interesting to retry, this was the first truly satisfying shot on 24 September.
Fig. 56 is a 3-image HDR composite including fig. 55 as the darkest. he image taken on 26th September remains the most colourful and therefore the image of choice, largely because of the heavy sunlight on that day.
I now have several similar, quite competent images of the dome with an overexposed cupola (see also 26th October). The purchase of the wide angle zoom was a good idea. Just chose one.
Previous versions of the front are explored here. The tree is stubbornly refusing to shed its leaves and it was a dull day. I tried numerous viewpoints with the wide angle zoom and they are shown on this contact sheet. The aim is to get a clear idea of the structure of the church (so, including the down and the tower) and also a sense of its location, showing the surrounding office buildings. P1040654 works quite well, but fig. 9 above remains the best, or fig. 17 retaken when the tree has lost its leaves.
Regarding the rear, this was only "discovered" on the 26th October visit. Fig. 33 is quite adequate with a more interesting sky a preferred option. All of the images are fairly similar, with different amounts of tree and leaf. The first of these images, P1040575 is just favoured as the dome is most prominent. Again, a more interesting sky would improve the shot.
This is a strong candidate for the spare tenth image. It was mentioned above that there was, unusually, a grand piano in the church. While the small choir was rehearsing for
a lunchtime recital, they were photographed with the windows and lights reflecting in the piano's closed lid. The camera was placed on the piano (on my hat to prevent scratches) to maximise the reflection and to add stability: the exposures in the chosen images were 1/9th and 1/10th seconds.
The camera was focused. on the choir before panning right to take the shot: the lens was set at f/2.8 to minimise the shutter speed.
Most of the images were shot using Fuji monochrome and these images are preferred (although this one needs straightening), but, if included, the colour version will used for consistency. The X100S offers "film simulation bracketing" and I might use this as a default in future.
Towards the end of my visit, an artist arrived and started sketching the altar. I tried to take an image that incorporate, the drawing, the artist and the altar, but this was not possible in square format (at least, while not intruding in the artist's space) so this cannot be included.
Some good new shots, some not as good as previous shots. Probably enough to finish the project with one final visit possible next week.
The final visit was fun, but nothing of new consequence was achieved.
The mosaic might be a marginal improvement on the current image. There is a decision to be made on which candles on the altar to go with. And is this an improvement on the dome exterior? the sky has not improved and there are fewer leaves.