Going to the church – photographically speaking

Do not ask me why, but I like taking pictures of churches. I do not want to offend anyone, but I will admit that I do not truly believe in “God Above”. So, why am I taking pictures of Montréal churches? Well, maybe, because Catholicism is a part of my home town’s history (its original name was ‘Ville-Marie’, City of Mary). Honestly, churches, of all religions, grace this city with many beauties that please the eye of the amateur photographer that I am.

So, I laid out my plan of attack. Literally. First, I googled the list of what is believed to be the most beautiful churches of Montréal and then I mapped them with Google maps. With that plan in my head and my iPhone as a GPS in my hand, I took off on my bike around the city.

I love biking. From April to October, I bike to work almost every day. Montreal offers some great bike lanes. It makes it safe for riding. So, I go shoot with my bike. Kinda of two birds with one stone.

Two things are important when you bike: safety and comfort. So, if you bike, do wear your helmet, please. As for comfort, the right bag makes a world of difference. The first outing I did was with my Kata DR-467i. It is the one that I use for travel and the one I took for my Disney trip this summer. It’s a great bag with clips at chest level and at waist level. 100% comfort.

On my second outing, I don’t know why, I took my other Kata bag, the 3N1-22. I originally bought this bag to wear it as a sling bag. However, because I use it as my main bag, it gets heavy on a single shoulder with all the gears I load in there – and believe me that this bag carries a lot. So, I started wearing the 3N1-22 in its “cross your hearth” configuration (are you guys and girls old enough to remember this old ad campaign?). It fits better, feels tighter, less “wiggly” as you bike. And best, you simply need to unbuckle one strap and it slide as a sling to allow you to take your camera without taking your bag off. This is not something that I could do with the DR-467i.

Anyways, two bags, two different purposes. The DR-467i will hold more personal things for you day trip than the 3N1-22.

The first time I went out was with my 18-200mm VR II f/3.5-5.6. I like this lens. It is a good all-purpose lens. A walk-around lens. Since I don’t print my pics or anything fancy, I can’t see its flaws, flaws that I am sure some review would have picked-up on. All in all, a fun lens for the amateur that I am.

I knew that if I wanted to get the church in focus, from the church’s stairs on the square to the top of the bell towers, I would need to increase that depth of field. Which also means to close that aperture and increase your exposure length. Got to have a firm grip. That VR sure helps.

You also have to watch for the high dynamic range the scene will probably offer: a dark grey church against a bright blue sky. Your sensor will either see a lot of light from the sky and underexpose or will see the shadows of the church and overexpose you sky to a point where you blow-out your highlights. Check your histogram on the LCD and have fun playing with the EV button. (BTW, Digital Photography School has this post about histograms).

Just don’t forget to set-it back to zero once you are done. This is part of my 10 second pre-shoot check.

As much as I love my 18-200, it just doesn’t cut it for architectural photography. This situation screams for an ultra-wide angle like my Sigma 8-16mm f4.5/5.6. I have debated quite some time about which UWA lens to get. For a long long time I was lurking the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. You can read this thread on dpreview.com. It pretty much was the only one out there being wide, good and reasonably priced.

Then came the Sigma 8-16mm. The reviews are great. Very little distortion. I did hesitate since the Tokina has a wider aperture. Finally, I decided that “width matters” and I went for the wider angle the Sigma offers. Wow, what a difference those 3mm do!

You like to shoot architectural sites and landscapes? Get a UWA lens.

Of course, wider is not always better. Especially when you see in your viewfinder those darn electrical cables. Oh well, I guess that this will make my pics more “urban” since I am shooting “churches of Montréal”.

One of the things that this new lens allows me to do is to get those wacky angles. For example, have a statue right close to your lens and still be able to see the church’s towers in the background. Kinda cool! next time I will had a little of fill flash to that statue in the foreground.

I will end this long post with two words of advice, if I may.

First, don’t run as you cross the street. I know that your Mom already told you that. But with that equipment around your neck, it’s not just your neck that you have on the line.

You like churches? Talk to the people around the church. Actually, just being there and smiling will invite them to engage you. They know the neighborhood, the will point you to that hidden gem you are looking for.


PS: Please share your pics too.

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3 Responses to Going to the church – photographically speaking

  1. Pingback: Reconfiguring my Kata 3N1-22 bag « Max's Photo Blog

  2. Pingback: My Italian trip: gear prepartion « Max's Photo Blog

  3. Pingback: 6 Tips for Photographing the Churches of Europe | MaxPhotoBlog.net

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