How to photograph Stained Glass windows

Whatever your faith, nationality or interest, one of the attractions of a visit to the UK (or Europe for that matter) are the old & new churches and cathedrals, often with glorious stained glass.

The slideshow above links to my Picasa album on some stained glass windows in Hereford Cathedral, that can be downloaded at high resolution.

Here are some tips on how you can get memorable pictures.

 

Get Permission

Small churches and chapels may be open, with the option of leaving a donation. Larger churches and cathedrals may have entry fees and photography policies to support their upkeep. It is therefore worth checking in advance what these are. Most establishments are OK with hand-held cameras and some give you an option of purchasing a day license for photography with a tripod for a small fee – Well worth getting!

 

Compose your photo

If your camera has a zoom function, stand as far away from the window as you can whilst zooming in – this will reduce perspective effects. Then plan to take two or three different sets of pictures fo a window;

  1. Photo where the stained glass window is in full frame (portrait orientation). This is what most people do and do not go further; OK for broad windows but giving low detail images with tall narrow windows.

  2. Focus on the bottom half of the stained glass window with the camera in landscape orientation; zoom in so that the width of the frame is filled by the window. This zoom is retained as you take overlapping pictures going up the window to the top. You can try to stitch them together back at home.!

  3. Look for a particular detail you like within a stained glass window and zoom in to just photograph that.  

 

Exposure

Unless it is a really dark day outside, stained glass windows photograph well at typically 100th second exposure. On automatic settings, you can lose detail on bright parts of the window and/or on the dark areas.

So do use the +/- exposure compensation on your camera to also take an underexposed picture (-0.3 or -0.7) and an overexposed one (+0.3 or +0.7). You may be very thankful you did back home!

 

Information!

Get as much information as you can on site about the windows you have photographed.

 

Processing at home

Taking the pictures is half the work, the other half is processing them. Here are some of the things to do.

  • Discard all the obvious failures taken (blurred, wrong composition, totally wrong exposure etc.).

  • Stitch. If you do have a series of overlapping pictures for a window, stitch them together with software. Photoshop can be used, or proprietary program such as Panorama Maker.

  • Adjust the contrast balance of the pictures (“Levels” in Photoshop or “Lighten” in Picasa).

  • Adjust the colour saturation (but do not over do it).

  • If required, straighten the image

  • If there are perspective effects (the parallel sides of the window seem to run together like railtracks into the distance), correct them if your software allows.

  • If necessary, make a final crop to optimise the composition of each picture.

 

Save & share

At the end you should have at least some brilliant high resolution pictures of stained glass windows, with information about them.

Don't sit on them, share the the images!

You can make your photos public in online albums using Flickr or Picasa, or even make them accessible through Wiki Commons. Make sure you include the location and any other information on them (date made, commissioned by, made by).

 

If you need further help and tips, contact chris@miltoncontact.com