I have always maintained that the photography of stained glass is beset with difficulties. Planning can help diminish these, but with the best will in the world, diverse and unexpected problems crop up particularly when working within the confines of tight time constraints.
I estimated that the micro project would take about two hours and in the second half of the week there was just one slot into which I could squeeze the shoot: early Saturday afternoon. Prior to this, twice I visited the chapel to experiment and plan, but I opted not to bring a tripod on either occasion. Friday afternoon’s visit was blessed with exquisite and constant light, but sadly Saturday saw skies filled with large snow-laden clouds and variable light.
Timing was far from perfect: Throughout Saturday afternoon, the chapel was being prepared for Sunday morning’s Confirmation Service – one of the biggest services of the year. Consequently I was constantly at the mercy of interruptions from the cleaners, the Lay Chaplain, Chapel Wardens and numerous others. Try as had as I might to complete the 36+ photographs without any internal light, each of the many people who entered the chapel during the two hours I was photographing, opted to turn on some, or usually all of the lights, causing huge difficulties with some of the more sensitive compositions.
Preparation for Sunday’s service precluded me from using any sort of platform to raise my position and access to the East Window is limited by the proximity of the alter.
The photo shoot highlighted numerous difficulties, many of which were previously known, but the most significant being depth of field. In order to capture a small segment of a window, I was mostly shooting at 400mm at a distance of no more than 4m, whereas in the past I have shot using a n 85mm lens at a distance of about 7m. All the shots at the top of the window were at a significant angle, resulting in images in which it was possible to have only a small area in sharp focus (most notable in image 23): possibly not a problem, but certainly not what I would have liked. A further undesired consequence was the foreshortening of the image: the greater the height of the area being captured, the greater the degree of vertical compression, resulting in differences between my plans and the captured image. A large alter immediately in front of the window made macro shots impossible as I could not manoeuvre the camera closer than 2m.
Through the series of photographs, I tried hard to give an indication of the subject matter, the history of the window, the opulence of the figures depicted as well as some suggestion of the condition (both good and bad) of the window. I believe that I met all of the rules, although I am not entirely sure that I was able to portray the window as an experience. To provide greater flexibility, I shot just over 40 photographs, experimenting with the addition of some of the structure of the stained glass. Perhaps I should have included more images such as this, which shows one of the strengthening bars, and also illustrates well the large dynamic range. This project illustrates well the difficulties inherent in photographing these windows. The pale green glass in particular proving very demanding to capture appropriately. In photographs it can look either washed out or flat and dull grey-green, when in reality it has an almost golden component. Confirmation, were it needed, for a photograph of stained glass to be a composition of numerous differently exposed segments.