Travel photography has many genre. You might document the places along your tour; Or, the people in those places; Or, the wildlife and landscapes which you view. Each requires different photographic techniques to capture the events which tell your story. We are most familiar with the quick, candid family in place and landscape styles of travel photography. In preparing for an upcoming trip to Naples and Rome, we anticipate that we will be documenting more structures and archeological sites. This requires an understanding of how our cameras record columns, buildings, and churches, both from outside and inside. Time for a photo safari with David Luria. Wouldn’t you know that he hosts such an event at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.
The National Cathedral is the only gothic cathedral constructed in the 20th century. Those in Europe date back centuries. It is also one of the larger cathedrals in the world, thus presenting challenges to the photographer to figure out what to include and what to crop out for each composition. Then add the dozens of stained glass windows to dazzle with a range of colors, and contrasts against the limestone framework.
The primary lesson for avoiding distorted architectural compositions is to hold your camera perpendicular to the ground. We can lean back to take in the soaring cross groin arches in the ceiling, and our brain straightens out all the lines. A camera lens just bends those lines into greater and greater distortions. We would be fighting an uphill battle with our telephoto lenses, which were more suited to capture wildlife in South Africa.
The four settings that are most easily manipulated for indoor photography are the white balance (e.g. daylight vs shade, etc.), ISO (don’t ask me what that stand for, just increase the number in dim light settings), aperture (also called “f-stop”), and shutter speed. Part of the objective of the photo safari is to try various combinations of these settings to learn how our camera’s “see”.
The wrong white balance setting will turn the image to yellow or blue. ISO affects the clarity of the light exposure, and especially in low light settings how much “noise” the darker areas of the image create when recorded on the pixels. The aperture opening allows various level of light in, but also allows for compositional tricks related to depth of field. Shutter speed also affects the amount of light allowed in, and allows the photographer to freeze motion or general a soft, blurred effect of objects in motion.
Cathedral are full of art objects: stained glass windows, stone and marble sculptures, and textiles. We pretty much had free reign within the main level of the cathedral for an hour. Wander around. Try out various settings and compositional arrangements. Check in with the instructor every once in a while for some tips. Of course, the grandeur of the full length and height of the sanctuary contrast against close up images.
The next hour of the safari is guided by a docent of the cathedral, who has knowledge of various photos spots, as well as keys to unlock doors that general tours have access too. Have you ever wanted to step out on the roof line with the gargoyles? Of, stand up next to the rose window?
At the end of the tour, we looked at the cathedral from two sides. The Bishop’s garden has intimate settings with the north wall of the cathedral standing in the back ground. The take a photo of the front and south sides of the cathedral, you must walk across the front lawn and Wisconsin Avenue. Even then using our telephoto lenses bring us too close to easily keep our camera level while including the towers of the cathedral. Guess, it’s time to shop for a wide-angle lens.