Photographing Stained Glass Windows

Stained glass windows have a unique and radiant beauty that makes them captivating. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that they have been a popular subject for photographers for as long as there has been photography. Now, with advances in camera technology, amateur photographers can shoot like an expert with less expensive cameras to take good photos of stained glass windows.

Tourists can get a great snapshots of stained glass windows; all it takes is a little preparation. If you want to capture the elegance of stained glass, use these tips to get the best results.

Use the right equipment

Most standard digital cameras and even smartphones produce pretty decent pictures of a stained glass window these days. However, if you’re wanting to produce something a little more professional-grade, having the right accessories will help you get better results.

  • A long lens or other zoom lens is going to be your most useful tool.

  • A wide-angle lens will be helpful as well when photographing larger windows.

  • A tripod is also a good piece of equipment to have especially when longer shutter speeds are necessary. Note that tripods may not be allowed in certain areas.

  • A remote release to help reduce shake.

Support

When you walk through the doors of a church you instantly notice how dark the interior is and as flash is banned from most historical buildings you’ll be relying on long exposures to get your shot. As a result, a tripod and remote release are essential pieces of kit but if you’re out for the day with the family and didn’t plan on stumbling across a stained glass window you just had to photograph you need to look for a wall you can put your camera on or find a pillar you can rest against while you take your shot. Just remember to keep your arms tucked into your body and hold your breath while you fire the shutter to minimize shake.

Note: Not all churches will allow photographers to use tripods or if they do there may be a fee so it’s best to double-check before you start taking your shots.

Line up with the window

Professional photos are often taken using a ladder or even scaffolding to get the photographer directly in line with the window to minimize parallax distortion. For most of us that’s not going to be an option, so, as an amateur, you will need to find a spot further back from the window and use a longer lens to zoom into the stained glass.

Try to position yourself directly across from the window and line up your camera with the center for a square shot. This minimizes distortion and lets you capture as much of the window in your frame as possible. If you’re using a zoom lens, stand as far away as you can while still getting a good, focused shot, to help keep the perspective as accurate as possible.–

If you are unable to get into a position that lets you line you up with the center of the window, go ahead and take the shot – you will be able to edit this along with any problems with converging verticals when you get home.

Size

Some stained glass windows are too large to fit in your frame even with a wide-angle lens. You can opt to take several shots of the window stitch the images together when you’re doing post-production or you could forget about the big picture and focus in on the colorful detail.

You should also take close-up shots focusing in on the many distinct details.

Shoot in RAW

Photos captured in RAW format store all of the captured image data unprocessed and uncompressed. Most traditional cameras save photos in JPEG format – the image has already been processed when you take it so you can easily share and view images on other devices. Some of the newer smartphones now include a RAW setting option.

Shooting stained glass in RAW yields the best results because it gives you more control over exposure and color saturation in your photos. RAW images also capture a higher level of brightness and sharper details. The natural qualities of stained glass, translucency, transparency, and reflectivity, can more easily distort and compromise the quality of photos with default processing.

Exposure

Bright sunlight through a window that is surrounded by dark interiors can confuse the camera’s exposure system leaving you with either get a photo where the window is too bright because the camera compensated for the surroundings or a photo of a perfectly exposed window surrounded by black because the camera took its reading from the window light.

The metering on a camera is used to optimize exposure by controlling shutter speed and aperture. For the best exposure on stained glass windows, use spot or center-weighted metering. To check that you’ve set it optimally for the conditions you’re shooting in, look at the mid-tone color of the glass. If set properly, the mid-tone ought to be the sharpest with the optimal exposure. For detail shots, matrix metering is ideal.

Another way to solve this problem is to take two shots, one exposed for the window and the other for the surroundings then, during post-production, you combine them to make one perfectly exposed shot. For this to work you must use a tripod and ensure the camera doesn’t move since the slightest of nudges will mean the final shots will not line up correctly.

If all you want is a photo of the window and you’re not worried about capturing any of the building’s structure, you can probably rely on the camera to meter properly. However, if it’s a really sunny day, you’ll need to use exposure compensation.


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