The churches and cathedrals of the United Kingdom offer many opportunities to the photographer. They are not always the easiest location, for example the half light that is so beautiful can also make it hard to photograph without a tripod, but they offer many rewards.
To walk into a church is to feel its history and often (though not always I find) its sanctity. The solidity, the acoustics, the scent of wood polish and most of all the light, identifies the space like no other. If one is lucky and patient, it is possible to capture some of the beauty in a photograph. I find black and white photography most often reflects what I am aiming for when I take a picture in a church, although in some circumstances colour is the best choice, and obviously so with stained glass (I particularly like the reflection of coloured glass on masonry).
I must admit to a certain trepidation when taking a camera in a church, and do believe that one should take any photographs in a respectful a manner as possible. We don’t want to snatch images like a treasure hunter snatching artefacts thoughtlessly from the ground. As I’ve mentioned previously when considering contemplative photography, I prefer to think of photographs revealing themselves to us, rather than us ‘capturing’ them. I felt this strongly with the black and white photograph below, taken with an old Rolleiflex camera at an ancient church in Anglesey many years ago.
I find that my most satisfying photography comes when there is a sense of stillness within myself, a stillness that in turn seems to settle on the subject of the photograph. I failed to fully adopt this approach when I visited the remarkable St. Botolph’s Church in Iken, Suffolk. Simon Knott, has a lovely description of this special place on his website dedicated to Suffolk Churches.
Iken is one of those fabulous spots that some people think of as their favourite Suffolk place. Others come across it by accident, as if it were a happy secret. And there must be many people, I suppose, who do not even know that it exists. The little thatched church on its mound jutting out into the wide River Alde is part of the panoply of Suffolk mysticism, an element in an ancient story of the birth of England, of grey mists and sad, crying wading birds swinging low over the mudflats, as if this were a piece of Benjamin Britten’s chamber music made flesh. As you may guess, it is a place about which it is easy to wax lyrical.
The promise of the church itself, it’s great history and presence alluded me; I think because I wasn’t in the right state of mind and took photographs before settling in to my surroundings and reaching the stillness I mentioned above. Sadly, I feel that the images below don’t not do the ancient church justice, something I hope to rectify on another visit.
Finally, the grandeur of cathedrals seem to offer the chance of more visual drama than churches, although they often have a number of smaller chapels and corners that beget quietude.
- Pictures of churches and cathedrals: how to handle big space and poor light
- How to Photograph Cathedrals
- Some Thoughts about Photographing Churches
- A Comprehensive Guide to Photographing Churches, Cathedrals and Castles
- Secret Suffolk, St. Botolph, Iken.
- A walk taking in St. Botolph’s Church, Iken, Suffolk.