How I shot these vertical panoramic images in the world’s most stunning churches and cathedrals

Tips & Techniques

Vertical Churches of the World is a project that began in 2012 in New York. It’s been ongoing since then and the project has been featured by numerous news agencies, blogs and articles from around the globe (including here on DIYP). I felt it was now time to put some of the images into a book, which you can find here, and I thought I’d put this article together to explain a little about how I create them.

When entering a church, mostly in the Gothic style because of the lengthy nave, try and find the center of the aisle. If you are lucky enough to be able to use a tripod to shoot, set up a bit closer to the front of the church’s altar and try and capture the dome above the altar. If you are shooting free-hand, find the same spot closer to the altar. Your goal is to capture in a panorama the whole church vertically from the altar to the narthex (the back of the church) while shooting the ceiling along the way.

I use a Nikon 14-24mm 2.8 lens with my Nikon D850. I recommend using a wide-angle lens, at least 24mm. Shoot using manual settings so you can change your settings as the light changes. As far as ISO settings go, it depends if you have the luxury of using a tripod or not. If not, I shoot most of the time at 1600 or higher ISO. The time needed is only a few minutes using a tripod and less than a minute shooting free-hand.

When doing any panorama, you must overlap at least 25% of the previous photo so Photoshop can seamlessly blend the photos together. Your first shot should try and capture as much of the aisle/floor and the same for your last shot. Shoot from the altar going up towards the center of the ceiling and once you get to the center just physically turn around and shoot until the back of the church.

Do not worry, when turning around Photoshop will know exactly what to do to complete the panorama for you. You should have anywhere from 5-9 shots in total. If using a tripod, just turn the camera around too and shoot towards the back of the church.

To perform the tasks of putting the photos together I always start with Lightroom then move to Photoshop. Lightroom allows you to get all of the photos in the same feel of the lighting as your photos are usually very different than when you take the shot. Some are darker than others and Lightroom is a fantastic program to use to align the lighting differences. Lightroom also assists in straightening out your photos as some shots will be off-centered at times. Once you have all of the shots worked on, then go to use Photoshop for the Panorama (Photomerge) part of the photo.

This part usually takes some time and when it is done you need to crop it to your liking. I always end up with a 3 x 1 panorama format but you can do whatever you want. Once the panorama is complete you might still have things about the photo you want to correct such as the lighting, the centering of the photo when cropping, it might not feel straight enough for you, all of these issues can be worked on in Photoshop.

Things to remember:

  1. Make sure you have captured at least 25% of the previous photo
  2. Stay focused to keep your shots centered
  3. Beware of the very bright and very dark lit areas of the church and use proper settings accordingly
  4. If shooting free-hand keep your hands steady to avoid shaking of the lens
  5. Ask permission before setting up a tripod not to be disrespectful of the church or the parishioners
  6. Make sure the church is open on the day you want to shoot-many times they are closed

About the Author

Richard Silver is a New York-born travel and architectural photographer who has visited 94 countries and over 350 cities with his camera. He loves iconic architecture, both ancient and modern, and loves documenting beautiful structures in each new city he visits. You can find out more about Richard on his website, buy his book Vertical Churches of the World and find out more on the Vertical Churches of the World website.

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