Photographing churches and cathedrals


In this post I wan’t to tell you about the photographs I shot at several churches and cathedrals during my travels.

Some of my friends and family will be wondering if I suddenly became religious. Rest assured, I am not. I have nothing with religion, but I am interested in how churches look on the outside, and how they look on the inside with its amazing looking Choirs, Altars, stained windows, Organs, and Pulpits. So in short, I love the design and architecture of the buildings.

Anyway, over the past years I have traveled around the Netherlands, and some cities in France, and believe it or not, in each town and city, there is a church, and in bigger cities there is usually a cathedral to visit.

Most are open to the public, except during a mass or other religious endeavor of course, so going there on a Sunday might not be the best option, if you want to get inside.

Be sure you go to a church on a sunny day, or at least a day, which is not hampered by dark clouds because most of the lighting in a church or cathedral is natural thanks to the large stained glass windows. During a dark cloudy day you might not have decent light to shoot your images.

And always be respectful when you enter a church or cathedral, because you might not be religious, but to others who are religious it matters a lot. So don’t go around touching all the statues or get on the altar or pulpit to get a nice image.

And by all means, try to use a silent shutter when you photograph inside, if you see some people on the benches, so you wont disturb them in prayer.

So off to the first image!

This is a photograph I really love, with the juxtaposition of the grassy field and hay bales in the front, and Mont Saint Michel (France) in the back in a haze (Although the haze might be the result of rain on my lens, because it was really pouring that moment).

A friend of mine and me had just came back from the island, and we stopped here, because it looked so awesome from this side. My settings for this shot were 1/250 sec, ISO 200, F 11, at 169 mm focal length.

Church photography for beginners

During that same week holiday, we also stopped in Sainte-Mère-Église, which is famous for its D-Day landing of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which is part of the 82nd airborne division. They landed at 1:40 in the early hours of June 6th 1944, and were met with heavy resistance from the German occupiers.

Several buildings were on fire that night, so the sky was all lit up, and this made easy targets out of the paratroopers. Some even landed inside the burning buildings, killing them before they could even fire a single shot at the Germans.

The photograph below is from a stained glass window in the Sainte-Mère-Église church, which depicts this event of paratroopers landing on D-Day, with the Virgin Mary looking down. My settings for this shot were 1/125 sec, ISO 2000, F 11, at 85 mm focal length.

How to photograph the inside of a church

The next image is from a recreation of paratrooper John Steele from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who had his parachute caught at one of the pinnacles of the church, during the landing. He hung there for 2 hours, pretending to be dead, before he was caught by the Germans.

This event was made famous in the movie “The Longest Day”, but in the movie, he was never caught by the Germans. You can even see some of the bullet holes in the church from that day in 1944.

And although this isn’t a spectacular photograph, what its shows is very significant to history imho. My settings for this shot were 1/200 sec, ISO 100, F 11, at 54 mm focal length.

During another trip to France, we visited Metz, where we were able to get inside the Cathedral of Saint Stephen of Metz, which is huge! It measures a whopping 136 m in length, 123 m in width and 88 m in height.

In the image below you can get a glimpse of the enormity of this cathedral, because the vaults in the image are around 41 m high, and the stained glass rose you see at the top has a diameter of just over 11 m. My settings for this shot were 1/60 sec, ISO 800, F 4, at 23 mm focal length.

How to photograph cathedrals

The next image is from the south transept with stained glass windows and some of the “Swallow’s nest” organ pipes in the front. My settings for this shot were 1/60 sec, ISO 2000, F 3.5, at 18 mm focal length.

Cathedral photography for beginners

During our walk in Metz, we also came across the Temple Neuf Church, which lies along the river Moselle, where it splits in 2. It gives a nice reflection in the water, so I was able to get a nice shot in.

If I had a tripod with me, which I didn’t, I could have made a long exposure shot to flatten the river surface, but alas. It was not meant to be. My settings for this shot were 1/800 sec, ISO 100, F 4, at 18 mm focal length.

Photographing churches for beginners
Check the video below for more images from Metz.

A little bit closer to home is the city of Hulst which has an amazing looking church, called the Saint Willibrord Basilica. A Basilica is a church which is deemed extra ordinary by a pope.

In the image below, you can see the amazing looking vaults which make up the ceiling. My settings for this shot were 1/13 sec, ISO 200, F 5.6, at 18 mm focal length.

Why photographing churches is fun

And in the next shot you see part of the ceiling leading down to the big organ with a large stained glass window behind it. My settings for this shot were 1/25 sec, ISO 200, F 5.6, at 27 mm focal length.

Church photography done right

My last set of photographs are from the St. John’s Cathedral in Den Bosch, where I had some excellent lighting thanks to nature. I think these are some of the nicest shots I was able to get inside a church or cathedral, So I just have to share them with you :).

The Cathedral has very artistically painted vaults on a white background, with brownish/reddish trimming, which really pop out imho. The vaults lead down to the huge organ which almost takes up an entire wall. My settings for this shot were 1/30 sec, ISO 800, F 5, at 18 mm focal length.

Cathedral photography for enthusiasts

The next shot was from another nave in the cathedral, but on this side, there is a large Stained glass window leading up to the colorful vaults. My settings for this shot were 1/30 sec, ISO 800, F 5, at 18 mm focal length.

Cathedral photography for amateurs

The last shot for this post is a photograph from the pulpit, which is made from dark brown wood, which contrasts nice with the white interior of the cathedral.

The pulpit is heavily decorated with intricate carvings, and a stair that leads around a pillar to the pulpit. On the left you can see some more colorful vaults. My settings for this shot were 1/40 sec, ISO 2000, F 5, at 23 mm focal length.

Photographing Cathedrals for beginners

I really hope you like the post, so feel free to share it, or leave a nice comment at the bottom. If you have any suggestions for me on churches or cathedrals to visit, or want to share your own tips, let me know!

Kind regards,


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