The Splendor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

| August 13, 2010
Three exposure HDR of St. Patrick's Cathedral

Three exposure HDR of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

While in New York City this week, I had a small window to shoot. My goal was to get inside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral to shoot a few HDR frames before heading home today. I was able to carve a little bit of time out late Thursday afternoon, so I made my way from the Intercontinental Time Square at 44th Street and 8th Avenue to the Cathedral located in midtown at 51st and Park. Once I arrived, I checked the signs to see if photographs were still allowed, which they were. As is customary, I also dropped a donation in the slot. I feel bad taking photographs and not leaving something behind. Years ago, you could just walk in the front door and go about your business. Now there are folks at the front that need to check your bags. Not too much of a hassle but disappointing none the less that we have to do it at all.

With no stipulations regarding photography on the signs, I boldly grabbed my tripod and got ready to shoot. I kept the legs short and intentionally shot low to the floor to keep from attracting attention. I am constantly getting the “Wow, that is a big camera. How much did that cost?” comment. Plus, it is a lot easier to get kicked out if you are fully extended and appear to be a potential safety concern. Tripods are a no-no on many private properties. I guess because walkers by can trip on the legs.

As I worked my way to the front of the church, I shot shot a series of three-exposure brackets at -2EV, 0EV, and +2EV. “EV” is short for exposure value. Since there were people waking around, I tried to shoot the 0EV and -2EV frames when people were out of frame. They are the fastest exposures and if people walk into the frame, they are likely to be exposed and remain in the image. My longest shot, which was at +2EV, took 25 seconds to expose at an ISO of 400 at f16. With that long of a shot, people would inevitably walk into the frame. But if they kept moving, they didn’t show up in the picture! Kind of like ghosts we don’t see. Pretty cool when you think about it.

So, above is the result, which is actually the first shot with my new Canon 16-35mm f2.8L II USM lens. This shot was literally taken in front of the first row of the church! At 16mm on my full frame Canon 5D, the area of view in the frame is spectacular.

After I took this shot, my luck ran out when a polite security guard asked me not to use my tripod. I told him no problem and put it away. He seemed relieved that I was not throwing a fit!

When is wide angle not so wide?

For those unfamiliar, some DSLRs have what they call a full-frame sensor and some have a cropped sensor. A full-frame DSLR is a digital camera fitted with an image sensor that is the same size as a 35 mm (36×24 mm) film frame. Many fine cameras like my Canon 50D have cropped sensors. This makes the camera less expensive because the chip area of the sensor is smaller and less expensive to make. My Canon 5D, on the other hand, has a full frame sensor, which is why that camera body costs $1,000 more than the 50D body. Confused yet? Anyway, one of the drawbacks of a cropped sensor camera is that your field of view through the lens is also cropped.

If you have a cropped sensor, to get the effective focal length of the lens you have to multiply the actual focal length of the lens by a sensor crop factor. For example, my Canon 50D sensor has a crop factor of 1.6. So if I put my 16mm wide angle lens the camera, I must multiply 16mm times 1.6 to get the effective focal length of the lens, which is 25.6mm. Why does this matter? Well that means my wide angle lens has a smaller field of view than the lens actually allows on a full-frame camera. On the low end of the focal length scale, every millimeter counts. So, 16mm is a lot wider than a 25.6mm. On a full frame camera, there is no crop factor. A 16mm wide angle lens is actually 16mm! To get the same field of view with a cropped sensor, I would have to mount a 10 millimeter lens. 10 times the crop factor of 1.6 equals 16. In practice, wider is better when shooting enormous interiors like today’s photo. Get it now?

If you would like to learn more about full-frame sensors, just follow this link to Wikipedia.

One reason I bought this lens was to get this kind of shot. I love shooting the inside of churches. In my view, this lens gives me the best possibilities when capturing cathedrals. It is a very high quality lens that does well in low light and produces really sharp images. This shot was actually a test for shooting the Milan Cathedral in Italy in a couple of weeks. Donna and I have decided to jump off of the train in Milano on our way to Bellagio on Lake Como. What could be better than lunch in the center in Milan in front of the dazzling beauty of a cathedral? Not much I imagine!


Category: Photography, Travel

Comments (3)

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  1. Nancie says:

    Love the angle, perspective & the wide scene you captured on this. It’s fantastic. As is the lighting you caught. I have been in this church many times (I work not far away from it) – it is a truly beautiful church (I think) and it always gave me a calming effect when I was there. If you ever get the chance to be in NYC for the Christmas holiday season, you should again visit St. Pat’s. The life-size nativity alone is worth the trip!

  2. AutumnLeaves says:

    What a gorgeous view. I am not sure why but I was instantly reminded of muscles and their insertions and origins when first glancing at this photo. What amazing architecture!!

  3. Lee says:

    Thanks ladies. Nancie, I did not know you were so close. Another great view of the church is from a facing room at the New York Palace Hotel. The roof architecture is absolutely beautiful! I agree Sherry. The precision and beauty of church architecture is tough to beat!