How I used multiple composited exposures to light these stained glass church windows

Tips & Techniques

Sigma sdQ-H with 18-35mm f1.8 Art 25mm, f1.8, 1/3200 3 frames blended

Every now and then I am contacted by my friends at East Dunbartonshire Leisure and Culture. I help them to document events or artwork installations as part of the Trails + Tales Project. This particular art installation by Toby Paterson, where he placed stained glass windows into the watchtower of Cadder Church, has its own set of unique challenges for me to overcome which I would like to talk about.

First up, was the time of the year. Winter can be fantastic due to the low position of the sun casting long shadows but often it is dull, wet and generally not very nice. I waited almost two weeks to get the ideal weather conditions. Here in Scotland, waiting two weeks for decent weather isn’t unusual!

Sigma sdQ-H with 18-35mm f1.8 Art 25mm, f1.8, 1/1250

The first thing I decided to do was lower the exposure of the shot. I wanted a nice saturated sky and darker overall base exposure. I went from 1/1250 of a second to 1/3200 which is around 1 stop and a 1/3 darker.

I really like the mood and feel now of the overall shot. Unfortunately, even though the sun is directly hitting the stunning stained glass windows you still can’t see the lovely colours of the panes of glass so it was time to start sculpting the image with light.

For this to work, you need a tripod (for stability) as it requires blending multiple frames together. Three in total for this shot. I also used a Godox AD600BM strobe with standard reflector and since they don’t yet have Sigma support I used a pair of Cactus V6II triggers to enable me to shoot flash at high shutter speeds, which would normally be restricted to 1/180.

As you can see from the image above, I placed the Godox AD600m strobe inside the gated doorway of the building at full power and boom.

Thanks to all that light inside the building the lovely colours of the windows are clear and visible. We now have a large white distracting area and a flash contaminating the image but that’s OK! This frame is all about the windows. I did notice that the back left of the building is blending into the background a little, so I moved the strobe to the left of the building and took another shot.

Sigma sdQ-H with 18-35mm f1.8 Art 25mm, f1.8, 1/3200

That little bit of extra light really helps make the building stand out from the background. I took one more frame after this with the strobe on the far right side adding some light to the trees.

Sigma sdQ-H with 18-35mm f1.8 Art 25mm, f1.8, 1/3200

Its a subtle effect but one I feel helps the overall composition when the frames are blended together in Photoshop (You can find many tutorials about this online) I opened the three images as layers and used the mask tool to draw in the parts I wanted to keep. After a little tweaking, I have this final image.

Sigma sdQ-H with 18-35mm f1.8 Art 25mm, f1.8, 1/3200 3 frames blended

The only way you could ever see the colour is to be within the building which is sadly gated and locked. I am aware my image doesn’t represent what you will see in real life as the glass is not naturally lit from behind, I feel it does a great job of representing the artwork of Toby Paterson.

Sigma sdQ-H with 18-35mm f1.8 Art 25mm, f1.8, 1/1250

Using the same idea I moved the camera to the front of the building to capture a different angle.

Sigma sdQ-H with 18-35mm f1.8 Art 25mm, f1.8, 1/3200

I then went in really close to the windows themselves which only required one frame, here you can see the position of the light better which is where it was placed each time I wanted to light the windows.

You can really see the difference the light made to documenting the windows here.

Sigma sdQ-H with 18-35mm f1.8 Art 25mm, f1.8, 1/800

Hopefully, this article gives a little bit of insight into my thought process and workflow in documenting the lovely artworks from the Trails + Tales project.

About the Author

Paul Monaghan is a portrait photographer based just outside of Glasgow, Scotland. You can see more of his work on Instagram and Facebook. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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