Monday, September 6, 2010

How to take Clandestine Cathedral Pictures

I was thoroughly amused by this post at new blog I came across: Catholic Life.

I might use these tips myself sometime! (Although I don't suppose I should be encouraging these techniques at St Peter's Cathedral in Marquette!)

Ever wondered how to take better pictures inside churches? Wonder no more! I found the answer while browsing Flickr. A non-Catholic photographer is kind enough to share the secrets.
My method for getting tripods into cathedrals and shooting is this:
1) Go in the exit and act like you are lost if someone asks
2) Wear a long matrix-coat and stuff your tripod up inside like a shotgun. Try not to walk with a limp.
3) Stride confidently through the crowds like you are in a hurry on a photo assignment.
4) Work your way into the pews and have a seat. You can even pretend to be Catholic and say a few Latin words as you sit down. I suggest “Pater Noster (My Father) or Quid Pro Quo (Rub Beads and go to Heaven)”
5) Slide out the tripod and assemble along the ground, When other parishioners look at you suspiciously, give them the sign of the cross.
6) Watch for old people in the main aisle, because they have trouble getting around tripods. Jump out, take your long exposures at 100 ISO, then sit back down.
7) If securty comes to get you, blame Stuck In Customs and that will confuse them long enough so you can make a getaway.
8 ) Don’t worry about getting caught. The church is much more leniant than they were during the Inquisition. Most big cathedrals do have crypts, but they are full of dead saints and they have never put a photographer in there.
9) If you see a tourist with a tiny camera taking a picture with the flash on, please tell them to stop. The flash does nothing in that situation. It’s just embarassing for them, really.
10. See #9. It’s your duty to stop tourists from using flashes… next thing you know, they’ll have their flash on when shooting the Eiffel Tower at night.
Do you have any tips for taking good pictures inside of churches?


  1. Yeah.

    Be Bold! Be small. Be silent. Be flashless!

    #1 ALWAYS make sure that flash is turned OFF. Even if you think it's off, check it. There is generally quiet enough light in a church while mass is on.

    #2 sit RIGHT up front! FRONT ROW is preferrable, if not, 2nd row can work.

    #3 the real trick is NOT To raise the camera to eye level. If you elevate the camera to just about mid breast bone, this will work fine. Takes practise, and you might have to take a few extra, but you won't disturb people around you. I've sat Next to people who didn't realize I was taking pictures.

    #4 Once there was some special deal with a little procession thrown in (vespers, with bells on! when the priest walked literally within two feet of me) and the priest didn't even know I'd done video. I gave him a copy afterwards.

    #5 make sure the camera is SMALL. My camera is by no means expensive or bulky, the whole thing is scarecly larger than my palm and I've gotten both clips and stills with it.

    #6 my own preference for sitting in my parish is front row on the far right. Usually NO ONE gets it that I'm taking pictures. During Mass everyone is looking more centered at the priest, there IS no one to my right to notice, nor, since I'm not raising the camera to eye level, does anyone behind me notice. The only way to be "Caught" would be if someone in my row looked left.

    And father's back is turned most of the time.

    AFter or before Mass you don't need to be as descrete if you're doing windows or whatnot.

    This past year, for instance, I was able to get a lot of good stills and videos of the newly ordained son of a parishioner saying his first high mass. Both he and his mother were grateful for all the candids I was able to take and give them. You can see those photos here.

    Plan your shots ahead of time. You know the Mass, ergo think in advance when you want to take the shots. For instance, I did get video
    as well, but decided that I would not film the consecration, as that is rather static anyway...and I opted to do really clear shots of the elevations. But when I knew there was to be a lot of interesting movement, i.e. incensing the altar, etc. I preset those for video.

    And here is
    another link to some video I took at the Missa Cantata for the Assumption last year. So those small cameras can do quiet a nice job and be discrete.

  2. Oh, and when holding the camera chest height, I anchor a corner right up against my breast bone so as not to jiggle the camera. Because the camera is so small I can also hold up the left hand next to it to shield it.

  3. As a compulsive amateur photographer, I have just four bits of advice.

    1) As Karen says, ditch the flash. It only draws attention to you, and doesn't do anything for the picture, which can always be beefed up digitally afterwards, if necessary.

    2) Learn how to mute the click - the sound is only there to reassure you that you've taken the picture. It doesn't actually DO anything

    3) Be bold. If you look like you own the place, no-one will question your right to take pictures.

    4) If you can, out of courtesy, check with the priest. If necessary, go and ask permission AFTER you've taken the photos... and show the priest what you've done. Few priests, in my experience, object to their church getting a few nice photos, especially if you promise to email copies for the parish website, blog or brochure. One priest of my acquaintance actually tells me to take photos, and puts in requests in advance for the particular shots he wants!!!

  4. Mac

    If you have a SLR camera, silencing the shutter is a bit of a problem... Okay with your cheap pocket/iphone cameras...

    Ouch: just got hit over the head...

  5. Hey, you're the one with the noisy bulky expensive camera! :-D Mac and I would much more likely be able to pass the "secret photography" part of any underground "asset" training camp that our respective governments could put us through than you would. You'll be getting hauled off to Siberia before you could say "Vladivostoka" - on the plus side Mac & I could document the event for your canonization hearing.

  6. Heheheheheheh...

    These days, who wants to carry around a humungous beast of a camera? Only professional photographers - and even then, I bet they don't know what half the buttons and dials are for.

    Give me my "cheap" (it wasn't) pocket camera any day - but not the iPhone one... that sucks.


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