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tips for photographing in a church

Marissa Wunch , Oct 21, 2009; 01:38 p.m.

Hi everyone! I've been asked to photograph a Sunday service at a church - the service itself, people's faces, a bit of interior, documentary type style photos. As I understand, it's a small church with few windows, probably converted from a private house. I have a Canon 5D and a Canon 24-105 1.4 L series lens. I have a canon 430EX flash but doubt they will let me use it during the service (maybe before and after to photograph people). I also have 17-40mm 1.4L series lens but probably don't need to take it with me if the room is so small.
If you have any tips for photographing in such small spaces, I would really appreciate it! I think there will be some candles involved as well, so not sure what to do about the white balance. I was thinking of doing a custom WB but since I will be moving around the room a lot, probably not a good idea. My plan is to use ISO 1600 or maybe even 3200 at F8 or F5.6. If I get to use flash, I will lower ISO. I usually do landscape photography so this is totally new to me.


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Henry Posner , Oct 21, 2009; 01:55 p.m.

I have a canon 430EX flash but doubt they will let me use it during the service (maybe before and after to photograph people).

Ask the person officiating the ceremony. Of all the weddings I've photographed and attended as a guest I think flash photography was permitted during the procession and recession 99% of the time and during the ceremony 80+% of the time. Some churches limit where the photog can stand during the ceremony.

A monopod will offer a compromise between stability and mobility.
If you find you're shooting by candlelight at ISO 3200 at f/8, maybe f/8 is the wrong place for you to be. While I appreciate the value of depth-of-field as much as the next person, you have two f/1.4L lenses. Bring both and plan on embracing your wider apertures. Accurate exposure is more important than depth-of-field OMO.

Henry Posner
B&H Photo-Video

Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Oct 21, 2009; 02:02 p.m.

I would find out what the actual lighting will be like during the service. I think your expectation for using ISO 3200 and f8 or f5.6 is unrealistic, unless you are on a tripod and people aren't moving. I could be wrong, though if there is much light coming through windows.

You may have to rent a couple of fast primes to be able to go mostly hand held (maybe on a monopod) and to be able to photograph people without motion blur.

I would shoot RAW and deal with white balance in post. If there is any daylight coming in the room, you will have mixed lighting anyway, and custom white balance will change depending upon where your subject is.

David Haas , Oct 21, 2009; 02:22 p.m.

Do as Henry suggests and talk to the officiant. There are different rules for "official" photographers and guests who are snapping photos.

Most churches / officiants now will tell you exactly where you can and can't be...and what / when you can and can't shoot. They will also tell you if flash is allowed before, during or after the ceremony. My experience is that 90% don't allow flash of any kind during the ceremony and the 10% that do allow it - it's not needed with a fast lens.

99% of the churches I've shot at allow flash before the ceremony - including the procession / recessional. There always is that 1% that won't allow flash at any time...

Shoot in raw and worry about the wb in post processing. Use a monopod - if you have one and shoot the candles at a slower shutter speed (1/50) just make sure to change it back when done.

5d is a decent high (above 1600) iso camera. You can / should be able to deal with any noise issues in post processing cleanup

Hal B , Oct 21, 2009; 05:11 p.m.

I would like to point out that there is no 24-105mm f/1.4L or 17-40mm f/1.4L lens. These are both f/4, not f/1.4. This is difference of 3 stops, so I want to bring attention to this error.

Theses are great lenses wide open, though, and you might consider shooting them all the way at f/4. This is 2 stops better than f/8. I would shoot RAW with White Balance on AUTO to handle odd and frequently changing light. This will only require minor adjustment later in post. For the rest, I think all the best suggestions have been covered.

William W , Oct 22, 2009; 02:06 a.m.

“there is no 24-105mm f/1.4L or 17-40mm f/1.4L lens”

I took the lens nomenclature to be that the colon (“:”) was omitted and a period (“.”) was inserted in error, rather than implying they were each F/1.4 lenses: especially as there was no “f” used.


EF 24 to 105 1:4 L USM

EF 17 to 40 1:4 L USM etc

But it is important to clear this up, in case one was expecting to use F/1.4.


“I also have 17-40mm 1.4L series lens but probably don't need to take it with me if the room is so small”

I disagree.

If the Church is small, then there is more likelihood you will want the wide especially for “a bit of interior, documentary type style photos.”

“any tips for photographing in such small spaces”

If you need to go wider than 28mm, then try to keep the main subject closer the centre of the frame and get about head level with them – foreshortening is your enemy, especially of you are working close.

“My plan is to use ISO 1600 or maybe even 3200 at F8 or F5.6.”

You cannot really have a plan, until you know the light, at this time all you have an hope – do not bank on an hope. Go have a look at the same time of day the service will be held . . . and then plan for “three stops less” – if there is a storm outside.

I think a monopod will be your friend if you are around 1/50s or slower and you use the wider zoom.


Craig Gillette , Oct 22, 2009; 07:10 p.m.

Shooting for the church is different than just shooting in the church or during a wedding, etc. They may well be amenable to enhanced lighting, etc. Since it's a staged shoot, a commercial so to speak, you might want to consider, with their help, not trying to shoot during an actual service but during a mock service which allows for better lighting, better selection of positions, retakes, etc. This also allows the selection (or exclusion) of individuals who may or may not want to be used in promotional advertising and minimizes the "release" issues.

Denis Kucharski , Oct 22, 2009; 09:31 p.m.

A flash isn't going to cut the mustard here because it would be too much light. You need to use a wide angle lens and shoot it wide open. If you can rent a wide angle f/2.8 lens that would help you a great. Also, try to use a lens with vibration compensation or use a tripod. Fast lenses are going to do the trick here.

For white balance, just shoot in RAW and correct in post. You will need the exposure latitude to make corrections for the darkness anyway.

Good luck.

William W , Oct 22, 2009; 11:36 p.m.

I have shot indoor functions, (which this is), for many years, using bounced or diffussed Flash - I cannot understand why using a Flash would not cut the mustard and be too much light?

The EF24 to 105F/4 L IS USM, is an "IS lens" (Image Stabilization).

The EF24 to 105F/4 L IS USM, is the widest lens Canon makes, with an IS fucntion, which will mount on a 5D.

It is very important to realize that, especially when shooting at high ISO, one needs to be quite accurate with the exposure “in camera”.

To assume that there is a great latitude to later correct, incorrect exposure in post production, is exceptional dangerous, perhaps fatal, if one wants to provide a quality, saleable product.

Especially noteworthy is that if one attempts to correct underexposed images when using High ISO, most likely one will encounter, amongst other problems:
>vastly increased and noticeable noise
>poor shadow detail
>poor mid-tone contrast (goes to richness of skin tones)
>washed out blacks


John Hazelton , Oct 24, 2009; 10:33 a.m.

Good move to come on here for some advice. I’m trying to envision the lighting situation in a small church with few windows and candles in use. I’m pretty convinced it’s going to be fairly dark to quite dark. If so, and they don’t allow flash during the service, you have a couple of choices: faster lenses or slower shutter speeds. You’ll probably want to use both approaches.
Your current lenses, opening only to f4.0, won’t let in the kind of light you’re going to need here. So, get (borrow, rent, purchase) one or more faster lenses. The best “bang for the buck” is the 50mm f1.4, but in a small church, this may not be wide enough for what you want. Another choice would be a 24-70mm f2.8 zoom, although this is a lens which does not always perform perfectly. Some wide prime, while more expensive, would probably be the best choice (sorry, I’m a Nikon guy, so I’m not that familiar with Canon lenses).
Once you settle on this lens, a good deal of practice is in order. The key thing is to get a feel for real-world depth of field. Do some practicing at home, with different f stops, to see what depth of field you’re going to have. As you know, the farther away from your subject you are, the deeper your depth of field, and the wider your aperture, the more shallow your depth of field. You’re going to want to shoot wider, to get more light, and in a small church, you may not be able to get as far back from the subject(s) as you would like, so it’s important to have a feel beforehand for how shallow your depth of field is going to be.
Then, prepare to use slower shutter speeds by bringing a tripod (preferable) or monopod (less preferable) to the church.
With faster lens(es), a tripod, and a flash on hand, you will be better prepared to deal with whatever the situation demands.
Best of luck,

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