The Village Baptist Church in Kennebunkport, Maine, is a charming wooden church built in 1838. Having survived the threats of lightning and fire, the church’s steeple nevertheless succombed to time and weather. The congregation removed the steeple after it had become too weak and unstable to support its bell. They started a fund to raise money for the steeple’s restoration (click here for their website) and asked me to shoot some photographs that showed the church in its charm and need.
Shooting the exterior in hard sunlight shows its lines and the missing steeple, but I wanted something with more excitement, an emotional hook. The interior is beautiful in the daytime, but I felt the exterior really needed to be shot at dusk at magic hour, to capture the right emotional feel.
The interior is classic and much unchanged, except for the addition of some amplification for the Pastor. The wood work is simple but not stark, the influence of the local ship carpenters who built it showing in the details.
The church is on a very busy road. Shooting the exterior, I was constantly waiting for clear intervals between traffic. Intervals got tougher to find as the evening wore on and the exposures crept up to 6, 8, ad 12 seconds. But I knew I was also capturing some interesting car headlight affects on the foreground fence, something I’d counted on when composing.
Like any magic hour shot, it’s a matter of “shooting through” the window of dusk. Start about ten minutes after sunset and keep shooting bracketed variations every five to ten minutes or so until final darkness in the sky, usually fifty to sixty minutes after sunset. You then can choose from the progression as the dwindling natural light falls into balance with artificial lighting. The goal is to have the interior lights brighter than the dusk outside, with the deep blue complementing the interior warmth.
We turned on all the interior lights we could, except for some fluorescents in back that would throw too much green contamination. The front entrance lights had their balance point early in the evening. The side and the upper front windows were quite dim, so balance for them came very late in the evening. I knew the long exposure later in the evening for the interior lights would blow out all detail in the the front entrance lights.
In film days, I’d do a complex exposure with my assistant in the building taking my instructions by walkie talkie, turning the front lights on and off for precise exposure timing. Digital technology makes it much easier; the solution is exposure stacking. The base Photoshop layer has an exposure chosen for the balance “just right” for the dusk and the front lights. A second PS layer from later in the evening to brighten the windows is in lighten blending mode with a mask to confine the lightening to the windows. A third layer put in detail in the sky and right-hand tree from earlier in the evening. Finally, a layer chosen for the way car headlights struck the foreground fence was put in, again in “lighten” mode.
The final result feels natural to the human eye, though it is subtly enhanced.