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Photographing Stained Windows

Updated on March 7, 2015
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.

St Mary's Church - England

(CC BY-SA 2.0
(CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

"The term stained glass can refer to coloured glass as a material or to works created from it. Throughout its thousand-year history, the term has been applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches and other significant buildings. Although traditionally made in flat panels and used as windows, the creations of modern stained glass artists also include three-dimensional structures and sculpture.

Modern vernacular usage has often extended the term "stained glass" to include domestic leadlight and objets d'art created from came glasswork exemplified in the famous lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

As a material stained glass is glass that has been coloured by adding metallic salts during its manufacture." Wikipedia

Durham Cathedral, England

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CC BY 2.0 | Source

I have always been fascinated by the many stained windows that can be seen at some churches for here is where the majority of them are used.

Stained windows has a long tradition for use in churches to depict events and timelines from the Bible but in later years many products and companies have introduced smaller home use versions with designs other than religious.

The focus of this project is to visit many locations where these works of art can be found and compose photographs that show their elegance and translucency.

If you pay attention you can even tell a story without "saying" a word. For example in the city of Miami there is a Catholic church by the name of Saint Peter & Paul that features scenes from the Forty Days passage in the Bible (Mathew 4:1-11 & 4:2).

I remember as a child going there every Sunday and marveling as how each panel told of a certain period during Christ's forty days in the dessert. The scenes where unmistakable and told a story in "clear" detail.

Although this would be a good theme it does not need to be. Just focus on obtaining good images on windows and make a collection of sorts which can be later used in a photographic related publication or eBook or used by religious publications, industry related ones and for general use as well.

What you choose to do with the final product is up to you but approach the project with the same professionalism as you would any other endeavor worth doing, specially if you plan on attaching your name to it.

By the way, these windows offer remarkable reflections and if you are able to, make sure to include some shots featuring them.

Canterbury Cathedral: Chapter House Window

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CC BY 2.0 | Source

Any location near you featuring stained windows worth photographing?

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First research your local churches or other places where you might find these stained windows, and there are some, scarce but they do exist, inquire about photographing them and also inquire as to the best times; less busy, since your presence, your flash use and you gear will probably distract others visiting the sites for religious purposes.

In my experience I have never been denied access to them but have always been asked not to disturb others. I always provide the local church authorities with copies and although never been asked to pay a fee, I often make a donation to the local church or church where the pictures where taken.

Clerestory window 07 - War Memorial Chapel - National Cathedral - DC

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CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

In your presentation make sure to include details about the location where each sample can be seen and if possible a little history of the place as well. Dates, if they add to the theme, should also be included.

Besides a medium telephoto lens so that you can get some close ups of interesting details or bring the scene more clearly into focus, you will also need a tripod to stabilize your camera plus you may need a flash unit.

Although you may not need a flash if taking the pictures during daylight, you have to be ready in case your only alternative is to conduct the shoot at night which is not the best time since the beauty of these windows is how they allow light to pass through and highlight their artistry.

Eglise St-Esprit

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CC BY 2.0 | Source

Now keep in mind that there are two types of stained widows where used in a church or other place, this can make a difference and can be turned into a variation.

There are ones that are made from pieces of stained glass and assembled by hand to represent an image or scene.

These are really the front runners in the art and showcase the earliest examples going back to medieval Europe. They are quite heavy and very expensive but the attention to detail and the workmanship should play a key role in your photographic presentation.

Then there are more modern, less heavy and less expensive, yet not less artistic, ones made by applying a clear film onto which a scene has been "painted" to a clear glass panel. This coincidentally is the home use technique most readily available.

Although to the majority of your audience it is the vibrancy in colors and the designs that will be the main attraction points, to more discerning eyes a separation of techniques may be fit for a more "academic" photographic experience.

Chartres Cathedral — rose window

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CC BY 2.0 | Source

Would you do this project?

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When doing he project do include some accompanying photographs that show the location such as the view of the church or cathedral from the street, the main entrance as some are just as elaborate as the interior, other interior views as well as any interesting details that may serve to complete the "picture".

If a commercial venture is on your mind, first research the types of publications that may be interested in your work and ask for their submission guidelines.

Although this is the first thing that many professionals do, many approach their photography from an artistic viewpoint first and focus on the sale afterwards.

Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to have possible sales in mind.

Cathedral Heights, Washington, DC, US

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CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

© 2014 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 3 years ago from Miami, Florida

      tiressltraveler: thank you

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 3 years ago from California

      Love to photograph stain glass windows. You gave some new ideas. Will put the tripod in the backpack for the next adventure.