02 October 2007

Cameras in Dark Churches

ceiling mural by Delacroix, Église Saint-Sulpice, Paris
photo using a Nikon p5000 set on the floor
During a recent visit to Saint-Sulpice, I watched dozens of tourists whip out their cameras and snap away, auto flashes going off like mortar fire over a dark trench.

Their pictures will likely look pretty bad: the flash cannot illuminate a ceiling 65 feet away, or it may leave a bright spot of glare in the middle of a mural. While it was believed at one time that thousands of flashes going off in a given day can damage an artwork, the reality is, it's distracting to others and just plain rude. Charging through a church flashing away is highly disrespectful to the space and to those who are there to worship.

At one point a girl asked me if I knew where the rose line is, to which I replied "it's not actually in this church", because it isn't. However, she and a gaggle of others found the famous gnomon without my help.
To these people I wish to say, please, put away your cameras and appreciate the place you are visiting for whatever reason. Buy a postcard, or look on the internet- someone else has more than likely done a much better job taking that picture before you.

For those of you who can show some respect and really care about that photo, here are some Dark Church photography tips:

  • do not take pictures during a church service- come back later when you won't be bothering anyone.
  • turn off the flash
  • if possible set the ISO to 640 or below - anti-vibration settings and high shutter speeds will make for a grainy picture.
  • set the camera timer (I use 3 seconds)
  • check again that the flash is OFF - sometimes changing any setting on the camera will put the flash back into auto mode.
  • place camera on the floor, pew, or other sturdy support (but not on an altar or anything important) and press the button, do not touch camera or move it until after the picture is taken.


  1. Know what you mean, sad to say. When Ms Viki and I were heading south from Carcassone towards Quillan (passing by the turnoff for Rennes-le-Chateau), I kept seeing signs in mauvaise English advertising B&Bs with Da Vinci Code theme rooms, etc. Yech.

  2. There are also cheap remote buttons that attach to a DSLR so you don't even have to touch the camera to take the shot.

  3. Here are some good examples of HDR photography which might work well in that situation without being too obnoxious? maybe? http://www.flickr.com/groups/hdr/pool/

  4. to be honest, i didn't find eglise san suplice that interesting...what did you think? lucky you going to europe this fall!


Join the conversation!