Four centuries ago, a number of monasteries were built in the beautiful hilly region of Bucovina, in north-eastern Romania. Built with a mixture of byzantine and gothic elements, the real particularity of these churches were their painted walls (inside and outside) with frescos illustrating scenes of the Bible. The surrounding walls and the protection of the valleys have kept these frescoes in a very good condition, enabling these churches to be enlisted within the UNESCO cultural heritage. I happened to spend the last days of Eastern in that nice region this year, taking advantage of the fact this year catholic and orthodox Eastern coincided. The whole area is quite overwhelming, with plenty of forests, hills and tiny villages where time has stopped and wolves and bears still roam free.
This image corresponds to the Sucevita monastery, one of the biggest and particularly interesting churches. As these churches are beautifully lit during the night with spotlights, I looked for a nice vantage point where the monastery would be set against the quite natural background where it settles. The dark ambiance and bluish twilight colour of the sky would reinforce the calm and mystical character of the monastery. As I was taking the image, the only thing around was the singing choir of the main priest and congregation of nuns based in the monastery. A very remarkable moment indeed…
I waited for that “crossover” lighting situation that occurs when the ambient light balances well with the artificial one. That moment, which could last just one minute or less, is the right moment to make the perfect “night” exposure of a building like this. Press the shutter before and in order not to overexpose the sky you will barely see the artificially lit walls. Wait more and if you do not want to “overexpose” the walls of the church you will end up with a totally dark sky. As always, there is an “equilibrium” point where natural and artificial light balance well and create the wanted effect. The good thing of these images is the striking effect obtained in the colour contrast. As the sun sets, all light we see in the sky is scattered light in the atmosphere, blue in colour. However, sometimes the artificial light is produced with tungstene or sodium lamps, with a characteristic red colour. Put those two sources of light together and you will have a nice set of complementary colours: orange and blue, giving you a quite contrasting and dynamic effect that makes the subject literally pop up in its environment. This effect is specially strinking and visible on the walls of the monastery itself: directly lit areas look golden, while the areas in the “shade” reflect the sky ambient light with its characteristic natural bluish colour.
As far as the perspective, when shooting architecture, there is always the risk of getting “keystoning” effect, as you aim your lens upwards or downwards to g e t the whole building into the image. To countereffect that you have just two solutions: either you use a Perspective corrected lens with shift movements, or you correct the image later on with photoshop if the effect is mild. You could also make a totally leveled image with a very wide angle lens and crop heavily later on, which is not recommended if you want to maintain a decent resolution for your image. Of course, if the effect suits the subject and the feeling you want to give to the image, you can always leave the walls pointing towards the sky in a pyramidal way, taking advantage of that keystoning effect to express the fact the building is “reaching the sky”. As always, it all depends of what you want to say with your image. In this case, I prefered to correct the distortion, as I thought it deviated the attention from the subject too much.
Thanks for reading, and great light to you all,
(click on the image for a larger view!)