Vertigo-Inducing Panoramas of Churches Around the World
Most tourists walk away from a grand cathedral like Notre Dame with a lousy iPhone pic that utterly fails the capture the majesty of the place. But Richard Silver’s panoramic photographs capture every detail, conveying the awe and wonder that inspires us to whip out our smartphones.
Silver started the project one crisp fall day in 2011, when he was strolling down Bleecker Street in Manhattan and decided to visit Our Lady of Pompeii Church. “I was enamored at the beauty of the ceiling,” he says. It inspired him to try a vertical panorama to capture the scene. “The output wasn’t perfect my first few tries, but now I think I have it mastered.”
He’s since honed his technique and has made beautiful panoramas of churches in 32 countries. Silver usually visits during the day and claims a spot in right in the center of the main aisle. He sets up his tripod at pew level, and waits. When people clear out of the frame, he focuses his Nikon D800, fitted with a super-wide 14-24 mm lens, on the altar. Silver shoots multiple frames, rotating the camera in an arc up toward the ceiling and down the other side. The result is a perfect 3:1 panorama with a 180-degree view.
It sounds simple, but you couldn’t make the same images on your iPhone. Churches are notoriously dark, with deep shadows. But they also have huge stained glass windows that provide tremendous light. The contrast is striking to see but difficult to photograph. Silver compensates by taking each photo twice at slightly different exposures. The final panorama consists of anywhere from five to nine shots, all painstakingly aligned in Photoshop.
The work stems from Silver’s love of architecture, which grew from his childhood in Brooklyn—the Borough of Churches—and deepened as he explored Manhattan. “Even as a young kid I remember how it felt to go to the city from Brooklyn and start to see all of the skyscrapers appearing as we got closer,” he says. “It was electric.”
The series lets Silver share his deep appreciation for church architecture with others. Even if you’re not the type that gets excited by gothic arches or gilded altarpieces, you’ll still find yourself getting lost in the remarkable details of his photos. The soaring ribbed vaults of Salisbury Cathedral, built in the 13th century, resemble flowers, while the stained glass at Christ the King in Johannesburg, South Africa, is a kaleidoscopic delight. Seen in two dimensions, these stunning architectural features become mesmerizing abstractions.
“Some people tell me the images look like the inside of a boat, an insect’s body, or like turtles,” Silver says. “I only see the absolute beauty of the churches themselves.”
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