Cool Sanctuary

On my birthday, this past January, I took the day off to spend photographing.  It was windy and colder than hell (irony), so I bundled up and caught the 7:00 AM train for downtown (Nashville).  One subject that I was dying to photograph was the interior of the downtown Presbyterian Church.  I hadn’t been inside before, but I had seen a couple of photos of the Egyptian revivalist structure that were intriguing enough to peak my interest. 

Although I arrived downtown in time for the good morning light, what I found was a feature-less gray sky that’s great for portraiture– not so great for cityscape shots.  So I got all of them out of the way early. 

I took the obligatory shots on the Shelby Street pedestrian bridge (I processed it in black and white with the hope that someone might mistake it for art).

Boring Bridge Photo

Then I followed with a shot of the Nashville skyline that was so cliched I’m surprised there weren’t marks showing where to place your tripod legs.  The shot was so dull that I had to jack it up in post production.

Lame Nashville Skyline

This puppy is more over-produced than an old Barry Manilow album.

I proceeded to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center with the hopes of grabbing some sublime shots worthy of any great photographer’s portfolio.  I was fairly pleased with a few of them.

(photo not for sale)

 It was after spending about an hour there that I noticed the sign stating that photographs of the Center are for personal use only and not to be used for commercial purposes.  Great, let’s move on.

So I went to Dunn Bros. to grab a tea (iced, no sugar) where I noticed the Head Honcho of the downtown Presbyterian Church (no, that’s probably not his official clerical title; and yes, I knew him from his picture next to an article he wrote in the local newspaper).  I screwed up my courage and asked him if I could be allowed to photograph the interior of the church.  He said to just enter from the side door.  I entered the church unceremoniously and was directed to the sanctuary by a very pleasant lady who may well have been the true keeper of the domain.

What passed then was about an hour of mostly uninterrupted accessibility to this fascinating interior.  I shot it from just about every angle I could imagine using every technique I knew.  Then, I let the photos sit in my computer incubating until today (I sometimes have to put a little distance between the shoot and the post production just for the sake of creativity– it’s like making kimchee).  This is the first result.

Sanctuary Detail of the Downtown Presbyterian Church

As this is my first pass on this shot, I welcome your comments, good or bad.  Actually, I always welcome your comments.

Geek Spoiler Alert:  if you want to dedicate the next month or so of your life to figure out all of the steps taken to produce this image, do not read the following technical explanation.  Also, if you are not a geek, you probably won’t be interested.

The interior of the church is a high contrast environment that didn’t lend itself well to single exposures.  The image above is an HDR (High Dynamic Range) Panorama.  Using a tripod, I shot 4 different views at three different exposures.  In post production, I merged the three exposures of each view using the batch operation in Photomatix (that way I knew each view was processed using the exact same HDR settings).  I stitched together the four resulting HDR images in Photoshop CS4, opened the final stitched image in CS4, copied the background layer, filtered the copied layer in Topaz Adjust and tweaked the Adjust settings to bring out the details a little better.  Then, I created a layer mask, filled it with black to eliminate the Topaz adjustments, and used a white foreground brush to bring the adjustments back into the areas of greatest interest– the pulpit area and the two crosses.  Finally, I opened the edited image in Photoshop Lightroom 2 and tweaked the general and local exposures, color balance, and selective sharpening.

Whew.  Yeah, that was a lot of work just to make the photo proximate what I saw and felt in that place.  But I learned a lot in the process.



This entry was posted in Nashville.


  1. Dwight June 1, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Thank you for your comment, Kenny. This was a very interesting location that took some time to capture. I suspect that this photo is not the final version yet. I just need to live with it for a bit and see what adjustments need to be made or removed before it fits the mood of this fascinating place.


  2. Kenny Smith June 1, 2010 at 10:16 am #

    Great picture Dwight!

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