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How to photograph stained glass windows

March 20, 2020

How to photograph stained glass windows

Photographing through glass can be tricky, and there are many times during our daily lives, or when we travel you see amazing stained-glass windows. How to get that great image of these wonderful artist feats need not be to have a physics degree. Here are a few tips on how to photograph stained-glass windows.

When photographing stained-glass windows, we are wanting to show the colour, shape, texture, expression down to the body language and the message depicted by the artist.

Let’s look at the main substrate: glass so we understand a little of its properties – for the less nerdish of us, it’s only three more short paragraphs till we get into how to do it.

Glass can be a fabulous subject or a downright pain to photograph. It’s translucent, transparent and highly reflective. All of these qualities can be an advantage or a disadvantage when photographing stained glass.

Properties of Glass
One of the qualities we love about glass is that it allows a diffused light to pass through. Stained glass windows in churches, cathedrals, and in some homes provide explanatory examples of how colour and light can pass behind glass.

You can see through the glass from the outside and vice versa.  Scenarios could include shop displays, museums, aquariums, zoos, transport or through the window of a café or house. At times we may forget it’s there but then it plays its games with us causing ugly reflections that inhibit our ability to capture the scene on the other side.

Glass is reflective. Often, we try to decrease or eliminate reflections in the glass, but an enchanting quality of glass is its reflectivity.  We can use it to our advantage. It can reflect a scene such as an office building on the other side of the road or a window or even in a vehicle. This is an area that inspires creativity in the image-maker.

Stained glassImage courtesy Danielle Lancaster

Tips for photographing stained glass windows

Choose a sunny day when the light falls behind the glass and illuminates the colours. This includes choosing the time of day as windows will be illuminated during different times of the day.

Get as close as you can to being straight on with the window, if you shoot upwards your image may look out of perspective and this increases with the wider the lens you use.

Shooting square on means that the window should all be in the same focus plane. If you need to crop ensure the image is straight – the strong verticals in most windows make any odd angles very obvious.

Don’t use flash

Rules: Some churches will allow photographers to use tripods others will require a fee – best to check before you visit.

Shoot in RAW – this will give you greater latitude in exposure.

If you can’t use a tripod try a beanbag, your backpack or we have even used a water bottle to support the camera while composing and taking the image.

Spot meter read off an average green or mid red area of the stained glass.

To achieve inside and outside correctly exposed
Take a properly exposed shot of the glass. Now move your metering spot to meter for the stonework/ inside and take a properly exposed shot of that. Then composite the images together in your software of choice. Thankfully due to the concise and clear edges of the window, this makes it a simple task.

A staied glass windo with deep reds, greens and blue

Composition is important
Look at the stained-glass artwork, do you want to capture all or part?
These windows tend to be symmetrical, so shooting from an angle rarely looks effective. Shooting square on means that the window should all be in the same focus plane so, assuming you are using a tripod aperture doesn’t matter a great deal. When cropping, ensure the photo is perfectly straight – the strong verticals in most windows will make any odd angles obvious.

Never visit a church during a service unless you have prior permission. If you are visiting to admire and photograph the windows in a church, take note of service times and when the venue is open to visitors.

Always remain in the background, admire and never disrupt proceedings either in a church or in a public or private place.

Remember to turn of VR/IS when on a tripod.


A stained galss window in LondonImage courtesy John Bailey



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