Saturday, October 29, 2011

Oratory Prints Available

SUPPORTING THE APOSTOLATE of Saint Francis de Sales Oratory and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a limited edition of photographic art prints are now offered for sale by the Oratory:

Saint Francis de Sales Oratory - fundraising print

These will be sold for $100 each at the Seminary breakfast on Sunday:



This will be an opportunity to learn more about the Seminary, meet the newest candidates, and to offer our prayerful support for

our future priests, while enjoying a bountiful breakfast at very
reasonable prices.

Scrambled Eggs, Sausage, Bacon, Biscuits & Gravy
Pancakes, Sweet Rolls
Coffee, Tea, Milk & Juice

Ages 2 and under: FREE
Ages 11 and under: $4.00
Ages 12 and up: $7.00
Large family maximum: $30.00
Talk by Canon Wiener
Video Presentation by Canon Huberfeld Personal Messages from Gricigliano 50/50 Raffle
Rector’s Raffle
Attendance Prizes for the Children Sign-up to Pray for Individual Seminarians BREAKFAST WILL BE SERVED AFTER BOTH THE 8:00 & 10:00 a.m. MASSES

All proceeds will be used for the benefit of the Seminary in Gricigliano, Italy.


These prints are a ¼ size reproduction of a major new photographic work I did for the Oratory this past summer. These high quality giclée prints were made under my direction at Diversified Lab of Brentwood, Missouri. The image size is 12-½ x 7 inches on an 11x17 inch matte. The photo is attached with removable art adhesive if you desire to change the matting. This is a limited edition of 50 prints; each one is signed and numbered. You can purchase a copy of this print at the Seminary breakfast on Sunday, or you can order a copy by calling the Oratory rectory at (314) 771-3100.

Although I had long dabbled in photography, the end results of my art were usually unsatisfactory. It was not until I had become Catholic and wanted to produce worthy photographs of the Church's temples of God that my photographic work improved: “Behold, I make all things new.” Inspired by the Church’s great patrimony of art, and by the art theories discovered by her philosophers and theologians, I started re-learning photography from scratch.

When I was asked to photograph something for the Oratory, I never had any subject in mind other than the remarkable high altar reredos, which is 52 feet high. It is polychromed carved wood and was made by the E. Hackner Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin. No other subject within the Oratory has such an epic scale, being able to be captured in a single image. We can rightly say “Awesome is this place; this is the house of God and gate of Heaven."

When I photograph architecture, I try to reflect the symmetry and proportions inherent in the architectural element, as well as faithfully render the color. Although these subjects are three dimensional, I attempt to eliminate perspective as much as possible, to give the viewer a sense of the object in itself rather than simply a particular point of view. To this end, I attempt to eliminate any tilt or off centered compositions, keeping vertical lines vertical and horizontal lines horizontal. I also attempt to flatten the image as much as possible, like an architect’s orthographic projection drawing. Clearly, this is not completely possible with basic photographic technology, but I can come fairly close.

To capture this kind of composition, I attempt to get as far away from my subject as practical, and align my camera if possible with the principal axes of the subject to eliminate converging lines of perspective. The use of a telephoto lens helps flatten the subject. Overall sharpness and focus put our attention on the subject itself rather on the artifice of the camera. The lines of perspective on the rows of pews on the bottom, and the fact that the pews are obviously out of focus, shatter the illusion of a flat representation and remind the viewer that this is indeed a photograph.

To bring out the color of the reredos, I adjusted the camera and did post processing to account for the color and quality of the light; the best color correction is found in the altar area near the bottom. Were I to do this again, I’d attempt to correct more strongly for the relatively blue color of the light coming through the windows; however, I think the range of colors in this print are pleasing. As the altar is illumined with artificial lighting of good spectral quality, supplemented with the natural daylight coming through the windows, I think the color rendering here is attractive without harsh the magenta and green tones often found with newer gas discharge lighting.

My intent was to capture more detail in this image than is visible to even the sharpest human eye; to bring out detail, either artistically intended or damage due to age and wear. Perfection is not shown here, for only God is perfect. We can see both finely carved details as well as fine cracks and water damage. You can support the preservation of the Oratory here:

My model of digital camera is famed for producing quality, low-noise images, but the resolution of this somewhat antiquated sensor and my lenses aren’t designed to produce large-scale images. Adequate cameras tend to cost as much as luxury automobiles, are used in high-end fashion magazines, and so are quite out of my means — and such cameras lack flexibility and practicality also. As an inexpensive yet time-consuming alternative, this image is a composite made up of numerous individual tiles. This required me to take very many photographs from one spot — 288 photographs in total. Using an 85 mm f/1.4 lens — known for producing sharp images with insignificant optical distortion — I took multiple exposures of small sections of the reredos over a period of nearly two hours. The lens was set at its sharpest setting, f/5.6, and the focus point was halfway in distance between the top of the apse and the communion railing.

I took these photos during a brutally hot day in July, and the high temperature in the building risked increasing the digital noise coming from my sensor. To counteract this, for each image I took a counter-image with the same exposure but with the shutter closed; the camera electronics subtracted out the ‘dark frame’ from the exposed frame to reduce this added noise. This is a technique originally devised by astronomers to get clean star images. The final image is exceptionally clean with little visible digital noise.

This was followed by at least 40 hours of work on the computer, fusing the various separate images together to produce a single image. While many commercial software packages can fuse together images in this way, they all trade off speed and simplicity for final image quality. Rather, I used computer-science grade software that allows for far greater control over the blending process, correcting for even slight shifts of the camera or lighting, and correcting lens defects. For the final image, I rendered the multiple images into a single rectilinear photo, using a mathematical projection which keeps the lines of the subject straight.

A single exposure has only a limited dynamic range of tones of brightness and darkness it can capture. The ratio of illumination from the brightest light coming through the window to the darkest visible shadow was at least 10,000:1, which exceeds the range of the camera and is also far greater than the range of tones available in print, which is about 100:1.  Anything out of this range is either pure black or pure white. This is unacceptable; I intended to capture as many of the tones in the scene as possible. Many of the 288 photos I took that day were multiple exposures, adjusting the shutter speed time to alternatively capture the shadows, mid tones, highlights, and windows. The software on the computer selects the best exposed tones from each image and seamlessly blends it in with the others producing an image that has full range of tones. Over the years, I’ve experimented with various methods of exposure blending, but I created my own techniques which preserve the colors of highlights and shadows very well.  Very little tonality in this scene was lost: there is a small patch on one of the windows which is pure white, and some shadows near the crucifix are pure black, however, the dynamic range seen here nearly matches that of the human eye, and there is some shadow detail which actually exceeds what can be seen casually. This would not be possible with only a single activation of the shutter.

Naively compressing the tones of the image to print would produce an image without much texture, and so I enhanced local contrast with techniques I’ve devised to produce visually enhanced texture without obvious digital artifacts. This is similar to the technique used by artists when producing polychrome statues: colors within folds of cloth are either tinted or shaded to enhance the visual impression of light and dark. An inevitable side effect of this tonal compression is that the final image may resemble a painting more than a photograph. I don’t think this is a bad thing: actually, I find myself being more inspired by painting — a superior art form — as I learn more about photography.

Copies of the print may be purchased at the Oratory.

1 comment:

  1. Your photography is absolutely stunning. I love the detail. The high altar and reredos at St. Francis de Sales is very similar (I see a lot of design elements that are identical) to the high altar and reredos in my parish church, St. Mary Help of Christians in Sleepy Eye, MN. You can see a photo of it on my blog here:

    Our altars were also made by E. Hackner and installed in 1905.