Playing The Long Game: Outdoor Photography With Telezooms

5 Top Tips On Photographing Stained Glass Windows

Stained glass windows are a photogenic subject but they can be a nightmare to photograph. Here are a few tips to help you perfect your technique.

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5 Top Tips On Photographing Stained Glass Windows: Stained Glass Window


1. What Gear Will I Need? 

  • Telephoto zoom lens – Gets you close to the window without having to climb a ladder
  • Wide-angle lens – Useful for when the window's particularly large
  • Tripod – In dark churches you need a sturdy tripod
  • Remote release – minimise shake


2. Support

When you walk through the doors of a church you instantly notice how dark the interior is and as flash is banned from most historical buildings you'll be relying on long exposures to get your shot. As a result, a tripod and remote release are essential pieces of kit but if you're out for the day with the family and didn't plan on stumbling across a stained glass window you just had to photograph you need to look for a wall you can put your camera on or find a pillar you can rest against while you take your shot. Just remember to keep your arms tucked into your body and hold your breath while you fire the shutter to minimise shake.


Not all churches will allow photographers to use tripods or if they do there may be a fee so it's best to double-check before you start taking your shots.

3. Position

In an ideal world, you'd be able to use a ladder or even scaffolding to get you directly in line with the window to minimise distortion but as people would be a little upset if you started erecting poles in the middle of a church, you need to find a spot further back from the window and use a longer lens to zoom into the stained glass. If you can't find a position that lines you up with the centre of the window take the shot anyway as you can edit this as well as problems with converging verticals once you're back home.

4. Size

Some stained glass windows are so big that even with a wide-angle lens you can't get the whole window in-frame. You can take several shots of the window and stitch the images together when you're back home or you could forget about the big picture and focus in on the colourful detail.

Due to the size of the window and as you'll be looking up at them you will probably need a small aperture to ensure everything from the bottom to the top of the window is in focus.

5. Exposure

A bright window surrounded by dark interiors will confuse the camera's exposure system and you'll either get a shot where the window is too bright as the camera has compensated for the surroundings or a shot of a perfectly exposed window with black surroundings as the camera has taken its reading from the window light. One way to solve this problem is to take two shots, one exposed for the window and the other for the surroundings, then once you're back home you combine them to make one perfectly exposed shot. You must use a tripod and ensure the camera doesn't move if you do this as the slightest of nudges will mean the final shots don't line up correctly.

If you don't want to include any of the building's structure in the shot you can usually rely on the camera to meter correctly unless it's a really sunny day then you'll need to use exposure compensation.


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Minty805 Avatar
Minty805 Plus
7 55 11 United Kingdom
13 Apr 2021 8:31PM
May I make a suggestion regarding the second tip - that of holding your breath while firing the shutter to minimise shake.
Years ago, I did a lot of target pistol shooting and some of the techniques are transferable, given that in both disciplines there is a need for stillness for a few seconds while the target/composition is acquired and the pistol/shutter is fired.
We trained ourselves specifically not to hold our breath, but to try to steady the breathing, then inhale without exaggerating it and aim to fire as you breathed out slowly.
If you hold your breath, you will notice your pulse increases, which makes you less steady, whereas following the technique described lowers the pulse and makes you steadier.
It takes a little practice, but I always found it well worthwhile and try to do the same when firing the shutter these days. Hope this helps.
Super feature, by the way, on a beautiful subject I always love to look at.

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