Two and a half miles due south of the New Cathedral, offering much needed adornment to an otherwise unsightly and commercially developed hilltop, sits Iglesia de Turi. If it didn’t enjoy its commanding location, offering beautiful panoramic views of the city, it would have no greater claim to fame and simply be absorbed in the mix of the other several hundred churches in the area.
Conversely, the New Cathedral in Cuenca, Ecuador, with its three blue domes, is iconic. Iglesia de Turi is not. Everyone snaps pictures of the New Cathedral, usually snubbing other sacred and worthy subject matter. The New Cathedral has been photographed untold times, mostly from very similar angles that celebrate the lack of creativity from the countless “snappers” passing by.
So, why do we residents of Cuenca see so few photographs of Iglesia de Turi? Well, just take a look. Its facade is pretty enough and the architect is pleasing, yet not striking.There is no beautiful park adjacent to the church, only commercial buildings which I would deem unattractive at best.
And, viewed from El Centro, Turi is tiny and hardly recognizable as a church. If you stand in front of it, it towers high above its surroundings, defying you to include all of its architectural elements in a single snapped frame. If you tilt your camera up, the building will look like its about to fall over backwards! If you back up, you’ll fall off the hill. It can be photographed nicely but it requires very short focal lengths. This is immediately more work than most people with a camera want to tackle. There are enough easy snapshots out there, right?!
For most people, that’s the end of it. But, I like Iglesia de Turi. I wanted to give it its due. The more challenging subjects require careful planning. I set about that task eighteen months ago.
In order to maximize architectural photography, which ultimately this is, you’ll need a number of elements to assist you because most architectural photography is inherently boring. Why? Because you are photographing the art of the architect which allows little freedom for interpretation if handled commercially. You need to give the architect his due and not begin to apply many “interpretive” principles to his work. But this is Ecuador wonderland and so I get to do it the way I want to. That is, with a little more flare. In other words, I am free to interpret all elements as I want since I am not being paid to “flatter” the architect’s building. But, it has to be a real photograph actually captured with a true exposure. Not something made up in the obscure reaches of someones grey matter and then created on a computer screen. Yeah, as always, I needed a real photograph.
The rest is really pretty easy. There will be some obligatory compositional elements, such as the church, which is the anchor for the photograph. And, you’ll have to have those steps that everyone associates with the long and steep climb up if you travel by foot. You need to get rid of those horrid commercial properties, uggh! But, you need them for spatial balance. It’s easy, shoot the scene at night to inject colorful lighting which aids in obscuring the unwanted but unavoidable elements that must remain a part of your canvas. And, the church is lit at night! Score! Use a crop to bring attention to what you want folks to look at. Hmmm, starting to look pretty good already, don’t you think?
In order to create my art so it complied with my pre-visualization, I needed a spot where my equipment could remain set up, safe and ready. I wanted to include pyrotechnics illuminating the sky above and behind the church and there is no way to know when that will be, just that it happens every few weeks. I needed to be ready at a moments notice. My home high in the sky offered a great platform.
When we moved to our new place three months ago, I knew the time was coming. We had only moved a short distance staying in the same building but taking the penthouse suite as our quarters. The penthouse afforded me a direct view of Iglesia de Turi. But, it was from 2.1 miles away as a direct shot, yes, as the crow flies or however you care to say it. 2.1 miles…hmmm. In landscape work, often some objects are much further than this but not in this type work. I bolted up my high resolution stuff and set to work. But, that distance worried me. I made a number of test shots over two months to confirm one fear. The building I live in, where the camera and tripod system were set up, was moving enough in a moderate wind to blur the three-second exposure. OK, a calm night it would have to be, I thought, fingers crossed.
Over the past number of weeks, I had seen fireworks twice over the church. I was keeping my equipment set up and locked down, waiting for the moment to shoot. It was right inside a bedroom window where I would only need to slide the glass back, turn on the camera and lens and then remove the dust cap. The composition was already created and set. I had an electronic release cable plugged into one of my cameras data ports. The first two attempts, the fireworks weren’t too good and once my building was moving slightly with the wind and the photographs were blurred.
The third time fireworks were discharged at the church, I made the photograph you see shown here. The long exposure time made them extra pretty with good light trails. You can see the remnant of a blue one that went off a few seconds before the red one detonated. Fun stuff as far as I’m concerned. And, once again, patience pays off with the desired result all contained in a single frame.
Now ladies and gentlemen, Turi has been given its proper and deserved due. I’ll never think of it any other way. Maybe you won’t either.