I have long been an advocate of ‘working’ a subject – in other words taking time to explore different compositions of what is essentially the same subject. I don’t wish to assume that the first choice of viewpoint and lens selection will make the best photograph. The temptation of course can be to pursue the obvious and then walk away believing the job is done.
When I first arrived at the ruin of Bedham Church I couldn’t help but notice a very large tree stump which I thought would provide an interesting foreground. I reached for the widest lens in the bag – an 18mm, knowing if I stopped down to f11 or greater I would be able to get everything in focus. A tripod though would be essential as the level of light was quite poor. The resulting image can be see below.
Thinking I had the best composition I explored the church and took a number of images which can be viewed further down.
In my mind though I had started to give consideration to the merits or otherwise of this first composition. I was concerned the foreground tree stump was just too dominant in the frame. After all I wanted the main subject to be the church ruin. Reviewing the image on the back of the camera my eye was jumping from the church to the stump and back again. It wouldn’t settle and this bothered me.
I moved much further away from the church and changed to a 35mm lens. Still using a small aperture and a tripod, the change in position made a very different composition. Overhanging branches obscured the sky and whilst the tree stump is still visible it no longer dominates. I have deliberately made the picture quite dark to highlight the church in the clearing. I do like this composition but is it better than the first?
Lastly I decided to switch lenses again, this time to my 50mm and I adopted a very different approach. I knew that shooting wide open at f1.4, and focusing on the church, the main subject would be sharp and everything else would be quite soft, particularly in the foreground. You can see the result below. I accept it may not be to everyone’s taste but I enjoy the overall effect. I like the way the out of focus areas have been rendered. The tree stump has taken on the appearance of a ‘guard dog’ but is still secondary to the church. There is a greater sense of mystery to the image and I particularly like the coppice of trees to the right of the church which create a greater sense of depth. Each of the three images have merit but this last one is my preferred composition. You may beg to differ so do please express your views by making a comment. They are always welcome.
Here are a selection of other views of the ruin.
I would like to finish with just a few words about the history of the ruin. Bedham Church was built in 1880 and lies deep in the West Sussex countryside about 2 miles to the east of Petworth. It is reached by a single track road and the ruin sits below the level of this lane in a clearing. There are few if any nearby properties but in the past the famous composer Sir Edward Elgar lived nearby and is said to have been inspired by the church and the surroundings.
As well as being a place of worship and sanctuary the building also served as a school. Records suggest it ceased to be a school in 1925 but continued to be used as a chapel until the late 1950’s when it no longer had a purpose and so it’s ruinous decline began. Sad but even as it stands today it is still a place of quiet in beautiful surroundings – assuming you can find it of course!