alan frost photography

in monochrome with occasional colour lapses

Elgar’s Lost Sanctuary – alternative compositions

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!

14 Responses to “Elgar’s Lost Sanctuary – alternative compositions”

  1. David A Lockwood

    Another excellent series Alan.
    As to the question: I much prefer the 35mm version, I get a better feeling for a sense of discovery. The 18mm one does not give me a focal point, as you said, the eye keeps moving.

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    • alan frost

      Thanks David. I won’t be deleting the 18mm version but it just doesn’t work does it? I intend printing the other two versions and living with them for a while. I often find that by comparing prints different qualities or flaws are revealed. It may well be the case that the 35mm composition wins the day!

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  2. Robert Parker

    I agree with your choice, but the second shot is also very effective – – the little church looks like it wandered off into the woods and got quite lost. Perhaps it just wanted some peace & quiet, too many parishioners importuned it, I see it’s put up a “Please Keep Out” sign.

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  3. Vicki

    To be honest I don’t like the stump dominating either. I would prefer the 4th shot without the stump at all.
    The ‘stump’ sort of…..distracts and hurts my eyes. But that’s only my opinion. I would prefer the church with no stump at all in ANY of the images. The stump is a bit like a piece of ash or dirt in my eye and I can’t wait to get it out.

    The church ruins are a fantastic subject for B & W photography, but I’m wondering if you did the post processing at night? Just a fraction too dark in the surrounding trees and undergrowth. (I’m viewing this post in morning natural light – very different to viewing it in my lounge at night with only modern downlights in the room).

    It’s all a matter of preference I guess.

    After comparing the first few images about 7-8 times, I think I prefer the balance of light and dark in the 18mm or the 35mm with the exposure lighter (and no stump at all). I like the tiny bit of light in the stones in the foreground balancing the bright light surrounding the church in the background. The contrast and blur of the sides in the 35mm image is too strong. The church loses its ‘setting’ or location within the woods. It’s like a picture with too wide a frame.

    Always interesting to read other viewer’s opinions too. We all have different taste.

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    • alan frost

      Thanks for your feedback Vicki. The stump is a very prominent feature and however hard I tried I couldn’t find a composition which removed it from the scene. It was impossible to move although I guess I could clone it out but that’s not my style. I deliberatley processed the images to make them quite dark as I felt that treament suited the ‘mood’ but as you rightly say this is always going to be a matter of personal taste. Thanks again. Alan

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  4. Paul Stone

    Very interesting to hear how you went about shooting this location. Could you please say which lens you used to should the interior of the church? was it you 50mm by any chance?

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