What to Do with Historic Churches

Some of my favorite trips are those on which I start out with an idea, somewhere on a continuum of quite definite to rather vague, of where I’m going to drive and what I expect (or hope) to see and photograph. If the trip is to the Northern Catskills of Greene County, so much the better, because there is a wealth of historic buildings (including ruins) to preserve with my camera.

Maybe it’s because I’m a church historian by training, but fate often leads me past¬† wonderful old churches, some of which are more than two hundred years old. In some cases I knew of the church and deliberately set out to photograph it. This was the case with St. Mary of the Mountain Catholic Church in Hunter; I wanted to alert people to the efforts of those concerned citizens who are engaged in raising funds to preserve it. Other times, however, I have a vague idea of where a church may be (Carolyn Bennett of the Catskill Mountain Foundation in Hunter put me on to an excellent old book filled with all kinds of historical goodies, including illustrations), and I drive what I suspect are the correct country roads until, sure enough, I find a church. Such was the case with the Presbyterian Church in Jewett, which is about as rural as you can get.¬† I love places like that.

DSC0076 sThe Jewett Presbyterian Church dates from 1799 and lies in an idyllic pastoral setting in Greene County. The weather was favorable the day I was there and I made many images. The challenge was deciding which ones to process. Here are two that I chose. In the close-up I was interested in accentuating the lines interacting with one another vertically and horizontally, but I thought it deserved a spot of color, and so I selected the flowers, inverted the selection, did the conversion using a B&W layer in Photoshop CS5, and still had my red flowers, in which I increased the saturation slightly to ensure that they stood out.

DSC0086 sThe environmental image is evidence (if you wanted any) that in processing my historical images I choose the method that I judge to be the best for each picture (or one of the best: sometimes I make two or more very different versions): I don’t impose some overall consistency as an end in itself. As I said above, the Jewett church is in a pastoral setting and I wanted to bring that out and make the image look somewhat like a print that someone might have hung on the wall of their farmhouse. After my usual preliminary processing in Camera Raw and then in CS5, I brought the image into Topaz Adjust (which is now my absolute favorite plug-in for postprocessing), used the Detail Medium preset which I adjusted slightly, and then, once back in Photoshop, decreased the brightness by -12 to give it a subdued look.

Ed IMG_1092 Top sThen there are times when I drive by a church I knew nothing about beforehand. A complete and pleasant surprise. On the same day as i found the Jewett church, I then drove north to the Windham road. Whatever I was looking for in Ashland, I didn’t find it, but suddenly there was Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places as well as on a similar list for Greene County. The postprocessing? This may seem a weird choice for a church, but after the usual Raw adjustments and prelim adjustments in CS5 I took the image into Topaz Adjust and used the Grunge Me preset. This brought out the definition of the church but kept the clouds at bay; I wanted them there, but too much and they’d have overwhelmed the church.

None of these pictures made it into my book Historic Hudson Valley — the book was already in press by the time I took the pictures — but still, there’s lots of great stuff in the book by both Anton and myself. Check it out here!

By the way, if you’re a photographer and don’t have Topaz Adjust 5 — and if you read this in time — they have a 50% off sale until September 30, 2013. I highly recommend it. Here’s the link: http://www.topazlabs.com/705.html.