New Yorkers quite famously never look up. Photographer Richard Silver wanted to give them a reason to, so he started taking pictures of ceilings. But not just any pictures, and not just any ceilings: Silver’s specialty is taking glorious, vertical panoramas of the architecturally magnificent ceilings of New York cathedrals.
A full time photographer living in New York, most of Silver’s work is commercial, and for the last four years, he’s been a full-time travel photographer. This has allowed him to take photos of what he calls his ‘Vertical Churches’ in over 25 cities, from America to India. But the project started right in the Big Apple.
“One day I was walking around the city and walked into a church to see if I was able to take photos,” he tells me. “Once inside I was marveled at the beauty of the ceiling and the complete surroundings around me. I figured out that I could do a panorama of the church while capturing the ceiling along with the pew and all the way through to the back of the church. It did take me a few times working in Photoshop to figure out how to get the final result just right, but now I think I have it mastered.”
Taking these detailed shots of cathedral ceilings is more challenging than setting your iPhone to panorama mode and pointing it up. Silver says that lighting is the biggest challenge. Most church interiors are extremely dark, except for stained glass windows that let in a tremendous amount of light. That makes striking the proper light balance difficult: to get around it, Silver sometimes has to blend two different panoramas together, taken with different exposure settings. Church hangings and chandeliers also pose a problem, because they tend to be distorted by the panoramic process. Silver often chooses just to leave them out.
Asked what his favorite New York church to shoot in was, Silver says it’s the Serbian Orthodox Church on West 26th Street, which has a seldom photographed interior. “The priest opened up the church for me to take photos, turning on the lights and everything,” he remembers. “The payment was a printed image for him, which was nice.”
Ultimately, Silver hopes to have a book printed of his Vertical Churches. For now, though, he just hopes that his online panoramas inspire New Yorkers, and people everywhere, to take a closer look at the churches around them, regardless of their religious affiliation. “Churches are amazingly beautiful treasures that should not only be appreciated for what their theological intentions were, but as works of pure architectural wonder,” he says.