How To Photograph Moscow, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

A night time view of the spectacular Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, Russia.

I was wandering around Moscow, as you do, late at night looking to make some night photos from one of the bridges crossing the Moskva (i.e., Moscow) River.

Eventually I found myself in front of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

It was closed, so I couldn’t enter. However it’s white exterior and copper topped domes make it a standout for night photography.

A close study of the building will reveal that there are no interior lights turned on. That means the cathedral is being illuminated by exterior lighting. And that, my friends, is often the trick to photographing buildings at night.

That is to say, whether the buildings internal lights are turned on or off is usually less important than the facade of the building being adequately illuminated.

I was particularly fortunate photographing the Cathedral Of Christ The Saviour as the building’s facade and domes are, by nature, reflective.

An image of a black cat in a coal mine would be considerably more challenging.

BH-55 LR
Really Right Stuff

A Really Right Stuff Tripod Helped Me Photograph The Cathedral Of Christ The Saviour

While it’s not always necessary to undertake night photography with a tripod it can be beneficial, particularly when critical composition or very long exposures are required.

I made this exterior view of the Cathedral Of Christ The Saviour with the aid of my camera fixed onto my Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead which, in turn, was mounted securely onto my Really Right Stuff TVC-34L tripod.

Have no doubt, after all these years, this is by far the best ballhead and tripod combination I’ve ever owned. It’s an expensive option, but absolutely top quality.

Made in the USA and underpinned by great design, world class materials and brilliant engineering these items are beautiful to behold and a dream to use.

They’re neither light nor small, but the incorporation of carbon fibre in both the ballhead and tripod significantly reduces the load.

If you’re serious about tripod based photography and you’re happy to spend the money Really Right Stuff, in my opinion, represents the highest quality currently available.

What’s The Best Tripod For You?

It should be said that the tripod and ballhead combination I use would be overkill for all small camera systems.

But a full frame DSLR or medium format camera, particularly one with a large lens fitted, will be well and truly secure on this platform.

I also own a smaller Really Right Stuff tripod and head, which I often take with me when I’m travelling overseas.

Commuters    waiting on the platform of an    underground railway station    in    Moscow, Russia   .

Commuters waiting on the platform of an underground railway station in Moscow, Russia.

Photography And The Friends You Leave Behind

I’m often reminded that it’s not what you see on your journeys, but the people you meet that makes the experience, one way or the other, memorable.

This particular evening was a case in point. 

When you’re working with a large tripod and camera you’re going to be noticed. I don’t mind, after all I have nothing to hide.

My photos are about sharing the beauty of our world and its people with an ever wider audience and I’ve long overcome any feelings that might make me feel self conscious.

There’s just too much at stake to be drawn into such negativity.

Boy and Statue in Moscow, Russia

About To Travel?


I’m always careful not to block other peoples progress or draw too much attention to myself.

Nonetheless, my very presence elicits quite a bit of attention. Sometimes folks approach me and ask what I’m doing.

While it’s pretty obvious that I’m making photos I assume they want somewhat beyond the obvious answer their question suggests. I might mention the following:

  • that I’ve travelled from Australia (that’s a connection that’s never done me any harm)

  • that I have an educational photography website

  • that I’m here to document the beauty of this country and its people

While most folks are usually content with this kind of reply some people want to know a little bit about the gear I’m using.

Of course, in some parts of the world, the conversation quickly turns to how much money I make.

Statues on the outside wall of the spectacular Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, Russia.

Over recent times, with the explosion of digital photography, folks often ask me to make a photo of them. I guess they assume, because I have a substantial camera kit, that I must know what I’m doing (a dangerous assumption, to be sure).

It often follows that I’II be able to make an incredible photo of them, right here and right now, with their phone or compact camera. Naturally, I do my best.

I enjoy the challenge, though sometimes I fumble around trying to understand the device in question.

On this particular night I was approached by a young Russian lady who spoke quite good English. She said she was a lawyer, but had a passion for photography.

A fun conversation followed before she was summoned away via an urgent message on her mobile phone. Not long after a young American journalist approached me.

He had some straight forward questions about photography and I was happy to help. In fact, after about twenty minutes, he’d been given a short course.

He was a really nice guy and I hope our little chat has helped him make some great photos during his posting in this incredible city. 

Lights in the grounds of the spectacular Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, Russia.

Star Light, Star Bright

Finally I was able to get back to the task at hand. I very much loved the old fashion street lights leading towards the cathedral.

Even late in the evening there were still so many people moving around that I needed to raise my camera and tripod up high to remove most of them from the frame.

You’ll notice the starlight effect emanating from some of the lights. This effect is very much created in camera. To achieve it is a simple matter of photographing at or around the lens’s minimum aperture.

That’s the physically narrowest aperture, the one that lets in the least amount of light (e.g., f22).

There’s something that happens as the light is funneled through such a physically narrow opening and then spread outwards across the sensor that accounts for this interesting phenomena.

It doesn’t seem to work with the long fluorescent tubes, but it does work a treat with round light bulbs, particularly where there’s a fair amount of moisture between the light source and the camera.

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour bathed in beautiful light on a lovely summer's evening in Moscow, Russia.

Time To Smile

If you don’t like the effect simply avoid the very narrowest apertures on your lens. But, if you do, you now know when and how to produce it.

Just be aware that, as you’ve closed the lens’s aperture down, not much light will reach your camera’s sensor.

That’s going to require a much longer exposure time which, in turn, will likely require the use of a tripod to eliminate blur resulting from camera shake.

Night photography offers so many amazing opportunities for creative photography. The world most certainly looks and photographs differently after the sun has gone down and you simply have to be out there to see, enjoy and record it.

If you live in or close to Melbourne, Australia you might want to hook up for a one-to-one private photography session.

You might even want to make it an evening session which will allow us to photography Melbourne at night time.

It’s a fun, informative and inexpensive way to really bring your creativity up to the next level. Frankly, folks rave about the experience.

If you’d like to discuss the options for a private one-to-one photography session feel free to Contact ME directly.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru