How To Photograph St Paul's Cathedral In Melbourne

Sunlight spire set against a blue sky at St. Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne.

It’s hard to imagine a more straightforward architectural photograph than this image of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of Melbourne, Australia.

But it’s the interplay of light and color that brings the spire at St. Paul’s Cathedral’s to life. Don’t you think?

I’ve entered the cathedral on a couple of occasions, each time being impressed with the quiet and contemplative ambience within the space.

Churches, cathedrals and other places of workshop have that power, regardless of the religion to which they’re associated.

They’ll wonderful places in which to sit and meditate and also to consider your place and purpose in the world.

Gold and earthy red colors dominant this scene of an altar in St. Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne, Australia.

Photography Is A Celebration Of Light

While I’ve found the inside of St. Paul’s Cathedral to be quite inspirational, to my way of thinking the outside is no more impressive than so many other large religious buildings I’ve had the good fortune to visit around the world.

I can certainly appreciate the monumental nature of the cathedral’s construction, but it’s the interior space of the building where I find the most inspiration.

The photo at the top of this post wasn’t a particularly carefully constructed photo made within the contemplative bounds of a sacred space. I think that much is clear.

I was outside, on a very busy city corner, teaching a bunch of enthusiast level photographers some fundamental aspects associated with handling their DSLR and Mirrorless cameras.

Responding to the light illuminating the spire at sunset I simply made a few adjustments to my camera, raised it upwards and used the shaded parts of the cathedral and the tree on the right to frame the image.

Practice Will Make You A Better Photographer

The entire process was probably completed in less than 30 seconds, which was the point I was trying to make.

Understanding the key controls on your camera and how to use them is critical. But theory is insufficient without confidence, and you build confidence through repetition of effort.

As they say, practice makes perfect.

Returning on another day I very much appreciated the opportunity to photograph inside the cathedral in a more contemplated manner.

While I’m capable of working quite quickly it is, nonetheless, helpful to have a few moments of quiet. It allows me to carefully consider composition and technical concerns when photographing under low light conditions such as you find in many places of worship.


A beautiful painting featuring deep textures, a warm color palette and luminous tones inside St. Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne, Australia.


Making Something Out of Nothing

While not a portfolio standard image, I knew I had the advantage of two important elements that would allow me to produce a successful result of this particular spire at St. Paul’s Cathedral: light and color.

It’s the color of the light, illuminating the cathedral’s spire, that’s the dominant element within this image.

Filling the centre of the frame the eye can’t help but be drawn towards this attractively lit structure.

A brass lectern, featuring an eagle on a sphere, on the altar at St. Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne, Australia.

Warm Colors Advance and Cool Colors Recede

Can you see how the natural yellowish hues of the spire stand out against the cool blue color of the sky.

There’s a simple rule in art that’s worth remembering.

It’s this relationship between warm and cool colors that adds a visual dynamic to the photo by enhancing the illusion of three dimensional space within the bounds of a two dimensional photo.

What you photograph (i.e., subject) can be important, but how you go about making that photo is often the difference between success and failure.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Candles providing illumination, both actual and symbolically, for visitors to St. Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne, Australia.

Complimentary, Monochromatic And Analogous Color

The photo of the candles is based around a very different approach to color. I’ve employed Monochromatic Color, in this case yellow, to enhance the richness and expressive qualities of the scene.

Please don’t confuse the term monochromatic (mono meaning one and chroma meaning color) photos with black and white photography.

While many camera manufactures use the term monochrome to refer to black and white photos the term is also used in color photography.

As in all things, context can be critical.

Some of my favorite photos over the years are monochromatic (i.e., one color). They’re just so visually evocative and expressive of mood.

For example, yellow is a happy color while blue can be considered to elicit feelings of serenity, peace, sadness or melancholy.

It’s true that there are other colors in this scene, mostly orange and red. It could be argued that the color palette is not, strictly speaking, monochromatic.

I think that’s a little pedantic but, for the sake of clarity, let’s drill down to a more exact definition.

Rather than contrasting with each other, like the warm and cool colors of the Cathedral’s spire and sky, most colors in this image of the lit candles are close to each on the color wheel. They’re referred to as Analogous Color.

Whether warm or cool analogous colors exist adjacent to each other on the color wheel and are, therefore, sympathetic to each other.

Unlike contrasting color, more commonly know as Complimentary Color, that exist opposite each other on the color wheel and produce visually dynamic results, analogous colors tend to produce a quieter, more harmonious image.

And I think that’s completely appropriate to how I felt when viewing these candles inside the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, Australia.

Make Some Time For Yourself - Learn Photography

Interested in a special three hour one-to-one photography course?

I’m taking about a practical, hands-on course where you determine the content. No classroom, no stress and lots of fun.

There’s just the three of us: you, me and your camera. You tell me what you want to know and the kind of photos you’d like to make and it’s my job to make it possible.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru