Let there be light: Photographer captures bright images of Southern churches

Five Minutes With: Charleston photographer Steven Hyatt

June 3, 2011 

A church is a place of worship. But it can also be a place of art.

Charleston photographer Steven Hyatt has been capturing the art of Southern churches over the past two years, recently shooting the Church of the Cross in Bluffton, the Parish Church of St. Helena and the Baptist Church of Beaufort.

He uses a technique called high dynamic range, where he takes photographs at different exposures then combines them to produce bright, crisp images.

He started a website, the Churches of America, to showcase his work.

Hyatt explains where faith and art intersect.

Question. How did you get into photographing churches?

Answer. It was a bit of an accident. I was living in Charleston, where there's a lot of old churches. I was at school at the College of Charleston for a while. There's a Unitarian church, and I used to sit in the cemetery and read or study; they have a very beautiful cemetery. You see these churches from the outside but you rarely see the inside unless you go there. I went inside of this Unitarian church and realized how beautiful it is. I looked online and there's not many collections of photographs of the churches we have here. I really enjoy being in these churches, and I want to get that across to other people.

Q. How do you find the churches?

A. There's a few means. It's pretty simple to search the Internet to see what's in the area. But not everything comes up. A lot of churches don't have updated photography of their interiors. I have a friend who's a history buff. If he knows I'm headed somewhere, he'll do some digging and pass that on to me.

Everything on the site is older churches. There is a historical aspect to it. Some people ask if the church needs to be elaborate, and it doesn't really at all. Church of the Cross (in Bluffton) is a pretty simple place, but it's a very beautiful place in a nice location.

Q. How long did the process of photographing these churches actually take?

A. It depends on the church because the more tricky the lighting is, the trickier the processing is. I generally take about two hours in a church. The editing process can take anywhere from two to 10 hours a church, just depending how many photographs I take.

Q. What are your plans for the photos?

A. I have been in discussions about making a book, the first one would be Charleston-centric. But it could expand for other cities or regions. At this point, I don't really know. I make no money off this project. The only money I do bring in is if someone buys a print or makes a donation.

I intend to keep the website because some people haven't seen what's inside of these places. The website's purpose is to make that accessible all of the time.

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