Le Brun paintings Liverpool Cathedral
To photograph for Art and Christianity Enquiry's Ecclesiart project the paintings, The Prodigal Son and The Good Samaritan, by the artist Christopher Le Brun which currently hang in the Western bay of the Choir in Liverpool Cathedral.
The paintings are hung above the Choir stalls, one on the North side and one on the South side.
The top tier of the Choir stalls are recessed under stone canopies beneath the organ galleries, this puts the centre of the paintings for lighting purposes approximately four metres above floor level in the Choir.
No matter what the ambient light levels in the Cathedral there isn’t enough light to photograph the paintings, and the artificial lighting mounted under the stone canopies is pitiful both in coverage and quality.
The paintings are oil on canvas and varnished, they are large works of art measuring 4.48 metres by 2.44 metres, no amount of diffused or soft lighting would get rid of the almost mirror like reflectiveness of the paintings
The paintings would be photographed under polarized light with a polarizing filter also on the camera lens, this technique is known as cross polarization.
A Profoto 4800 power pack was placed on the Choir floor opposite one of the paintings. Connected to this pack were two Proheads each mounted on individual Manfrotto Autopoles. Fitted to each head a filter holder with polarizing gel and next to that an Arri S4 spun diffusion filter to both soften the light and to help protect the polarizing gel from the heat of the modeling lamp.
The Autopoles were positioned at about 45º to the painting as in typical copy set-up and extended to full height positioning the Proheads on the centre line of the painting, also the gel holders holding the filters had to be exactly the same orientation as each other.
To get the camera level with the painting it was setup under the opposite painting looking across the choir space. Circular polarizing filters do not have a strong enough effect so a linear polarizing filter was used, this meant that the autofocus couldn’t be trusted so after manual focusing the polarizing filter was carefully placed on the lens.
The modeling lamps could only be on for a few seconds while the polarizing filter was rotated to eliminate the reflectiveness of the paintings. The two systems, flash and camera, where linked together using a radio slave set.
All that remained was to reverse the whole process to photograph the second painting, a wonderfully accurate tiled floor helped to speed the placement of the lighting stands, so accurate in fact that measurements made at the painting with a handheld lightmeter where identical to the original setup!
Above is a shot of The Good Samaritan using just flash without any polarization at all to show how reflective the painting surface is.
Above The Good Samaritan and below The Prodigal Son are the finished shots showing how both paintings look when photographed using cross polarization.