Night Church

Night Church, © Cort Anderson, 2007

Night Church, © Cort Anderson, 2007

Cort Anderson – In the late summer and fall of 2007 I was traveling between my office in south central Kansas to newspapers in northwest Kansas to do training for them. I noticed a small white church along I-70 west of Salina during the day and a lighted cross at night.

On my last trip the timing worked out to do some photography on my return. There were three places I wanted to shoot and had it all figured out so I could hit all three and have the light I wanted.

My first stop was Nicodemus to reshoot a church. When I got there I found they were restoring the church and the window I wanted to shoot was boarded up. I backtracked a bit and headed for the Garden of Eden in Lucas.

I soon realized that I was running late and was probably going to miss the light I wanted in Lucas. I got there just as the sun was setting and did a few hurried shots in the dying light. I was not worried about the last shot because it was the lighted cross and I wanted it dark for that shot.

The tricky part of the last shot was going to be getting there. I knew about where it was along I-70 but in Kansas it can be many miles between exits off the interstate. I got lucky and there was an exit just past the cross and it was easier to find than I thought. As I drove down the gravel country road toward the cross, it disappeared. I thought “this is another wasted trip” and I was going to strike out on all three of my locations that day.

When I got to the church I noticed a pickup parked across the road and thought someone was just working on the lights and maybe I could ask about getting them turned back on. Just then the lights came back on and a tractor pulled up next to the pickup.

When the cross came back on I noticed up close it wasn’t really a cross, it was a pole with a large ring near the top. From a distance, at any angle it looks like a cross but not up close.

I set up and did a couple of wide shots showing both the church and the lighted cross which looked more like a hula-hoop on a pole. As I moved to do a tight shot of just the church the lights went off again and I realized they were on some kind of a timer.

About the same time the farmer started up his tractor and resumed his planting. I noticed the tractor had lights pointing front and back and as he worked the lights were hitting the front of the church as he got to the near side of the field.

I wanted to get the night sky with stars but wasn’t sure how to light the front of the church. I did some test shots, cross on, cross off, off camera flash and a feeble attempt at light painting with a too small flashlight.

After looking at what I had done I decided to try a one-minute exposure while the cross was dark. To get that exposure I was using an electronic cable release and timing it using my watch.

As I was nearing the end of the exposure, the cross lights came back on lighting the front of the church. I quickly closed the shutter and hoped I hadn’t messed up my shot. A quick look at the LCD on the camera showed a nice balance of light and stars and I decided to stop there.

This is that last frame, a combination of available starlight, some fill light courtesy of the farmer planting wheat, with the main light provided by the cross.

Technical info

Canon 30D,18-55 mm kit lens at 21 mm, 57 seconds @ f/4. Exposed at 200 ISO as a Canon RAW file. Processed in Adobe Lightroom for crop and exposure then taken into Adobe Photoshop for B&W conversion and final density and contrast tweaks. Prints were made using an Epson 4900 using Jon Cone’s K7 B&W inks on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper.


Excelsior Lutheran Church, 9th Road and Avenue C, Wilson, KS 67490. This is about 45 minutes west of Salina on I-70. From the east take Exit 216, go south one half of a mile to Ave C, turn right and Ave C and go three miles west. From the west take Exit 209, go south one half of a mile to Ave C, turn left and Ave C and go three miles east.

-Cort Anderson