No matter where you live, small town or big city, chances are that some of the greatest artwork in your community exists in the churches, mosques and temples that you drive past every day. Unless you attend religious services on a regular basis, odds are that you pass by these places without ever seeing or thinking about what's inside them. We see the buildings and some are beautiful from the outside, but often even a very modest exterior hides some wonderful works of art--paintings, shrines, altars, stained-glass windows and other very artful objects. Sadly, because of security concerns these buildings aren't as open to the public as they once were, but if you stop by the office and ask for permission to explore, chances are a secretary or someone in the clergy would be happy to let you in and wander around with your camera. If you have confidence in your skills, you might also offer them photos for their website or printed programs in exchange for the chance to shoot.
Famous churches and cathedrals, especially in tourist areas, are a lot more likely to be open to the public during regular hours, so before you go on a trip, do some research to find out exactly where they are and when they're open. Be sure also to see if there are any photo restrictions; most don't allow use of tripods or flash, but it varies. I photographed the St. Photios Greek shrine in St. Augustine, Florida (a great vacation town, by the way) and everyone was taking photos. St. Augustine is a very touristy town the and the temple is in a tourist block, so I think photography is encouraged. The shrine is filled with some very pretty Byzantine-style frescoes of many apostles and saints and it's just full of colorful art and decoration. I used a bit of fill-flash to shoot this photo and no one seemed to mind (still, I'd ask someone at the door for permission if you're going to use flash).
I'm sure it would please my mother to know that I stop by churches and temples once in a while--even if it's mostly to take pictures.
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