Postcard Intellect

Travel photography for the uninitiated….



The Churches of Kiev – Beautiful Sites of Ukrainian Orthodox Christianity

While Adriana and I were in Kiev, Ukraine over the Easter weekend we focused on two things – getting some brilliant pictures of the beautiful churches and spending the day in Chernobyl to capture the history and desolation of what happened there.  This post will focus on the former, as I’ve already shared the incredible images from the latter.

In Kiev, the locals are generally Ukrainian Orthodox, of which there are various Patriarchates, like the Kiev Patriarchate or the Moscow Patriarchate.  I’m not going to focus on any sort of Christian history or try to explain the differences between Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant, but I will focus on how I captured some of the images that I took below to give you an idea on where to go if you get an opportunity to visit.  As a general rule of thumb the churches of Kiev don’t allow photography inside.  If you’re particularly aggressive in planning ahead, you could potentially work something out but generally speaking it’s a no no.  There is one place in Pechersk Lavra that you can take indoor photos, as you’ll see below.

There are many, many churches in the area surrounding the city but I’m going to focus on five of the more famous ones.  Yep – this will be a bit of a long post.

1) St. Sophia Cathedral

This church is primarily green and white, with a beautiful bell tower standing over the wall that leads into the church.  The bell tower is blue and white with a golden dome on the top.  The first photo is my favorite of the bunch, taken on the first night just as the sun was setting (our apartment was pretty much right behind this church).  That first picture is an HDR photo that after processing I had to do a free transform on the tower to straighten it out a little bit.  I like the color of the sun setting below the building.  The second picture is taken from the Hyatt hotel – there’s a rooftop bar where we spent some time having a few drinks and taking some snaps of the churches (and also to take a few timelapses, as you’ll see below).  The next photo is of the interior of the church yard (once you’re through the wall).  As stated above, most of the churches don’t allow you to take pictures inside.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check them out – they’re absolutely stunning and well worth any wait (which there usually isn’t).  Finally I posted a pic that I took just after sunrise in the morning – again I had to do a free transform on the church tower so it didn’t look so crooked.

2) Mykhailivsky Cathedral

This is the beautiful Mykhailivsky Cathedral (I think it’s also known as St. Michael’s in English) – blue in color and facing opposite the St. Sofia church.   I think this is the prettiest of the churches that we saw in the main area of Kiev.  The wall surrounding it is the same beautiful “baby blue” color and the design of the bell tower is simple and well structured.  

During the day (particularly on Saturday and Sunday) we found the locals buying various plants and flowers to bring into church with them.  I took this picture of the row of plants being sold for the locals and thought it created a nice leading line to the Monastery in the background.  I used a small aperture (big number) to make sure I had both the flowers and also the bell tower in focus throughout the frame.

3) St. Andrews

Above is a picture of St. Andrews – this is one of the smaller churches that we saw but unfortunately while we were there the entire area around the church was under construction.  The road was all torn up, and there was a huge crane in front of the cathedral so I wasn’t really happy with the other pictures.  But I wanted to post this one to give you an idea of what it looks like.  Like the other’s, it’s very impressive.

4) St. Volodymyr’s Church

The above picture is St. Volodymyr’s church – this was pretty unique as the color scheme was very different from the others.  I have to say the inside of this church was absolutely stunning – unfortunately you can’t take any pictures.  I respected their wishes, but the artwork inside and the feeling of medieval mystery permeates the interior.

Below I’m also including this street shot I took, of a few local people selling some flowers and plants to take into the church.  I like the way this image turned out; I’m not normally one to be aggressive about street photography but I’m trying to expand my horizons a bit so wanted to share this with you.

5) Pechersk Lavra (Caves of the Monastery)

This is the big one – the famous compound of churches that pretty much every visitor to Kiev should visit.  There are many churches around the area and when you first walk into the main gate you can see a beautiful church in front of you (the first picture above, in more detail in the second shot).  I found the paintings on the outside of the buildings to be absolutely beautiful, and I highlighted these very slightly in the photos above.

Pechersk Lavra is one of the few places where you can visit the interior of one of the churches; below are a few pics of the interior of the church next to the main gate (I’m sorry but I don’t know the name of the church).  The interiors are beautiful and I had full reign of the place, but only in limited spurts of time.  I struggled a little bit with the composition on many of the shots; the area is exceptionally small and even with a wide angle lens it was tough to really capture the essence of the place.

Finally, we captured a few photos of several of the priests while they were getting ready for the service.  I love this picture of the priest solemnly walking down the stairs while his colleague is getting prepped in the dark doorway to the right.  I also captured the image of the cross with the multi-domed gold cathedral in the background.  The lead picture above is also an image from the Pechersk Lavra.  I loved the leading lines that the crosses of the cemetery played to the beautiful gold domed church on the background.  We were fortunate to have lovely weather while in Kiev and it always helps with the photography!

This about wraps it up for the trip to Kiev.  The churches are incredible, the people were wonderful and it’s one of the places that not many people have spent time.  Before going on this trip I struggled to get some real research on the churches and understand where we could get some good images and whether or not we could photograph inside.  Hopefully this post will now serve as a way for others to get clarity on what the place is like and which churches are worth seeing.

I leave you with a time-lapse shot that I took while I was there; the first one that I’ve ever taken.  I’ve produced a time-lapse tutorial for beginners over on the tutorials pages to walk you through how I did this if you’re interested in creating your own.

Below is a map of Kiev, including the primary photos of the churches and where I captured most of my images.  You can also check out my Kiev set on Flickr to see a wider collection of pics.

Enjoy!  And until next time I hope you can capture some great images!


Witness to decay – the road to Chernobyl

Last weekend, over the Easter break, Adriana and I took a trip to Kiev, Ukraine.  It was one of the major cities in Europe that we still hadn’t visited and we had heard great things about the Orthodox churches in the area.  But as we started doing research for the trip, my wife mentioned that we could also take a day trip to Chernobyl and I was sold.  I’m one of those guys that watches the Discovery channel pretty regularly, and they have these shows with bad special effects on “The World without Humans.”  Well that’s pretty much the story with Chernobyl, and I was looking forward to taking my new 5d Mark III out for a real test drive!

The Chernobyl disaster occurred in 1986.  If you want to read about it in depth you can click on the Wiki link, but suffice it to say the place was evacuated on April 27, 1986.  Since then, there haven’t been any humans living in the immediate area or the city of Prypiat since.  You have to get permission a few weeks in advance to go, there are various tour groups that will give you access and of course they make a pretty penny in the process.  But the radiation levels have decreased to levels that are okay for human exposure for limited periods of time.  They equate being in the area to taking a long haul flight, but suffice to say I wasn’t rolling around on the ground, picking flowers or anything else that would improve my chances of growing a 3rd arm.

One of our first stops was an abandoned kindergarten on the way to the reactor.  It’s a very powerful site, to think that one day there were 5 year olds in here, learning and playing with one another and then another day the entire facility was abandoned.  Now I have to say I went HDR crazy while I was in the area; I know that some people don’t like that type of photography but I thought it fit the scene.  The first picture I took was of the abandoned bunk beds – it’s shocking to see the amount of dust and collected debris when a place has been abandoned for as long as this.  I love the texture in the room, the debris sitting around and the rusted look of the bunks.  There was a shoe left behind on the floor of the room that I also captured, using a large aperture to blur the background.

I then took a photo of another room – here there was a small collection of toys sitting around and I captured this picture of a little doll’s chair, covered in dust and cobwebs.  Sitting beside this chair were little books and coloring magazines that really made you think – what happened to these kids?  What was the evacuation like?

Another room had a bottle, crusted over with dirt and debris, sitting on the floor.  In the background is a blue chalkboard, with crusted paint hanging from the walls.

Finally I walked into this room, which housed the remnants of what looked like a book shelf.  I really like the way this picture turned out, with incredible texture and almost a story book feeling to it.

The next stop on our journey was the actual reactor itself – I was a bit shocked (and nervous?) about how close we got to the 4th reactor, which is the one that blew up back in 1986.  Here you can see a picture of the Geiger counter that our guide carried around to show us the radiation readings.

Next stop for the day was the village of Prypiat.  This was incredible.  The city used to be home for over 40,000 people, many of them working at the power plant.  When the disaster occurred they were evacuated 36 hours later, never to return.  The city is now in a state of complete disrepair (actually the word “disrepair” doesn’t really do it justice).  Everything is condemned, and although we walked around and took plenty of pictures you absolutely cannot go in any buildings.

We learned that the moss is particularly radioactive, meaning it has a tendency to attract and retain the radioactive particles in the area so we were told not to step on it or get too close.  You can see a collection of the photos below.  These two are from the city’s central square – I like the first one with the red nuclear radiation symbol.  I really wish we’d been able to go inside the buildings to get a view of what they look like, but you could see it obviously wasn’t safe and one of the schools actually collapsed just under 6 months prior to our visit.

I snapped this picture below of an abandoned building with an old table saw sitting outside – I thought the picture really captured the feeling of decay and idea of nature conquering technology.  Nearby there was what looked like an old mailbox of some sort; I liked the way the blue color contrasted the natural tones of the forest.

One of the more interesting things to see was an abandoned amusement park, where they had a set of bumper cars and a ferris wheel that supposedly was never used.  It’s only a matter of time until it falls over and crashes to the ground.

It really made me think – this place is “only” 26 years old.  In the grand scheme of things it’s not a terribly long time.  To appreciate the power or nature, and seeing the weeds and trees growing up through the concrete is an amazing sight.  For me, being not only a history buff but also a science freak, I have to say that visiting Chernobyl was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.  I can’t recommend it enough and I would encourage you to go, particularly if you’re a photographer.  It’s a genuine playground for those of you with cameras, the only challenge I had was keeping up with the tour group as I frantically snapped pictures throughout the trip!

To take a closer look at the pictures above and to see the rest of my Ukrainian set, check them out here on SmugMug.  You can also view a slideshow in my portfolio section above.

Next post I’ll share some of the beautiful Ukrainian Orthodox churches that we saw while we there.  Until then, happy shooting!

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