Photographing St. Mary’s Church in Starlight

There’s an incredibly beautiful old wood-frame Catholic church on the village square in Nicasio, California. I first photographed St. Mary’s Church in 1998. It’s not just the simplicity of it’s small white frame with steeple & cross that caught my eye, but the beautiful way it’s sited. The church is situated on the east side of the village’s town square and backed by some of California’s finest rolling oak and rock-studded hills. The scene there beguiles and transports the viewer to a time more than a century ago.

Recently I have been revisiting my favorite landscapes to photograph them under the stars. Last autumn, I returned to Nicasio to attempt a starry night photograph of the church. Unfortunately, distracting shadows cast from night lights ruined my image. I returned several more times, but each time I was foiled by the effects of the ambient light. Regretfully, I finally gave up.

Stars Above Nicasio
This July, a series of seemingly unconnected events eventually led me back to Nicasio and St. Mary’s Church. During early July, Jane Anderson came to my gallery to invite me to photograph the starlit landscape at her Nicasio ridge-top property. Jane owns a collection of my work and was drawn to my recent photographs featuring the night sky. I gratefully accepted her invitation and began photographing there, eventually making Galaxy and Ranch Road, which pleased all of us. Jane kindly introduced me to her neighbor Elaine Doss, who also was receptive to my photographing from her land. A warm association began, but I had no idea that our friendship would lead to my making the photographs I had earlier thought impossible.

Glimpse of Nicasio: Secret Places, Quiet Lands
At the end of July, I accepted an invitation to join a group of artists, who were painting landscapes of private lands around Nicasio for an art exhibit/sale to benefit the Nicasio Historical Society.  Glimpse of Nicasio: Secret Places, Quiet Lands, takes place October 13-15 at the Druids Hall in Nicasio. I was surprised to learn that the exhibit celebrates the 150th Anniversary of St. Mary’s Church! Now… if only I could get those pesky lights turned off, maybe I could make a starry night anniversary portrait of this iconic church.

The Stars Shine Above St. Mary’s Church
Elaine Doss knows just about everyone in Nicasio. As president of the Nicasio Historical Society and a former schoolteacher there, her friendships and ties in Nicasio run deep. I asked Elaine if she could put me in touch with the folks who could turn off the lights on the Nicasio Village Square. Elaine put me in touch with Eric and Kent, members of the Nicasio Volunteer Fire Department and with Bob and Max Brown, who own and manage Rancho Nicasio. Beyond the coordinated & generous efforts of these folks, several other conditions were required to make this photograph; we needed a weekday night, clear skies, and no moon.

I vigilantly watched weather reports and finally on Sept 14, with clear skies forecasted, I met with Max at the Rancho to learn how to turn off their outside lights. Kent returned my call and said he’d meet me at the square to douse the Fire Department’s night lights. Everyone showed up and the stars shone brightly that night! Working between 9 – 10 PM, I timed my long exposures between the headlights of passing vehicles. I created two fine photographs of St. Mary’s that evening, one each from the north and the south of this picturesque old church.  These new photographs will be included in the upcoming exhibit/benefit sale at the Druids Hall in Nicasio. Thanks to everyone, especially Elaine!



3 comments on “Photographing St. Mary’s Church in Starlight

  1. Roberto. Thanks for keeping in touch. Hope all is well back in the UK. Your book is on the top of my “to read” stack. I look forward to spending some time with it soon!

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