To get this shot, two ‘rules’ had to be broken: by shooting into the sun and encouraging lens flare.
I usually work with a 50mm lens as wide open as possible, but here space was tight, and to get the horizontal scope I wanted, only a wide-angle would work: a 16-35mm zoom, cranked out to its widest. I often find myself shooting into the sun — I like the blast of warm burnout that it gives, and the dynamic shadows and shapes thrown by its low rays. For this picture, I wanted the vibrancy of the backlit leaves and the enhanced texture of the walls and bark as sunlight skimmed over surfaces.
When at the end of a long Sunday I ended up by chance at this hermitage, a chapel known as Our Lady of Luxembourg in Torgny, a small village at the southernmost tip of Belgium, it looked like my kind of shot. The chapel is quaint and the leafy surrounds are emblematic of this charming part of the Ardennes, but the late-summer colour palette is lush, and crucially the scene — thanks to the untidy right-hand side and the well-behaved left — provides good juxtaposition. I also noted that it could work well as a double-page spread.
To make images like this work, though, it takes a bit of luck, some time (although as the sun gets lower the clock ticks louder) and quite a few clicks of the shutter. There are one or two settings that can help, so I switched to spot metering, and was prepared to over- or underexpose.
As I prefer to have the sun glowing from behind an object or person, after framing the shot I made small adjustments in positioning until the light flooded the viewfinder. I like wider apertures (in this case f5.6) so the focus needed to be fairly tight. Once it all looked good, it was a case of snapping away while bracketing the exposure. There’s a need for speed because at this time of day that light is gone in the blink of an eye.
Published in the November 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)