Two things often come to mind when thinking about Sedona; beautiful red rocks and pink jeep tours. However, hidden amongst the beauty of Sedona’s red rocks is an amazing catholic chapel called Chapel of the Holy Cross. For photographers and lovers of interesting architecture, I highly recommend taking time to visit this incredible Chapel.
Before I delve into the photography of this chapel, I want to share it’s brief history. A local Sedona rancher and sculptor, Marquerite Brunwig Staude, after visiting the new Empire State Building in 1932, came up with the idea for the chapel design. She spent years searching around the world for the right location. Marquerite first attempted to build it in Budapest with Lloyd Wright, the son of Frank Lloyd Wright, but had to abort that build due to the beginning of World War II. Later on she decided to build the Chapel in Sedona and completed construction on it in 1956. The chapel is literally built on top of two buttes nestled amongst the surrounding red rocks, cactus and cottonwood trees. I am in total awe of her imagination to decide to build on these buttes.
Photographing this chapel is very different that others I have visited since the grounds are vertical. There is no walking around the chapel to capture it’s different angles. To photograph the Chapel’s interior and front entrance, one needs to either hike or drive up a steep road! Fortunately, the best exterior views are obtained immediately upon entering the grounds thanks to a well thought out parking lot. Please note that you would still need to go up the hill the enter the church.
- Late afternoon light is best for photographing the Chapel’s exterior.
- Photograph the exterior from the lower portion of the road.
- Early morning is best for photographing the Chapel’s interior.
- Shoot the Chapel as both a horizontal and a vertical image.
- Use every lens from 17mm to 300mm for different perspectives.
At first glance, I begin to photograph the Chapel in a vertical format to capture its height in the rocks. However, the beautiful settings of the surrounding trees and red rocks are best conveyed in a horizontal format. So be sure to shoot both formats from many vantage points.
Time to go Up:
After photographing the chapel from the lower parking lot, you have two choices. If you are in good shape, I recommend walking up the hill to the entrance. The views are quite nice. If however, you have bad knees, hips, or respiratory issues, drive up the hill and park. It does get crowded so bring lots of patience. For those with handicapped stickers, you are able to park at the very top of the hill next to the church entrance. From this parking lot, there is a curvy walkway up to the Chapel entrance.
A word of warning, when I was there a gentleman with cardiovascular issues parked in the handicapped lot and attempted to make the hike only to end up being rushed to the hospital.
Inside the Chapel:
Remembering I said that the afternoon light produced the best images from the lower parking lot, well the opposite is true for photographing the Chapel’s interior. It is a very small Chapel with limited parking close to the top. Arrive at 9 A.M. when the chapel opens to avoid the crowds. Tripods can be used but due to the small space and the visitors, it is difficult to do. Instead, I recommend either a monopod, or handholding the camera with a high ISO setting. Lastly, wide angle lens between 17-28 mm work best to capture the chapel.
The location of the chapel as well as it’s magnificent cross and massive windows make it a must stop for anyone visiting Sedona. Since the chapel grounds close at 5 or 5:30, I have been told that the best time to photograph the chapel’s exterior is in late winter for the beautiful dusk shot. Please check times as they could change. I was there in May with the sun was still high at 5 p.m and did not get the opportunity for the bucket list dusk shot. Still photographing this incredible chapel was a wonderful experience that I highly recommend.