An evening under the stars at an abandoned church

Ok, that title is not exactly what you expected. Under the stars at an abandoned church? Are you crazy?

I was wanting to get some time under the stars and the evening weather was forecasted to be clear skies and relatively warm.  And there was a location that was on my list of places to check out –  Loucks Grove Church in rural Adair County.  So I combined the two items together.  I get it – some of you would NEVER combine these two items together.  Darkness.  Abandoned.  Yeah, this isn’t for everyone.

Of course, I didn’t really want to do this trip alone, so who else could I get to with me.  My wife?  Uhhh, no.   I wouldn’t even ask her that question.  In order to get someone else to go, it would have to be someone crazy.  Someone willing to hear “abandoned church and dark night skies” and be intrigued.  

Yes, I would need to ask a teenager.     

I turned to my nephew Grant and described the scenario.   Got an instant “Yeah, that sounds cool.”

He’s been on a number of crazy photo adventures with me, but most of the trips involved something in downtown Des Moines or perhaps the State Fair. 

When we arrived at the church, it was already completely dark.   The first task was to check out the outside grounds – to make sure it was safe to wander.  Looking for fences, holes, anything that would be an issue, but other than some overgrown bushes and trees, we were fine.  We then headed inside.

The interior was marked with graffiti and there was a broken and abandoned piano.  All of the glass in the windows were broken.  In fact, one of the graffiti markings was inscribed with a date that was only 2 days earlier.  We looked at each other and realized that other people like to hang out here and they had just been here recently.   Not a good feeling. 

Since I was after night sky shots, we didn’t spend much time inside the church.  We walked the grounds again, looking for angles and options for photos.  I knew that we would eventually be working on light painting –  which is a technique using a flashlight to add lighting to a photo.  Many times, we also add written text.  This is done by having a person spell out letters and text with a flashlight during a long exposure photo

While I was setting up a photo for light painting, I thought it would be a good idea to have lights placed inside the church, shining outwards.  I turned to my nephew Grant and asked him to take a set of LED lights inside the church and point them out the windows, so it looks like the lights are on in the church.  Grant looked directly at me and with a completely serious face, he replied “No.  I’m not doing that.  I go along with a lot of things that you ask, but I am not going back inside that church by myself”     I laughed… as I had finally hit his breakpoint.  He really does go along with pretty much everything I ask and this was the point where it stopped. 

So we walked back into the church together… set up the lights on the lowest power available and projected them through the open windows (all the glass was knocked out, probably years ago) 

We also left the lights inside the church and then drove down the road to get a photo from a distance. During that time, someone else drove by the church and slowed down, as if they were wanting to go in.  Of course, the idea of lights being on in the church presented them with a dilemma.  They stopped quickly, didn’t leave their car, and then drove on. 

Location: Loucks Grove Church, near Stuart, Iowa

Standing at the entrance to Loucks Grove Church in rural Adair County.

When we were working on light painting photos – this was the first photo in the sequence. We first took the photo to get the stars – a 30 second photo. Next, we added the lights inside the church and ran the same 30 second exposure and got this for the result.

The next step in the process was to have Grant take a flash light and spell something out backwards (so that it appears right to the camera).

Same concept as above – just that Grant switched to spell out his name instead of IOWA.

Here’s the final shot from down the road –  its stacked photo, combining all the individual shots for a shot of the stars moving over the abandoned church.  

After we finished up at the church, we then stopped along a gravel road that had no farms or houses. This is a 20-second exposure of a single tree on a hill with the constellation of Orion overhead.
Another 20 second exposure of just a gravel road heading off into the distance with stars overhead.

This is the same 20-second photo as above – I just walked out into the scene and held a flashlight pointing to the sky.
We also ran across an old-style windmill and Grant captured this shot against the constellation of Orion.

Another view of the windmill against the night sky in rural Adair County.

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