Photographing the Santa Cruz Mission: Making Lemonade

The interior with a bleach bypass treatment
The interior with a bleach bypass treatment

On our recent trip to Northern California, Mary and I photographed four missions and now have only one more to go to complete our mission project.  Of the four, Santa Cruz was the toughest and most disappointing.  Given time and schedules, you got to make lemonade when you get a lemon.  Here’s how:

Here is what you might see when you drive up
Here is what you might see when you drive up

The mission was founded in 1791 and named for the feast of the Exultation of the Cross. The current Holy Cross Church is a very large church built on the site of the original mission in 1889, and it remains an active parish church.  The Plaza Park is in front of both the large parish church and the mission.  A half-size replica of the original mission church was built in the 1930s and functions as a chapel of Holy Cross Church.  This is a very busy set of streets in a residential neighborhood with a lot of cars and telephone poles.

1312_PSA_Santa Cruz_0085-Edit

In order to get a decent shot of the mission, I needed to isolate it as best I could from the surrounding area, and I used “content aware fill” in Photoshop to erase telephone poles and power lines.

1312_PSA_Santa Cruz_0088

One of the things I like to do with the mission photos is to use a bleach bypass effect to de-saturate the colors, or use a sepia tone, or black and white.  These processing choices just seem to convey the feeling of the missions better than a vibrant color treatment.

1312_PSA_Santa Cruz_0082-Edit
1312_PSA_Santa Cruz_0080

Finally, if the interior or exterior are not that amazing, Mary and I start to look for little details that are interesting.  We were getting some pretty good light while we were inside, so we started to concentrate on small intimate details like the pews and candle offerings.

The Santa Cruz mission may be the least photogenic of all of the missions and I would not recommend it as the main attraction for a trip to Santa Cruz, but with some imagination and a little help from software, you can make sweet lemonade out of this lemon.

Here are our two main blogs about the CA missions – CA Missions I and CA Missions II.  You can also search our blog for California Missions.

To see more of our photographs, please go to

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