The most famous church in the historic center of Quito must be La Compania de Jesus. It is famous for being bathed in gold. Just about every imaginable surface is either painted with murals or covered in gold leaf. This church is also one of the few that cannot be photographed by tourists.

But if you write a blog and want to share photos that will help promote the La Compania de Jesus as a tourist destination, I have a secret to tell. You can photograph the church for a grand hour without other tourists around.

The front altar of La Compania de Jesus includes an painted statue of God in a blue gown and pink robe looking down on the child Jesus flanked by his kneeling parents, Mary and Joseph
A set of gold doors framed by two stairways, one real and one painted

1. Ask Permission to Photograph La Compania de Jesus

A couple of weeks before moving back to the United States, I visited the offices of La Compañia de Jesus, just a couple of blocks away from the church itself. I took a business card and a local friend. The first was to prove that I actually write a blog and that I am a professional. The second was just in case my Spanish failed me. It didn’t but it was good to have a friend along anyway. Dealing with any kind of bureaucracy is intimidating even in my own language.

But the process was not very complicated at all. I filled out a sheet of paper with my contact information and included the approximate date of publication of the photos. After I filled out the document, I took a business card with the young man’s name and walked back over to La Compañia de Jesus to schedule my morning. We chose the next week on a Friday and I could arrive at 7:45 am. Done.

A statue of Mariana de Jesus laid in rest at the base of an altar
Side chapel bathes in gold with central statue of the Virgin Mary
Mariana de Jesus, the patron saint of Quito; La Compania de Jesus, dressed in black robes, seated holding a skull and lilies, surrounded by gold details | ©Angela Drake
A dark wood confesional stands out against walls covered with gold leaf

2. Arrive Prepared

And so that’s what I did. It is my first “official” photoshoot of a church. I learned a few things in the attempt. Luckily, I brought all of my lenses. My wide-angle was great for a couple of shots but was not ideal for most. My most flexible lens is 18-105mm and I took the best shots with it. I also took a lens I normally reserve for birds, a 120-400mm. I wanted to get some detailed pictures at the highest levels and also from the altar itself, but without looking straight up. My downfall? I had given my good tripod to my videographer (the youngest son) and went with a tripod that just couldn’t hold steady for the pictures in the dome. So make sure you take a great tripod that can handle the weight of ALL your lenses.

An intricate organ in gold and silver sits below an archway in the choirstall below
Close up of two portraits in the dome of Compania de Jesus

3. Have A Plan of Attack

It is essential to have a plan before you arrive. An hour sounds like a long time but this church has so many nooks and crannies that it can be tough to focus on the photos you know you really want.

I went around the church three times, once with each lens. That was faster than taking lenses on and off at each place. And with each go around, I focused on different types of photos. Obviously, with the wide-angle, I focused on large shots that give a general idea of the space in the church. The zoom lens was perfect for detail shots at a distance. And with my most flexible lens, I took pictures of spaces within and a few details that I could walk up next to.

View looking into the dome in front of the gold altar
Looking up at the central dome in tones of light blue, dark portraits, and gold trim
A small window in the higher reaches of the church allows light to reflect of the gold leaf ceiling

4. Be Prepared To Make Do With Natural Light

All of these photos were taken with the light available. No flash photography is allowed. Again, take an excellent tripod. If you do not have a remote control for your camera, do consider taking delayed shots so that when you press the button to shoot, the camera waits 2 seconds. Then your hand is less likely to shake the camera. For more tips, check out this article that gets into the details of ISO, shutter speed, and more.

Overall, I am content with my first architectural photoshoot. But, truth be known, I would love another attempt at this. Maybe on our next visit to Quito!

View of the gold leaf ceiling, the main altar, and darker side apses