Pilings, Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC Skyline during Blue Hour
With a seven hour round trip drive included, fitting the PDN PhotoPlus Expo trip into 24 hours makes for a huge day. Increase the drive time to 10 hours (thanks to traffic), include a 1 hour wait at the show admission line due to a system outage (yes, I was preregistered), attend seven planned meetings plus a dinner meeting and I am left searching for a word that means much bigger than huge. Perhaps mammoth?
Still, with the show floor closing at 5:00 PM and rest seeming so unproductive, I decided to plan a shoot between the show and the dinner meeting. This year, I headed over to Brooklyn Bridge Park near Pier 1 (in Brooklyn) to the pilings shown in this picture.
I got onto the shoreline rocks beside the boat ramp and positioned the camera so that the opening between some of the pilings curved into the frame. I adjusted the focal length (with some mostly minor variety used) for a good size balance between the buildings and the pilings. An ultra-wide angle would emphasize the pilings while a standard or short telephoto lens would place more emphasis on the buildings. Another consideration is the levelness of the camera. With the camera vertically level, the buildings toward the sides of the frame remain vertically straight in this image.
The Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens mounted to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III was the perfect choice for this scene. Perfect for both the angle of view/focal length range and for the impressive image quality it provides.
I was in position in front of the piers as the sun set. While I have images captured during sunset that I like, including the sun against the horizon with the last sunlight of the day reflecting on the water, the city lights were not showing at this time of the day and the colors were not as attractive to me as the late blue hour example shown here. I also have some shorter exposures of this scene, but the choppy river did not attract my eye like the buttery-smooth blurred alternatives. I used neutral density filters and adjusted the aperture slightly (between f/8 and f/11) to keep my exposure times at or near 30 seconds as sunset turned into blue hour and then into dark. I started with a 6-stop ND, moved to a 2-stop ND and removed that filter as darkness came.
While this may seem like a long time to shoot a single scene, this was the shot I wanted and I wanted a variety of options to choose from. I was shooting 3 bracketed frames (this is an HDR image) with the longest exposure at or near 30 seconds in duration and I had long exposure noise reduction enabled, meaning that dark frames were captured for an equally long period of time. This means that I was spending several minutes for each potential final image. With exposures that long, one cannot predict the large boats and other detractants that will possibly influence an image and I threw away some frames for this reason. In the end, I had a nice amount of images, but not a crazy number.
Likely, only a few of the images from this shoot will see the light of day. But, I really like those few images and consider the time and effort well spent. I can cross "Pilings at Brooklyn Bridge Park" off of my location bucket list.
The day started at 5:00 AM and ended at 2:45 AM the next morning. The overall results from the day, including the meetings and the show, were totally worth the effort.
30mm f/8.0 30s ISO 100
Capturing the Spirit of Baltimore's Inner Harbor
The historic Inner Harbor seaport is a showcase of the city of Baltimore, Maryland. While I was looking for interesting and creative photos in general on a day trip to this location, my ultimate goal for was to come away with a picture that captured the spirit of Inner Harbor in a single frame. Since I had only the latter part of the day to shoot, I was targeting sunset and the blue hour for that photo.
My afternoon scouting showed that the west side of the harbor offered my favorite view, one that included the most photogenic landmark buildings including the National Aquarium and Baltimore's World Trade Center. From the selected vantage point, the Hard Rock Cafe and Phillips signs also stood out and all of the colorful lights reflected in the water.
Not all waterfront is harbor, so the Lightship Chesapeake and the USS Torsk submarine docked in the background helped depict this waterfront properly as such. Of course, what finishes off the capture of the spirit of Baltimore's Inner Harbor better than a boat aptly named Inner Harbor Spirit docked in the foreground?
After selecting the specific location I wanted for my key photo, I captured a variety of photos using various lenses and focal lengths (there was no getting closer happening here). The scene shown in this sample picture was my favorite and I have it captured at various times during sunset including some with nicely pink clouds in the sky. The image shown here was captured just before total darkness. At that time, a 30 second exposure allowed a smooth motion blur of the very calm harbor, an f/16 aperture caused the lights to show a starburst effect without imparting a too-severe amount of softening of the image (due to diffraction) and the combination of 30 seconds and f/16 allowed a deep blue sky color to be retained.
The Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens is a nice lens and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is of course an awesome camera. This photo is basically as-shot. Based on the Standard Picture Style (in DPP), I cloned out a few paint tiny imperfections on the ship and reduced the brightness of the Hard Rock Cafe sign, Phillips sign and the side of the aquarium using an HDR technique that utilized a darker exposure showing through the primary exposure at those positions in the frame.
24mm f/16.0 30s ISO 100
Capturing Cityscapes During the "Perfect 15" Subset of the Blue Hour
Following Sean's recent winter photography tip suggestion, I took the Canon 11-24mm f/4L Lens to New York City for a late-winter day. New York City is one of the most photogenic cities on the planet and it remains similarly so at all times of the year. Advantages of shooting architecture and cities when it is uncomfortably cold out include fewer people to interfere with your compositions, fewer photographers competing for the same shooting locations and easier isolation of composition-enhancing people while doing street photography.
New York City is extremely large and I doubt that anyone will ever exhaust all of the photo possibilities of this location. For sure I will not. This means that pre-trip scouting is especially important. Using available online resources to visualize the location's available compositions maximizes one's photo time. These resources include maps, satellite imagery, The Photographer's Ephemeris, reviewing photos others captured at the potential location, etc.
Part of this scouting involves determining the direction of sunrise or sunset as this effects the look of the image at a key time of the day for cityscape photography. The sun rising or setting to the side of an image will be the most challenging with the sky taking on a brightness gradient from one side of the image to the other. If the sun is rising or setting behind you, buildings will reflect the brighter sky and the background sky will be darker in relation to the buildings. The sky may also become pink above the horizon in this situation. If the sun is rising or setting in front of you, the sky will be brighter in relation to the buildings, but the building lights will become more pronounced. Both latter options are great. My choice in this example was the in-front-of-me sunset.
Arriving at the location early to verify the choice made during pre-trip scouting is highly recommended. You never know what you might find upon arrival (such as a large construction project), so arrive early enough to implement plan B if necessary. Yes, having at least a plan B and, better yet, a plan C and D is a very good idea. Arriving early also provides the best opportunity to score the perfect shooting location.
On this particular cold evening, there was no competition for shooting location and to completely avoid the chance of people walking into my composition (and to avoid an ugly sign and construction fencing), I setup so that no foreground was visible in the frame. To do so at the focal length I wanted to use (24mm – the longest available on the lens I was evaluating) required extending my tripod down through the curved East River fencing.
The Right Time of Day Makes the Difference
City lights do not come on (or become visible) until it gets somewhat dark and these lights are a key to one of my favorite cityscape looks. The lights add life to the buildings and while cityscapes can be captured in complete darkness, I find that some color remaining in the sky makes a better image.
The "Blue Hour", by definition, lasts for 1 hour just before sunrise and just after sunset (use your online tool or phone app to find out when it happens at your shooting location on your chosen shooting day). However, the perfect shooting time, when the sky color balances with the city lights (and possibly reflections), lasts for closer to 15 minutes within that hour. I'll dub this time period the "Perfect 15" and I can usually narrow my ultimate preference down to a subset of that duration. While the Perfect 15 are ideal for capturing a variety of image types, cityscapes are an especially great use of this short period of time.
While it is possible to capture a number of compositions within the Perfect 15, I find it best to concentrate on one composition at the key time of the day. Fifteen minutes sounds like a very adequate amount of time to capture one image, but I assure you, it is often not. Here is why:
At this time of the day, each f/11 image requires 30 seconds of exposure (roughly) followed by 30 seconds of long exposure noise reduction dark frame capture. Add a few seconds for mirror lockup and multiply each shot by two or three for exposure bracketing (if warranted for HDR) and those Perfect 15 minutes begin to look very short.
Reflect a Great Scene for a Better Image
Want to make a great scene even better? Reflect it in water to double the greatness. Many major cities exist because of the water located by them, and cityscapes often look best when reflected in water. However, these waterways are typically large enough and have enough wind and boat traffic on them to never permit a mirror-smooth reflection. Reflections in rough water can look OK (though somewhat distracting), but making a smooth blur of the water via a long exposure is usually my preference. The Perfect 15 happens at the right time of day for long water-blurring exposures, but the boat traffic presents a problem.
Even during a 30 second exposure, the waves created by a large boat are going to create possibly-undesirable lines in the final image. Also, at this time of the day, boats are required to have lights on and those lights show very clearly as long streaks in the image. Sometimes these light streaks can be removed in post processing (try the content-aware healing brush in Photoshop), but lights on the larger boats (such as ferries) streak across the city details, becoming much more difficult to remove. When this happens, an available option is to simply leave the light streaks remaining in the final image, adding an effect. Most of the time, I find this effect undesirable. Correcting the uneven reflections caused by 30-second wave blurs is usually very challenging.
The Perfect 15 is Short for Even One Image
So, in addition to the over-1-minute exposure captures along with similar durations for exposure bracketed shots (for potential HDR use), a boat moving through an image can cut the remaining available time drastically. A tug boat pushing a barge through the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Skyline scene takes a couple of minutes and the waves don't settle for a period of time after that. The East River Ferry is much faster, but it also makes significant waves. Boat traffic alone took a major chunk out of my Perfect 15 on this day.
Does the Tide Matter?
If your city's waterway is tidal-influenced and water-level subjects, especially in the foreground (such as pilings), are in your frame, make sure that your capture date is ideally timed with the tide. Use the tide charts available for your location to determine this.
The Weather Matters
If it were raining, snowing or foggy, I would not likely have been able to see the city I was photographing, so yes, the weather matters. Aside from being able to see the primary subjects, what the weather is providing becomes decreasingly important for cityscape photography at these times of the day. If you want the sunset to add a significant interest to the sky, there needs to be some clouds to catch color and an opening in the sky allowing the sun to illuminate those clouds. Since I wanted the city itself to be the primary interest in my image and because I wanted a high-percentage weather forecast, I chose a perfectly clear day for this trip. A clear sky provides a great blue color over the city and reflects in the water below it.
Seeing Stars and Aircraft
Cities are usually bright enough to overwhelm the visibility of most stars, but if you happen to be able to see the stars in your images, 30 seconds is probably going to give you some star trails. What to do with the handful of visible stars and their short trails is a matter of taste, but they appeared to be an anomaly in this image. There were not enough stars showing to make them appear as part of the scene, so I removed them.
Along with waterways, large cities usually have busy airports and air traffic very frequently becomes part of these images. The flashing lights from this aircraft generally create long dotted lines through a cityscape captured during 30 the seconds exposures typically in use during the Perfect 15. Again, the choice of what to do about these inevitable additions to the image is up to you. Fortunately, most of the aircraft are flying above the city and can be easily removed in Photoshop.
Replacing Light Bulbs
The waterways commonly found by large cities frequently have bridges over them. These bridges are often landmarks that you will want to incorporate into your images and these bridges commonly have many lights on them. The Brooklyn Bridge is one such bridge. After a severe winter, numerous light bulbs were in need of replacement. I'm sure that there had been very few maintenance crew members volunteering to scale the bridge under the severe temperatures (along with plenty of snow and ice) NYC had for many months prior, but I felt the missing lights negatively impacted the image and took the liberty of replacing the bulbs myself (in post of course).
Note that, while often the highest location in a city, bridges would seem to be great vantage points for cityscape photography during the Perfect 15. Unfortunately, for bridges with traffic on them, this is not the case. The amount of movement on most bridges with vehicular traffic is incredible (especially the large suspension bridges) and long exposure images captured from such bridges are typically very blurry.
This New York City Image
While reviewing the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens, I wanted to put some on-location hours behind this lens and decided that Brooklyn Bridge Park, just across the East River from downtown Manhattan, would be a good destination. I arrived early in the afternoon, spent an hour or so selecting what I thought was the ideal composition for capture during the Perfect 15 and then explored the area for other photographic opportunities.
About 45 minutes before sunset, I came back and anchored myself into the selected shooting location. I setup the camera, perfected the framing using a completely level camera (keeping the buildings vertically straight) and then established the proper focus distance setting. While I have yet to take a miss-autofocused image with this lens, I wanted no chance of that happening when the scene became dark. I used autofocus to get the initial setting, switched to manual focus mode and took a verification image.
While my selected image was captured 41 minutes after sunset, I captured images periodically before entering the Perfect 15. Some of these images are very nice and I'm glad to have them. More importantly, these images allowed me to monitor the exposure settings and how they were changing. There was no question about what settings I should be using when the ideal shooting time came.
While I did some bracketing and captured many exposures before, through and after the Perfect 15, everything came together in one image this time. The boat traffic stopped long enough for the waves to even out. The brightness in the sky leveled with the brightness of the city lights and the brightness of the reflection seems just right to me.
Aside from some of the tweaks I mentioned already (such as replacing burned out light bulbs), this image is basically right out of the camera. I shoot with the Neutral Picture Style selected in-camera to get a lower contrast histogram to best show the camera's available dynamic range and how I'm making use of it. Because this style's low contrast is not typically what I'm processing for, my usual first post processing step is to select Standard Picture Style. I added some saturation and turned the sharpness setting down to "1". Even with a very low "1" sharpness setting, all details in this image are tack sharp. Awesome lens.
Other "Perfect 15" Cityscapes
A few other recent cityscape images can be found here:
Pilings, Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC Skyline at Sunset
Capturing the Spirit of Baltimore's Inner Harbor
Manhattan Skyline and Hamilton Park
A majority of photographers and other observers pack it in when the sun dips below the horizon, but the show is just getting started at sunset. Stick around. If the sun is visible in the sky, unfortunately, the best AM photo time may be in the past. This is the time to make plans for tomorrow. Try shooting during the blue hour and learn what your "Perfect 15" is.
24mm f/11.0 30s ISO 100
City of Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh, home to three rivers (Ohio, Alleghany and Monongahela), is also home to great reflections and many bridges. The reflections of the city, however, are usually color blurs due to wakes from boat and barge traffic. Thanks to the wave-rebounding solid vertical river walls, the waves seem to never dissipate and when planning this long daytrip, I was visualizing a creamy-smooth river of color during the blue hour and later. What I found on this day was ... no boat traffic and very different images than I had visualized. Different in a good way, I think.
The most difficult part of this image capture? Being there.
To take the actual picture, I simply stood on the north shore of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail river walk, centered between the Robert Clemente and Andy Warhol bridges, set the aperture to f/16 to get the star burst effect from lights, adjusted the framing to level (both pitch and yaw to keep the buildings and their reflections vertically straight) and pressed the shutter release (mirror lockup with 1 second delay).
The RAW file post processing was not challenging. In DPP, highlights were reduced (-5), shadows were boosted (+5) and saturation was added. While this result was very good, I opted to brighten the reflection in the water slightly (1/3 stop) using a simple HDR process. Two 16-bit TIFF files were created (one at -.83 EV and one at -.5 EV) and combined in Photoshop.
Being in Pittsburgh for the day meant renting a car the night before (4 drivers with 2 cars is not working so well), driving 4 hours, hiking roughly 3 miles with a full MindShift Gear BackLight 26L (including two tripods, extra cloths, food and water) and overall, being outdoors for 9 hours with temperatures in the teens and twenties (°F). I arrived home at 2:30 AM and got up to return the car in the AM.
The beauty of our brains is that, in a few days, the only thing I will remember is having spent a great day in a beautiful city and the images will last for a lifetime. I'm ready to go back.
Another beauty is the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens that I was "focused" on for the day. I referred to this lens as a "scapes" lens and it performed excellently in its cityscapes roll this day.
20mm f/16.0 30s ISO 100
After researching potential Philadelphia photography locations, I decided to make the sunset and blue hour view of center city from the South Street Bridge my priority. After conveniently parking at the Penn Museum parking garage, I carried a MindShift Gear BackLight 26L full of gear a short distance to the bridge to finalize my scouting. As expected, the bridge piers could be photographed from, eliminating the potentially major mid-span issue of bridge movement caused by vehicle traffic. Satisfied with my plan, I went on to explore the great Philadelphia riverfront and some of the inner city.
I came back to my bridge position about an hour before sunset, setup two tripods and cameras and began taking some long exposures using 6 and 10-stop Breakthrough Photography neutral density filters, capturing the setting sun bathing the city in warm color. Warm color turned into orange in the sky for another nice set of images. But, the best was yet to come.
When the lights in the city became sufficiently bright relative to the sky, the images took on significantly more sparkle – exactly what I was looking for. While I have a very good idea of when this time is happening, I shoot images from before the expected time until the color in the sky is gone. I later select the image captured at the most-ideal time as it is most easily discernable in post.
A 30 second exposure was ideal for eliminating moving people from the image (the riverfront walkway was filled with walkers, joggers, bikers, etc.) and for blurring the water. While a far wider aperture would have provided an adequate depth of field for this image, but f/11 and f/16 create larger starburst effects from the lights. An even narrower aperture will create even larger stars, but I find the detail-softening effects of diffraction to become too strong for this purpose beyond f/16. At this capture time, f/16 at 30 seconds needed ISO 200 for the desired brightness. I could have gone to a 1-minute exposure and ISO 100, but with long exposure noise reduction turned on, that means 2 minutes per image and I wanted a faster capture rate.
Post processing adjustments to this Philadelphia skyline image were primarily adding saturation along with a minor curves adjustment. Often the case when photographing city lights is that some areas of the photo are illuminated more strongly than others, often the photogenic tops of skyscrapers go pure white first. To counter this issue, I captured bracketed exposures and selected a 2-stop shorter variant to put the color and details back into the triangular-shaped gridded roof-top on the BNY Mellon Center building via an HDR process. I usually remove airplane light trails, but ... the up-curving arc, to my eye, seemed to work in this image, so it remains.
I mentioned using two complete camera and tripod setups. I was using a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R cameras with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on one (capturing a wider image including the west side of the Schuylkill River) and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens on the other, capturing a more-tightly framed image emphasizing the city's great architecture with the riverwalk providing a strong leading line into the frame. The two cameras in simultaneous use essentially doubled the take-home from the prime time of this day's shoot.
57mm f/16.0 30s ISO 200
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge
The Little Red Lighthouse, officially named Jeffrey's Hook Light, is a small (40'/12.2m) lighthouse located under the eastern span of the George Washington Bridge (AKA the Great Gray Bridge) in Fort Washington Park, Washington Heights, New York City. The official name of this lighthouse was surpassed by the name given it by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward in their famous 1942 book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. This book was one of my wife's childhood favorites, so ... it was fitting for me to have this location on my photo bucket list and circumstances worked out for me to cross off this line item.
Typically, big city landmarks are readily accessible and easy to visit. While the first applies to this one, for a non-local without a bicycle, the second ... not so much. The problem is the lack of local parking and the significant roads and railroad tracks separating Fort Washington Park and the Hudson River Greenway from the rest of the city in this area.
There are two entrances into Fort Washington Park. I chose the more-northern 181st St option over the southern 158th St entrance as it appeared logistically better. Parking at one of the closest parking garages, Alliance Parking Services (for GPS, use 649-699 W 184th St, New York, NY 10033) resulted in a just-over 1 mile (1.6km) hike to the lighthouse. The landscape in Manhattan and many other parts of New York City is mostly flat, but Washington "Heights" wasn't given its name without reason. While not a mountain by most people's definition, the ascent and descent into the park, over and under the roads and tracks, is noticeable under the weight of a heavy pack.
Loaded into my MindShift Gear BackLight 26L for this trip was the following:
A pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R DSLR bodies
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Gitzo GT1542T Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber Tripod with a Acratech GP-s Ball Head mounted.
Numerous accessories, food, plenty of water, warm clothes.
I hand-carried a second tripod, my current-favorite Gitzo GT3542LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod with an Arca-Swiss Z1 Ball Head mounted.
This gave me two complete camera setups with plenty of focal length overlap in the range I expected to need the most. The redundancy was first and foremost to allow me to take twice as many photos during the short time period within blue hour that I was most-targeting. This shoot consumed most of a day (I arrived home at 2:30 AM) and with the small extra effort of taking a second camera setup, I was getting nearly twice as many photos when the exposure durations hit 30 seconds (with an additional 30-second-long exposure noise reduction) during prime time. I would start one image capture and go attend the second camera setup, located far enough away for a different composition, but close enough that I had a close watch on it from a security standpoint.
Backup in case of failure was the other reason for the second complete camera setup. I was investing heavily enough (time and other costs) in this trip to warrant a backup.
The Little Red Lighthouse shoot went as planned. Arriving late in the afternoon, I climbed around the rocks for an hour or so, trying to decide what compositions would be best for prime time. I ate, rested and went to work as the sun set behind the GWB.
As the sun set, the balance of sky brightness to the light hitting the lighthouse transitioned from silhouette to nearly the opposite. By shooting continuously during this time, I could select my favorite look later. A darker background is always an option, but a brighter sky is not available again until another day (without some post processing techniques).
For this image, I opted for the 11-24L lens set to 11mm to provide a dramatic perspective that included the entire river span of the bridge. To see a sample result captured from the other camera, with a lens choice made for a reason, one that you may not have considered (not focal length or sharpness), check out the pic I creatively titled The Little Red Lighthouse.
11mm f/11.0 30s ISO 200
Manhattan Skyline and Hamilton Park
A 100 degree horizontal angle of view captures a large portion of the Manhattan skyline in a single frame. The buildings leaning outward at the top of the frame reveal the downward angle used to capture this ultra-wide angle image. The fence reveals the Hamilton Park shooting location.
15mm f/16.0 30s ISO 100
Jane's Carousel, Brooklyn, NY
Jane's Carousel is a standout landmark in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, NY. While it is hard to miss the carousel house, the highly-styled words in the concrete are not as obvious. Ultra-wide angle lenses are great for emphasizing the foreground and I decided to emphasize the not obvious in this case, the words:
"Jane's Carousel made by Philadelphia Toboggan Co in 1922"
Jane's Carousel is a very popular location and, while not a necessity, keeping people out of your frame is challenging (an understatement). To start, visiting on a cold winter weekday will reduce the visitor population. Next, taking enough frames to allow all parts of the scene to be captured without people or their shadows in them is key. Fortunately, I had two images that when combined, showed no humans outside of the building. In post, I combined these two exposures to show only the sans-people parts.
At 11mm, it is hard to keep your own shadow out of the frame. By using the self-timer, I was able to step back before the shutter released. The camera's own shadow was the remaining problem. With a clean foreground, I was able to remove the shadow in post processing without difficulty.
11mm f/16.0 1/60s ISO 100
Top of the Rock, New York City
I recently had the opportunity to photograph from the top of the Rockefeller Center, from the observatory decks named "Top of the Rock". The view from this location is excellent and the imagery waiting to be captured is eye-catching, but there are some things you should know before you go. I have posted a guide to help you maximize your time at this location along with many tips that can be applied to other similar locations.
The Ultimate Guide to Photographing at Top of the Rock (and Tips for No Tripods Allowed Locations)
This image was captured at 16mm with the amazing Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens, a great choice for this location. And, the Feisol TT-15 Mini Carbon Fiber Tabletop Tripod made this 2 second shot possible.
16mm f/5.6 2s ISO 100
The Little Red Lighthouse
To get the story behind this image, be sure to read the comments for the image titled The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. As you learned from that page, I had a choice of two great lenses to use for the 28mm focal length this picture was captured at. The question is: why did I choose the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens over the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens?
At the f/11 aperture, the image quality difference between these lenses is unimportant, but ... I did change lenses from one to the other for a specific reason. The 24-70 L II, with its wider max aperture, creates noticeably larger stars from the point light sources in the image, the individual lights. While the results from both lenses would be great, I wanted the extra sparkle that the 24-70 L II would provide.
Compositionally, I moved in as close to the lighthouse as possible (making the "little" lighthouse appear large) while keeping some separation between the lighthouse top and the bridge. I retained the entire leftmost part of the bridge along with some wooded area (Fort Lee Historic Park) in the frame, but excluded a skyscraper located just outside of the frame.
28mm f/11.0 30s ISO 400
Ben Franklin Bridge, Philadelphia, PA
The Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, PA has been on my to-photograph list for a long time and earlier this year, I was technically able to check this attraction off of my list (I decided to keep it on the list for images from a different angle).
Having not been to this location before (aside from driving across the bridge), I needed some daylight time to scout for the evening's photos. I knew the basics of the area based on my research, but onsite finalization of the plan is usually needed. Even though very far from the bay and roughly 90mi (150km) from the Atlantic Ocean, this location on the Delaware River is tidal. I knew that there was a tide and that the tide would be going out during my shooting time (incoming tides require more concern). What I didn't know was the significance of the water level change. My scouting determined that locations close to the early evening water appeared best and I had lots of flowing water in the foreground for the image I envisioned.
As prime time approached, I watched the water level rapidly decrease a significant amount until my side of the river became nearly empty. There was nothing I could do about the situation and I was not about to attempt walking out into the quicksand-like muck. As photographers must always be ready to do, I embraced what I had to work with. The good news is that, as the water level dropped far enough, I had wet mud and pools of water that nicely reflected the bridge and city, creating a look that I may like even better than the image I had visualized.
On a good day, Philadelphia is an over-3-hour drive for me. The ideal time of the day to photograph the city lights with at least a little color in the sky is only a small fraction of that time duration. Life is busy and when it comes to good images, more is rarely worse than less. If you are a professional photographer, you count on your images for your income. If your primary income is not generated by photography, you probably cannot spend as must time in the field as you wish. To maximize your image volume relative to effort expended, perhaps close to a doubling effect, run two complete camera setups.
If you read my Canon EOS 80D review, you saw an image showing one angle of the Ben Franklin bridge. With a very short period of time to capture images and each image taking approximately a minute to capture (a 15-30-second exposure followed immediately by a same-length long exposure noise reduction process), having at least a second complete camera and tripod setup nearly doubled my images for this evening. While the 80D and Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS USM came out of the MindShift Gear BackLight 26L later in the evening, I mostly used the 5Ds R and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II on a Gitzo GT3542LS with an Arca-Swiss Z1, set up close to the bridge.
About 100' (33m) to the north, I had another 5Ds R mounted to an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens on an Gitzo GT1542T Traveler with an Acratech GP-s Ball Head as my second primary camera and lens combination.
I very frequently utilize a pair of cameras when shooting landscapes and cityscapes before sunrise, after sunset or even when working with strong neutral density filters under bright sunlight. The process is simple. I find a unique composition for each camera. Upon finishing one camera's setup and triggering the shutter release, I run to the other camera (well, I sort-of ran and stumbled over the big rocks in this case) and did the same. By the time I return to the first camera, it is usually finished or nearly finished with its processing. I quickly evaluate the image captured, make any adjustments I feel are warranted and repeat the process.
If running two camera setups not immediately within reach, safety for the gear must be considered. I wouldn't call the area below the Camden, NJ side of the Ben Franklin Bridge the safest I've been in. It was dark, there were no other people around and I kept a very close eye on the second camera setup, watching for anyone sketchy approaching. Having the cameras setup this far apart gave me very different perspectives of the bridge and city vs. simply different framing of the same perspective. The 5Ds R would permit strong cropping to achieve a similar framing adjustment, so I wanted something completely different from the second camera.
With so many images that I like captured that evening, I struggled to pick out one to share (part of the problem of having perfectionist tendencies). Three months later, I forced myself to pick one. This was it. Hope you like it and hope even more that you can increase the number of great images that you capture.
30mm f/11.0 15s ISO 400
Ben Franklin Bridge as Seen from Camden, NJ
Earlier this year, I posted a Ben Franklin Bridge image and talked about running back and forth between two camera setups during the shoot. At that time, it was requested that I share an image captured by the second camera and ... I am crossing that request off of my to-do list with today's post.
As is often ideal for cityscapes, the timing for this image was such that just a touch of color remained in the sky and the sky brightness balanced nicely with the city lights. With this camera's closer-to-the-bridge perspective, the closest bridge support was emphasized and the broad dark line from the underside of the bridge leads deep into the frame. The river keeps the bottom of the frame somewhat clean (giving the image a foundation) and many of the city's best-known tall buildings are framed between the two in-the-river supports, adding interest to the frame. (full disclosure in case you go here: I removed a small conduit from the center of the bridge support for a cleaner look.)
With good gear and basic skills, this image is not that challenging to capture and as is often the case, being there is the biggest key to success.
45mm f/16.0 30s ISO 200
Spring Garden Street Bridge View of the City of Philadelphia
When planning for a big photo daytrip, I usually have a packed-full itinerary carefully planned out and select the day based on the desired weather matching the forecast along with various other factors. But, sometimes even very careful planning does not work out.
This particular day had set up perfectly and I executed the plan, making the roughly 6-hour round trip drive to Philadelphia.
Upon arrival, I immediately discovered that preparations for the NFL Draft ceremonies, including installation of multiple enormous covered stages, had completely taken over the art museum, including the parking area I was planning to use. The backup plan was implemented for parking and the art museum, one of my intended subjects, quickly hit the questionable list.
The morning and early afternoon were forecasted to be cloudy and I drove in rain during much of the trip into the city. While that might not sound like the ideal forecast for city photography, the cloudy skies were going to provide ideal light for interior photography at a large church. Soft light coming in the windows would add life to the interior, but direct sunlight burning highlights into an image would be avoided.
Upon arrival at the church, I found the doors ... locked. The church's website said it would be open. The city employees watching over the area contacted their superiors and were told that the church was supposed to be open. Some church employees were even trying unsuccessfully to get in. About two hours later, the church was still locked and I gave up the wait, moving on to scout for later opportunities.
A blue hour ultra-wide angle view of the art museum entrance was on my to-photograph list for the day, so this was the next shot to be scouted/planned for. Because this view faces somewhat into the setting sun, the ideal blue hour timing was slightly later than another blue hour photo I had planned. I worked through the NFL Draft construction project and a security worker permitted me to go to the top of the art museum steps (the ones "Rocky" climbed) behind the main NFL Draft stage. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the top of the steps, I discovered more large tents covering most of the main entrance. Scratch primary photo #2 from the list.
Scouting the view from the Spring Garden Street Bridge was next on the list. The goal was to photograph the downtown skyscrapers bathed in the warm late day light and a clear sky to the west was needed for that. The skies were forecasted to clear in the afternoon but I was not optimistic of the clearing happening in time. Finally, in late afternoon, the heavy clouds quickly moved past, showing a beautiful blue sky.
I arrived at this location quite early and set up two tripods with a pair of Canon EOS 5Ds R cameras with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lenses mounted. I waited, watching the perfectly clear sky with highly anticipated success, but alas, just minutes before the sweet light happened, a cloud bank rolled in and shut down the light, erasing major photo goal #3.
With three of five planned image series already failed, the day was not shaping up well, but two photo goals remained. Fortunately, the cloud bank that shut down the city-in-sweet-light image did not make it past the city before darkness and photo opportunity #4, the image shared here, was a home run.
The ideal blue hour light only lasts a few minutes and the ideal time is often easier to best-determine when reviewing the images on a computer at home, so I simply shoot constantly through that short time window. However, a clue to when the time is ideal is when proper f/16 exposures are between 15 and 30 seconds.
Why f/16? Live View with DOF preview showed that I had enough depth of field at f/8 and the images would have been sharper if captured at that aperture, but ... I like the star effect that a narrow aperture creates from the city lights. The straight lines from the city buildings sharpen nicely even at f/16 and I seldom regret this aperture choice for this purpose.
Because I was shooting from an elevated bridge, the camera was able to be leveled (for both pitch and roll), a requirement if keeping the edges of the buildings vertically straight is desired. Another takeaway from this image is that telephoto lenses are great for cityscape photography. Telephoto focal lengths keep distant subjects large in the frame and the city skyscrapers were a primary subject, so keeping them large was desirable.
With the blue hour past and a good set of images captured on two cameras, it was time to make photo #5 happen. The goal was a nighttime photo of City Hall from the center of S. Broad St. and getting there required a 1.6 mi (2.6km) walk. I had been carrying a heavily-loaded MindShift Gear BackLight 26L (including two tripods) all day, but ... whatever it takes is the motto of many photographers. I could rest on the drive back home.
Upon arriving at City Hall, I discovered huge – you guessed it – NFL Draft banners adorning each side of City Hall. While a photo with the banner may have been good for memories of the event happening in this city, it was not what I wanted. I was tired and opted to simply walk back to car.
So, out of 5 potentially great series of photos, I brought only one home with me. While that batting average is not very good, I'm happy with the images I did get and another positive spin is that ... I will not need to do much research to make another day-filled photo itinerary for this city with a hopefully-more-productive result. Alas, the NFL Draft will forever be a memory as there it is, advertised on the large blue billboard near the center of every frame I captured here.
88mm f/16.0 20s ISO 100
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