Upon arrival to the Smithfield Street Bridge in downtown Pittsburgh, the rain had stopped and the sun began to rise…slowly, but quickly enough that time was of the essence. The color was peak and fading fast.
Scouring the bridge for a pleasing composition, I noticed a puddle on the center median of the bridge. Not being one to shy away from a precarious perch, I crossed the inbound lane of the bridge, only slightly illegally, to go play in the water. Laying on the ground in a puddle to catch a unique reflection has kind of been my thing since 2011 and I’ve only been mistaken for a homeless vagrant 7 or 8 times. In fact, as the story goes, that’s how I made my first dollar as a photographer. While walking along the North Shore, some lovely, kind soul had pity upon me, the face-down-on-the-ground-in-a-puddle photographer, and tossed a few bucks on my back so I could grab a bite to eat when I came to.
But I digress. Back to “Maze” and the near tragedy.
Crossing the traffic and dodging speeding buses was a challenge, sure. But squeezing my larger than average frame on to a smaller than average bridge median proved to almost be the end of me. Or at least my leg which was hanging off the side of the median as said incoming bus was whizzing by. ‘JP Diroll – Risking Limbs For Your Art since 2017’ has a nice ring to it, yes? Monty Python and the Holy Grail anyone?
Unfortunately for me, the tale had not yet concluded. Mr. Bus Driver that almost took off my leg must have been pretty ticked at me. Although it can’t be proven, we (myself and the two friends on the bridge with me) are 137% certain the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police received an anonymous tip from him that “5” people were hanging out on the bridge. Illegally. Uh-Oh.
Now, I’m not saying I should have been on the bridge, specifically the middle of it. I shouldn’t have. But come on, ‘5 people.’ I’m a big guy, but as big as 3 adults. Low blow Mr. Bus Driver, why you gotta be so mean?
So there it is. I did not lose a limb. I did not lose any days, hours, or even minutes as a free man. But I DID gain one hell of a photo, a slightly exaggerated story, and a lifelong memory!
The full moon is a wonderful event to photograph. Something about watching it rise fills me with energy and curiosity. Even when I don’t plan to photograph the moon, I love to watch, often from the back window of my home, as it crests the horizon,
When I do photograph the celestial event, though, I like to have an idea and a plan to execute the idea. But you know what they say about the best laid plans…
Usually, my plan involves getting to the spot I’ve chosen no less than an hour before the man in the moon is set to show his face. Sometimes, this early arrival spells trouble for my plan. See, as much vigor as the thought of creating a new moon shot fills me with, the idea of waiting turns me into my four year old daughter. She doesn’t like to sit still, and I don’t like it very much lately either, so my mind wanders. Then I do.
For this latest moon adventure, I realized this is probably not a bad thing.
The photo above is an older photo, taken in 2015 from the West End Bridge in Pittsburgh. I was hoping to recreate it, but do it better. And had everything gone to plan, I would have walked away with a nice, solid image that would have probably made a lovely print. But it wouldn’t have been different. I wanted to make something different and I bet that’s what you want to see to!
So I abandoned my plan and let my mind wander.
First, my right brain took charge, allowing creativity to also wander. A lot of “what ifs” charged through my mind. That’s when I noticed the lovely light on the railing in front of me. Bingo! “I’ll work with this until the moon rises in 30 minutes,” I told myself.
This is when my left brain kicked in and started firing on all cylinders, bringing out that engineer in me that I often keep hidden. I must have analyzed every spot on the bridge for a good 100 yards, trying seemingly endless combinations to make sure the city would be framed perfectly by the railing. Finally I found my spot.
Then the Mr. Moon showed up, close to where I knew it would rise, but the composition wasn’t right. There went that plan again. Good thing I didn’t give the right brain the rest of the night off. Now that the moon was present, I had all of the pieces of the puzzle and I just needed to put them together.
After one hour and fifteen minutes of tinkering – an inch up, three railing supports to the left, back up half a foot – it all came together and this was the final photo:
It’s DEFINITELY different but still reflective of my style (if I have such a thing) and it was more challenging to create than the original concept, which makes the final image that much more rewarding.
DETAILS ABOUT THE IMAGE
Thank you for making it this far. If you like the final image and want some more details, this is the place for you.
1 – THE MOON – obviously, the moon was critical in the image. Not just including it, but framing it as well.
2 – FRAMING – the framing was the single most important part of the image. Not just the composition and concept, but the actual spacing of the building between the railing. Notice the Gulf Building on the left – dead center of the railings. The US Steel Tower and the new PPG tower equally spaced from the railing as well.
Keeping the balance in the image and preventing the buildings from intersecting the bridge, all while keeping the moon centered too proved to be quite the challenge, thus the nearly hour of tinkering with the camera and tripod to get everything lined up perfectly
3 – SHARPNESS – because I photographed this with a telephoto lens and only few feet from the railing, getting the entire scene to be in sharp focus in on frame wasn’t an option. So I did an exposure with the focus on the railing and a second immediately after, focused on the buildings. I combined them in Photoshop for maximum depth of field.
So there you have it, a little backstory to what’s probably my favorite image of the year. I hope you enjoyed the photo and the recount of how it was created.
In life, they say it’s good to have a plan, a strategy to help achieve the goals or tasks we set for ourselves. I wholeheartedly agree. Without a plan, I all too often find myself orbiting around my own brain wondering what to do next. Having a step by step, actionable list of things to do is helpful to me and essential to keeping me focused and on task.
But that’s really only feasible from the business side of my photography, not the artistic and creative side. Sure, when a sunrise needs to be prepared for, many things can be mapped out and counted upon. I know the sun WILL come up and I know WHERE it will rise. I know the bridge that I want to photograph or make photos from will be there, potholes and all, because hey, this is Pittsburgh. But there are factors that are beyond control. Traffic getting to the city, complete drear and cloud cover (again…Pittsburgh), or my 6 month old baby needing me at 6AM so I’m late for the sunrise are a few that spring to mind. These circumstances render a plan completely useless, causing photography to often take on “take what you’re given” mentality.
Often times, this take what you’re given approach ends up feeling a concession. You can’t get what you planned or hoped for so you settle for something different and presumably not as good. In my experience though, different is better than good.
Other times, luck prevails, the weather cooperates, and the stars align. Or in my case, the planets do.
The weather in Pittsburgh this last week of January reached record breaking lows and can only be described by most as brutally cold. The meteorologists said stay inside but what I heard was the rivers are going to freeze. Time to make a plan. So I did.
And what did we just learn about plans. They change. The river was frozen, yes, but not nearly as much as I’d anticipated…or hoped. I’ve seen it completely frozen over several times when temperatures weren’t nearly as cold. Most of the river was still flowing, but with large chunks of ice slowly floating along. So I went with a long exposure to convey the motion of the floating ice contrasting with the static ice that was building along the bank of the river. Cool. Pun intended.
What I wasn’t accounting for, or expecting, is what I’m calling a happy little accident. And I was lucky enough to catch 3 of them!
If you look at the photo, you’ll see the moon and two bright stars. Normally I’m pretty in tune with where the moon is going to be, but I read my app wrong and was surprised, pleasantly, to have it in such a pleasing spot for my intended composition. Happy accident number 1. But those two bright stars, it turns out, are actually Venus and Jupiter. This was totally unplanned for, I must admit. They are a tiny, yet impactful, morsel of photographic tastiness that you were completely unaware of but privileged enough to not only see, but include in your photo in a meaningful AND intentional way! Happy accident number 2!
…and happy accident number 3? Well, I was lucky that Uranus wasn’t also in the picture!
You can read more about Jupiter and Venus HERE
One of the things I’ve struggled with in keeping up with this blog is what the focus should be. Time after time I’d sit down with an idea, write a couple sentences, maybe even a paragraph or two, and then abandon it because it didn’t match the theme of the blog. There was a major flaw with this: there was no theme. There was no structure or cliffhanger to make you tune in next week to see what happens. It was a random collection of stories and photos supporting the story.
I know what you’re thinking: “Boy, this guy is doing a lousy job at selling his own blog.” To that I say…”True story!” But that was the old blog. That was the old JP. The new JP is firing up his revamped blog that is going to be completely different and more exciting than ever before. The new blog is going to be…wait for it…
….A random collection of musings, stories, maybe some humor, and of course, PHOTOS (I am a photographer, after all) from the far off place of JP Land. (If you’re interested in traveling there, now is the time…nobody goes there anymore and flights are cheeeeeap!)
So why no dramatic change to the original “structure?” Because I know my strengths and at this very moment those DO NOT include the ability to write a blog that can substitute as a novel.
Instead, I want the blog and stories to be for people who have followed my work for years as well as those who are just discovering it. I want it to be for those who like pretty words, those who like pretty pictures, and those who like pretty words about pretty pictures. I want it to be where people can escape the mundane of everyday life…okay that sounds trite, I admit, but I do want to create a 5 minute retreat with each post that at least one person can relate to, even if that person is only myself. I might just even add a bit of humor – work with me on this one, I’ve only been a dad for 3 years but I’m getting the “Dad joke” down pat. I want this to be just what it’s always been, but with more regularity. I want it to evolve as I evolve.
And this time, I’m doing exactly what I want to do which is to make this blog an extension of myself. To do that properly, to share my stories, I have to examine the story of me, learn who I was, who I am now, and who I want to be. But you’ll have to tune in later for all that…oh look, my first cliffhanger!
Today was a long time coming. One of the best natural elements or weather conditions to shoot in is, in my opinion, fog. I’m always on the look out for it. It adds an eerie mood to a photo and really translates well to monochrome. The best fog I can remember in the city was late in 2011 and ever since I’ve been waiting for it again. Well it came today…and it came with a vengeance. I’m not going to get into great detail here today because I’ll be using the photos from today for my Kickstart blog post next Monday (sorry, no Kickstart today as I was unable to make it out last week 😦 ). Anyhow, it was a pretty productive morning, starting on Mount Washington hitting three different overlooks, but the fog was far too dense. I’m not one to miss an opportunity so I set out on a mission…I was going to shoot this fog. I headed south and landed at the Smithfield Street Bridge. It’s a great little bridge as the concrete barrier allows you to climb up and set up shop. For this particular image, I wanted long and drawn out light trails. The sun was rising quickly so my shutter speed was getting shorter and shorter. As my exposure gets shorter, so go my light trails. Luckily I was able to catch a few buses who didn’t have a problem speeding. There quick pace allowed for a 2.5 second exposure with a nice elongated light trail. The finished produce is actually two 2.5 second exposures stacked on each other. Enjoy!
As I mentioned in my last post, I intend to have a theme or central idea for my Kickstart weekly series. For this week, I wasn’t sure what that theme would be. I have a general list of ideas but wanted to be spontaneous I suppose so I ignored my list. There was a Pittsburgh Pirates game on Monday evening, the day I do my shooting for the following week’s post, so I knew the Roberto Clemente Bridge would be closed to vehicle traffic. I decided this would be a great location so I headed there to set up shop. It wasn’t long after checking out the scene and conditions that I had my idea. I’ve always wanted to portray just how much the position of your camera can impact a final image. In composition, perspective is key, and it can be changed in a variety of ways: you can take a few steps to your left or right, forward or backwards; you can rotate your body and/or camera a few degrees; you can angle the camera up or down; or you can keep your feet exactly where they are and just raise or lower your camera. The last options was the best choice for this “experiment” as I wanted to the center of the bridge to remain moderately close to the center or my image and moving from my chosen spot would have not afforded me the look I was going for. I created three images with three different camera heights and the results are three completely different images. At the end, please feel free to take my brief poll to let me know which of the 3 images you like best.