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In September 2012, I was fortunate enough to hear about the demolition of an old hotel in Houston, TX. The Ben Milam hotel was 80 years old and it had been abandoned for quite some time. A developer bought the property and contracted D.H. Griffin to demolish the hotel. D.H. Griffin weakened the structure considerably so that the building implosion would go flawlessly.
To add to the spectacle of a building implosion, this hotel sat right across the street from our Baseball Stadium, Minute Maid Park and a Catholic Cathedral (Annuciation Catholic Church) ; so the implosion had to go exactly as planned.
I drove out to the area to look around the night before so I could see what angles would give me the best shot. The problem was, I had no idea how big the safety perimeter of the building implosion was going to be, so I picked multiple locations for the shoot. This also allowed me to start debating internally on what lens to use for which distance and under what lighting condition.By Googling “D.H. Griffin radio frequency”, I was able to learn that D.H. Griffin had used 464.6000mhz for their radios on past demolitions, so I confirmed this the night before by listening to their radio chatter with a scanner. Always do your homework in advance!!
The day of the shoot, I took my camera gear, some dust masks, plastic shopping bag and radio scanner with me to the site a couple of hours before they dropped the building; but I’ll get to that later.
When I arrived, there were already quite a few people camping out to watch as the historic hotel came down. They had the safety perimeter marked and I was surprised that all of the spots that I had marked the night before were much further than I had anticipated. I ended up only having to be a block and a half away from the building implosion site. Of course, this greatly affected my choice lens for the job. I made a decision on the fly and took some test shots to make sure that I had plenty of light to shoot as fast as possible when they hit the charges. Clack! Clack!!
I ended up choosing a 35mm prime lens f1.8/640iso for the shoot. I was shooting with a Nikon D5100 in full raw, so I tested how many pictures I could get at 4 fps before my buffer slowed me down. This was a key element to planning how to shoot this building implosion, because if I missed it, it’s not like there was going to be a second take.
Let’s take another look at the other items that I brought with me to the shoot and will discuss their importance.
Items that you need to shoot a Building Implosion
This should be self-explanatory, but I was the only one in the crowd that brought masks. I passed them out to a few friends. As people walked by, we got some strange looks, but I didn’t care. I have been around buildings when they collapse and whatever is in the building, comes out of the building at great pressures causing huge clouds of dust that can envelope multiple city blocks. Let’s not forget that no matter how hard the construction crew tried to remove it, there is probably some asbestos in that building not to mention the concrete dust alone can do all sorts of damage. Keep in mind that a building implosion means Large Clouds of Dust!
You only have two sets of eyes, so I recommend wearing eye protection even if you are far away from the building implosion. Clouds of cement, asbestos and other harmful things will be in the air, so it’s best to protect your eyes. Again, Large Clouds of Dust when around a building implosion.
Plastic Shopping Bag
Again, this sounds a little self-explanatory, but a shopping bag works just fine as a quick means to cover your camera in order to protect it from a ball of dust that is going to rush towards you once you are done shooting the falling building. There were a lot of folks that ended up putting their cameras in their shirts or bags, but if you have been in a dust storm before, you know that is only partially effective. I am not a camera repair expert, but I can only imagine what concrete particles will do to the sensor/mirror of your camera. It’s cheap, looks funny, but it works.
This is completely optional, but if you are going to shoot at a building demolition, then a Radio Scanner is a great tool to have at your disposal. I was not one of those who was sitting around with my camera in the “On” position for hours waiting; I heard the foreman do his checks and then give it a go for launch. Having a radio to listen in to the action definitely gave me the upper hand when it came to timing. If you have a scanner and it is possible to go out there the day before to make sure you have the right frequency, then by all means, make that a priority in your forward reconnaissance of the site that you will be shooting. Had I waited until the day of the shoot, I might have been lost on the timing of the implosion. Among other things, it was funny to listen to the guys talking on the radio and entertained us until the hit the switch.
I mentioned my buffer earlier and how my camera will shoot 4 fps until it loads the buffer and then the camera slows down? Well, knowing this, I wanted to make sure that I got the shots of the building in motion, not just standing there while charges detonated. I watched quite a few building implosions on YouTube in order to get a better idea of when I should start holding the shutter. I waited until about the 4th charge detonation before I even touched the shutter, wanting to save my fastest frames for when the building was in motion. Again, preparing in advance was essential because otherwise, I probably would have started holding the shutter button at the first charge, resulting in a long series of images of the building just sitting there stationary – not the shots I really wanted.
So in review, make sure to do your homework ahead of time. Take the proper safety equipment with you (Mask/Goggles) and arrive early so you get a good shot.
This was my first shoot of a building demolition, but I can guarantee that it will not be my last. It was the bomb!
1. Make a List of Locations to shoot on your Photography Trip
When planning a photography trip, I like to make a list of locations (complete with addresses) that I would like to shoot in advance of my trip. This saves time and eliminates downtime. If you only have a couple of days to visit somewhere, you want to know in advance of some places that you would like to shoot in order to maximize your time. Of course, along the way you will likely find things that you also want to shoot and that is what makes a photography trip exciting. You may leave thinking you will get one thing and by the time you are back home, you found a gem along the way. The picture above is a great example of something that I did not plan to shoot, but the opportunity presented itself and I am glad that I took the time to shoot.
2. Research the locations that you have selected for your Photography Trip
When travelling to a location to shoot, it is wise to research in advance in order to find out if they rules regarding photography. For instance, Grand Central Station in New York City requires that you get a permit in order to shoot inside using a tripod. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time in advance of my trip to New York City to get a permit, so I was not able to get the shots that I wanted. Of course, when I return to New York City, I will apply well in advance so that I can get a permit.
Another example on my recent trip to New York City was the Empire States Building. They do not allow professional cameras on the observation deck, so I borrowed a mirrorless camera to take with me so that I could get some nice shots to stitch into a panorama.
The bottom line is that you want to identify obstacles in advance, if possible, so that you can avoid unnecessary delays. Time is precious on a photography trip.
3. Remain flexible on your Photography Trip
I would advise against trying to plan every moment of every day on a photography trip. Part of the adventure for me is going some place and discovering things to shoot along the way. Your list of locations is a great blueprint for where you want to go, but keep your eyes peeled for opportunities along the way. The picture above is of a street vendor that I found near Rockefeller Center.
Kind of funny, but something that I got in a fortune cookie has stuck with me, “Be like the bamboo tree, sway with the wind but keep strong roots.”
4. Ask Permission to Shoot at Locations that you Stumble Across on a Photography Trip
I was staying my friend’s apartment in Manhattan recently and just down a few blocks away there was a very cool Barber Shop. The men running the shop were outside opening up one morning and I stopped to speak with them about shooting inside of their Barber Shop. Not only did they agree, but they were very friendly and inviting.
This is one of the aspects of a photography trip that I really enjoy – meeting people along the way and hearing of their stories. If you are ever in need of a haircut in New York City and want to go to a really cool place, then I would suggest that you visit the Blind Barber in East Village and ask for Robert.
Robert is a second generation Barber and provides a classical Barber experience in a very trendy neighborhood. they even have a speakeasy in the back, so you can get a shave, trim and then a drink; what a great idea!
5. Keep a Journal on your Photography Trip
Something that I enjoy is keeping a journal of my travels. This not only helps me write on my blog later, but it provides personal enjoyment when I go back and read my notes about my trip. Coupled with the pictures that I take on the trip, the Journal brings back memories of the sights, smells and the emotions that I felt on the trip.
During my trip to Washington D.C. with my son, I wrote about how proud I was of him for knowing so much about history. My son is a huge history buff and schooled me a few times at some of the locations that we visited. I love history, but admittedly, he is more advanced in some areas. It was very fulfilling to sit back and listen to him tell me about places; he is only 15 years old. Yes, I am a proud father.
When I read back through my journal, it’s like I am right back in Washington D.C. with my son having a great time and I am able to reflect on his accomplishments, our trip and it helps me extract details that I will use later when keywording my pictures for sale or writing their descriptions.
One of the most common questions that I get asked by beginning photographers is, “What do you use to edit your photos?” I use Lightroom and Photoshop. The best way that I can explain the difference is that Lightroom is my General Practitioner and Photoshop is like a specialist; I really only go to Photoshop when I need to perform major surgery.
Of course, the follow up question is, “How did you learn Lightroom?” Honestly, much of what I learned about editing from from a photographer in Paris named Serge Ramelli.
Serge Ramelli has some excellent YouTube videos that he has shared, but those are just introductions into what he teaches. In order to get the full benefit of his tutorials, you really need to purchase his tutorials. Not only does he do a good job of explaining what it is that he is doing, but he includes a copy of the photo that he is working on so that you can follow along and learn how he achieves those effects during post processing.
Of course, as a photographer, when you have a vision of what you want the end result to look like and you know what is needed in post-processing, you can better plan your shot when you are on location. I find that many times, I am walking backward through my shot starting with what I want as the end result and then it is up to me to capture what is necessary in order to produce that finished product.
Without a full understanding of Lightroom, I would not be able to connect the dots from what my vision is to what I take with my camera. This is where I believe Serge Ramelli’s tutorials will become a great tool and help you learn lightroom, I know that I learned a lot from them.
1. You do not have to live in some exotic location in order to produce great landscape photography that people will like and appreciate. Last year, I went to Israel and got some amazing shots. Yes, I have sold some of them, but my best selling print is of a location in Central Texas not far from where I live. Not sure where to go in your area? Hop in the car and go find something.
2. You do not have to have $12,000 of camera equipment in order to get great landscape photography shots. Currently, I am shooting the Nikon D7100, but I got started with the Nikon D5100. Learn to master what you have and enjoy shooting, don’t obsess on your camera envy. I was on a shoot once when a guy with a Nikon D800E and about $13,000 in glass walked up and asked me, “What settings are your shooting for the sunrise?” I asked him if he was shooting JPEG or RAW. He gave me a deer in the headlights look and I suggested that he keep it on Auto. You think buying a $300 pair of basketball shoes will make you into an NBA player? Just because someone has a bunch of equipment, it does not make them into a photographer.
3. Read the Manual to your Camera – Yes, I said read the instructions. You really should know all of the functions of your camera even if you do not plan to use all of them. You never know in Landscape photography, you may see something and have an “Ah, ha! Moment” where you quickly roll the dials and get a very special shot that you would have missed otherwise. Being that I like to shoot early in the morning or late at night, it is during those times as the light is changing, that I need to be quick to make adjustments before the light changes even more.
4. Shoot with other photographers. Not only is this generally good advice for just learning from one another, but you will make lifelong friends with the people that you go out and shoot with. I know that some of my favorite moments in the past years have been on photoshoots with friends.
5. If you are like me, the only expectations that you have to consistently meet are your own. I love the fact that I get to shoot what I want, when I want and how I want; it’s freedom. People will come to recognize this in your work and if they like it, they will will likely buy it. Learn from others, but develop your own unique style through experimentation.
The 4th of July is just around the corner and if you are like me, you are looking forward to watching the fireworks with your family and having a good time. But, if you are reading this article, you are also looking for tips how to photograph fireworks.
1. Use the Fireworks as your Flash
Keep in mind that when shooting fireworks, you will be in the dark and then the fireworks are going to be a brilliant source of light, much like a flash. As Fireworks explode into the air, they will often light up the surrounding area, so you will want to make sure that your frame is not so tight that you miss the surrounding scene. I have made the mistake of just having a great picture of fireworks, with nothing else in the picture… It was time wasted and I would not recommend it. Find something of interest to be in the background or foreground to add an element of depth and interest.
2. You really need a Tripod and Remote Shutter Release
When doing any kind of timed exposure, you really should use a tripod for stability, otherwise your images will not be crisp and in focus. Triggering the shutter with a remote shutter release is a great way to reduce camera shake as well. If there is wind, you may consider hanging a sandbag or camera bag from the center of your tripod.
3. Time your shots with the fireworks show
Professional fireworks shows should have a rhythm that they will follow, many times this is set to music. While this is important, what you want to be looking for is the streak of sparks headed for the skies. Once you see that a mortar has fired, open your shutter. Once the mortar explodes, give it a second or two before closing your shutter, this will capture some of the great streaks and bursts of light.
4. Shoot in Manual Mode
If you are not comfortable shooting in manual mode, then it is time to break out of your comfort zone. If your camera has a timed exposure setting, I would experiment at night with an aperture of about f/8 and ISO of 100 to start and then find out how long you need to have the shutter open for a decent exposure at your location. You will be able to do this just a couple of minutes before the fireworks show start. Keep in mind that even though the sun goes down, the lighting will most likely get a little darker between sundown and the start of the fireworks. Be ready by the time the fireworks start.
5. Scout the area prior to the fireworks display.
There is nothing worse than figuring out that you don’t have a good vantage point for the fireworks and then you miss the best part of the show. Make sure that you allow yourself plenty of time to get to your location and find the best vantage point. Many times, fireworks displays are going to draw lots of people, most of which could care less that you are trying to get pictures. Claim your territory and try to eliminate people standing directly in front of you by using parking garages, bodies of water, etc…
6. Take pictures during sunset before the sun sets
One of the best ways to make sure that you have the right focus and have your shot framed correctly is to shoot the scene in daylight. I prefer to shoot buildings as the sun is setting because many times, you have enough light to see the building’s colors and you also have the lights of the building. This is useful later in post processing if you want to do some blending of the exposures.
7. The start of the fireworks show is usually the best time for photographs
If you think that you should save the best for last, then you probably haven’t shot many fireworks shows. As the show continues, the smoke in the air will likely gather into small clouds that can affect your shot. Try to get as many shots at the beginning of the fireworks show in order to make sure that you get some nice clean shots without a bunch of smoke hanging around.
I hope that you have found this tutorial helpful on how to photograph fireworks. As we celebrate our Independence Day on the this 4th of July, please remember to thank those who have served our Country.