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A Rare Quiet Moment on the Philadelphia Subway
January 17, 2021 at 7:00 PM
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Setting the Scene – The Philadelphia Blue Line – Station 18

During our east-coast road-trip, we stopped at Philadelphia after our overnight in DC. The main aim in Philly was to capture a time-lapse and photos of the sunset across the Delaware River. Philadelphia has a decent public transport system, so we took advantage of this and used the subway to get to different locations. The weather was still ferociously cold and biting, but the subway did offer some protection from the icy winds at least!

The Philadelphia Subway system is made up of three main lines – the Market-Frankford Line, the Broad Street Line, and the Norrisontown High Speed Line. This network was initially started in 1992 and has been developed ever since.

The line this photo was taken on is the Market-Frankford Line – more commonly known as the Blue Line. In total, this comprehensive line has 28 stations and starts at the 69th Street Transportation Center. The track covers 13 miles in total and has sections that go both underground and overground. Generally, the subway system in Philadelphia is well maintained and the trains are reliable.

They also give great opportunities for photography. Whilst most of the stations like Station 18 are generic, you can find a few unique stations too like the Independence Hall Station which I have featured in another photo.

Creating the Composition – Multiple Long Exposures and Post-Processing

To get this photo I had to take multiple shots. Each shot was a long exposure composition. I took this approach so you could see the detail of the subway carriage clearly. The long exposure settings also meant that any people moving around the station (there were hardly any!) would not show in the photo unless they stood in one spot for the duration of the exposure.

I did have to do some serious post-processing work in Photoshop afterwards, but as you can see, the merging of different photos works seamlessly. Photoshop has a range of advanced tools that are perfect for photo blending.

Aside from the photos, we also captured some video footage of the station, our setup, and the trains. If you watch the short clip below, you can see how wrapped up we were to fight the cold! Also, you can see my tripod setup and the lighting conditions we had to work with. As you will see, the subway was relatively quiet – I can’t imagine recreating this same photo during rush hour!

Long exposure photography is useful for many different scenarios. For example, you can use it to show movement and make smooth, silky water effects. In this instance, I used long exposure techniques to show both movement and a stationary subject. But also, it was useful to eliminate people from the subway station.

What Makes This Photo Stand Out?

I love the technical aspects of this photo. Oftentimes, how the photo was created and what I had to do to achieve it are just as important as the end result. At first glance, you would not know that this photo was created from multiple shots and blended together! Also, this photo shows how you can create superb lighting conditions even in scenarios where the natural light levels are incredibly low.

This photo is not your typical subway shot either. Most people go for artistic shots where the subway train is blurred to show motion. I wanted to do something different and show a stationary train in full detail. I feel this works really well and shows a different aspect to the usual hectic nature of underground train stations.

The use of leading lines also works fantastically. I framed the photo carefully to ensure that you can see down the length of the station, and down the length of the train. These diagonal lines cut the photo perfectly. More importantly, they also draw your attention. Your eyes instinctively follow the lines and your gaze travels down the length of the station into nothingness – it’s a simple but effective troupe that photographers often employ.

Small details of this photo also make it more interesting. For example, you have the large and clear “step aside” sign on the floor. Also, the pillars with their colored signs reflect subtlety on the roof of the subway station. It’s a pleasing photo that has many great elements – everything works together to show a typical subway station in Philadelphia!

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