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Illuminating a Historical Monument in the Depths of Central Park
January 18, 2021 at 5:00 AM

Setting the Scene – Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, Central Park

Sometimes part of the fun of photography is the journey itself. The lengths you go to capture a photo, and what you experience on the beaten paths you travel. This photo was part of an epic 2,092-mile road trip through New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Richmond. During this adventure, we drove for over 39-hours, and had little sleep, however, the end results were definitely worth it!

This particular photo is taken at the iconic Bethesda Terrace and Fountain in Central Park. Central Park is a fantastic place for photography – there are so many hidden gems and secret areas waiting to be snapped. You could easily spend several days here walking through the grounds, and still not photograph everything!

Bethesda Terrace is a brilliant architectural feature that overlooks the main lake in Central Park. Construction was initially started during the Civil War, and it has undergone various transformations. One feature that has remained constant, however, is the arcade. This gorgeous piece of architecture offers a sheltered walkway through the terrace. Inside, it is covered with amazing, tiled artwork on the walls and ceilings. The lighting is also fantastic and as you can see from the photo, at night it has a beautiful golden glow.

The walkway passes under the terrace, and up a staircase that leads onto The Mall. This path continues through a wooded area and eventually ends at a circular area where you can find statues of William Shakespeare and Christopher Columbus.

Even if you are not an avid photographer, Bethesda Terrace is a brilliant place to walk, especially in warmer weather – for us, we visited during the winter months. As a result, temperatures were freezing, and even when wearing gloves, it was incredibly cold!

Creating the Composition – Contrasting Lighting from the Old and New

I have visited Central Park many times and there are many different features to photograph. However, on this occasion, Bethesda Terrace was the target. The temperatures were freezing and my hands were like blocks of ice! Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to operate a DSLR camera with thick gloves on. Therefore, you have to embrace the cold and let your hands take a beating!

The angle of this photo is taken looking towards the arcade and steps. Behind us, the beautiful fountain stood, and beyond that, The Lake. I prefer this angle as you can see glimpses of the New York skyline in the background. Interestingly enough, if you took this same photo several years ago – those immense skyscrapers would not be visible – these are a recent addition to the ever-expanding concrete jungle.

The main aim was to capture the amazing lighting of the arcade but to also show the lights of the skyscrapers in the background. I also created some short videos to accompany this photo that depicted our journey, and the beautiful interior of the Bethesda Terrace Arcade.

For this type of photo, a wide-angle lens is needed. Without a wide-angle lens, you would not be able to show all of the terraces against the black backdrop of Central Park. When shooting at night, it is also vital that you use faster shutter speeds if possible if you are shooting handheld – especially when dealing with manmade lights. Without a fast shutter speed or a tripod, you can easily get motion blur and take photos that are blurry and out of focus.

Everything about this photo works. The lights of the skyscrapers are sharp and bright. Also, the warm lighting of the terrace looks fantastic. You also get a superb silhouette effect of the front arches and an amazing reflection of light on the tiled walkway in the foreground.

What Makes This Photo Stand Out?

This composition is one of my favorites from the epic road trip. It looks fantastic and the contrast between the lighting of the arcade, and the high-rise skyline behind is superb.

This contrast is the main point of the photo. It shows a clear contrast between the old and new of New York City. In the foreground, you have a beautiful piece of historical architecture. This has stood for hundreds of years and is a reminder of how the city and architectural styles have evolved. In contrast, in the background, you can see a range of immense skyscrapers reaching up to the stars. These show how New York City has evolved into the concrete jungle, and how construction technology has advanced.

Aside from this contrast of architectural styles, the lighting is also key. The silhouettes of the arcade archways are enhanced by the strong, warm glow of the arcade interior. It looks inviting – you want to step inside and bathe in the warm light, and escape the cold, enveloping dark of Central Park.

The composition itself is also an important aspect. The arcade is central in the photo, and a wide-angle perspective has been used. This balances the photo perfectly and shows the contrast between the terrace and the skyline behind it.

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