Setting the Scene – Downtown Philly traffic in motion
Our epic 38-hour road trip continues and this photo is another gem from our brief stopover in Philadelphia. After leaving DC and taking some brilliant photos in the National Mall, we wanted to capture some sunrise shots in Philadelphia over the Delaware River. We used the extensive Philadelphia subway system to get around which resulted in some other cool photos.
After shooting the sunrise over the riverbanks, we simply took time to rest before wandering through the streets of the downtown area to see what interesting photos we could create. Downtown Philadelphia is a broad term and encompasses several areas including Center City West, Logan Square, Center City, and Old City. There are some amazing historical buildings here like the Philadelphia City Hall, and Independence Hall.
It is a great place to wander on foot and has a fantastic mix of high-rise buildings, together with historical architecture. The above photo was just on the corner of Market Street and North 12th Street. Market street actually leads to the historical Philadelphia City Hall and continues east to the Delaware River. On this busy street you can also find some popular stores like Macy’s, Nike, and of course the Hardrock Café which is pictured.
Oftentimes, simply walking through the streets of a city can present some amazing photographic opportunities. You can find something new on each street corner and the people and traffic add an extra level of depth to your shots. Also, you can experiment with different photo techniques like long exposure photography.
Creating the Composition – Long exposure shots to show the traffic and city lights
As we walked through the streets of downtown Philadelphia, the weather remained cold. I was wrapped up fully and had multiple layers on to protect from the near freezing temperatures. To make things worse, I often had to remove my gloves to operate my Nikon camera! DSLR cameras simply aren’t made for use with chunky thermal gloves! Oh well… my hands have since thawed out and are fully operational!
This composition is actually created from multiple long exposure shots. I took a range of shots so that I could balance the lighting elements and ensure that everything looked on point. The beauty of digital cameras is that you can easily transfer your photos to a computer, and work on them in post-processing software afterwards! I did this and blended the shots in Photoshop to get the above result.
In terms of compositional elements, there are several important aspects. Firstly, the position of the crosswalk. I shot this diagonally and centrally so as to create a leading line. This leading line is something your eyes immediately follow and ultimately direct your attention to the neon Hardrock Café sign. It’s a simple photographic technique but as you can see, its highly effective at directing the viewers eyes to a focal point.
That brings us to the second element – the Hardrock Café sign. The Hardrock Café chain is an institute in America, and indeed there are restaurants all over the world now! The sign is immediately recognizable and it also stands out against the surroundings.
This is emphasized by the long exposure shots that made the neon outline and text stand out more. Without long exposure compositions, the lights of the sign would look much weaker, and its impact would be lessened.
What Makes This Photo Stand Out?
This photo of the Hardrock Café and the streets of Philadelphia has many elements that make it stand out. Firstly, the subject itself is interesting. You have a busy street intersection of Market Street that is bustling with life and traffic. Across the crosswalk you can see the beginnings of high-rise buildings and well-known institutes like the Hardrock Café, and the Marriott hotel chain.
This makes for an interesting scene and there are lots of little details you can pick out. For example, the ornate clock to the right of the Hardrock Café sign shows the time, and you can also see the traffic lights in action, controlling the bustling streets of Philadelphia.
Aside from the subject, I also love the use of long exposure photography. Its one of my favourite photography techniques and it allows for so much creativity. In this photo, it shows the headlights and brake lights of the moving traffic and creates gorgeous light trails. Also, it helps illuminate the streetlights, traffic lights, and of course the iconic Hardrock Café sign.
The effect is amazing and it really helps demonstrate the often chaotic nature of city life and how there is always some action in the streets.