Lorton Prison used to house all of DC’s prisoners, but shortly after the turn of the millenium, the prisoners were dispersed to other sites around the country, the prison was closed, and the land and buildings turned over to Fairfax County. Since that time, some of the facilties have been torn down and the land turned into parkland or sold off for condos. Part of the facility has become a (struggling) center for the arts, and now the old maximum security site is destined to be torn down in the near future. Over the last couple of months, Fairfax County has permitted several groups of photographers to enter the old facility and capture what images they can before the place disappears. Last month, I joined a group organized by Corey Hilz. We had just about three hours to shoot in two different locations. Before entering the maximum security section, a number of us spent about 90 minutes shooting in the old prison heating plant. It was my first time at this site, and quite frankly I had a difficult time “getting into the place”. I took a lot of photos, but nothing really captured my imagination. Now, several weeks later, two photos have kind of filtered to the top of the heap, but I am not fully satisfied with either. I like them as photographs, but they do not convey a sense of place – neither of them say “prison” – that is why I am going back again next weekend. I guess that makes me a recidivist.
This first shot was taken on my way out of the heating plant. I looked up and noticed that several of the pipes around the boilers were color coded. I thought I would try my hand at making the overall scene monochrome, and then adding back the colors of the pipes.
This second shot is pretty straight forward. It is part of the outside wall of the maximum security section of the facility. In general, it is just a simple brick wall containing several buildings and a large, empty expanse of grass. This section, with the rusting metal piece in the middle, and painted lower half was different than the rest of the wall. I took the original photo straight on, and then cropped it into a more balanced, square format. There is no sight of the outside – that strip of blue sky at the top is all the residents of this place ever saw.
My friend Craig Rudlin and I will be going back there this coming weekend, where I hope to this time get some images that convey the sense of the location better than what I have so far.
The same basic technique I have previously described for shooting handheld HDRs applies to shooting panoramas also. I have two handheld panos to show you in this post.
The first pano was taken in Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery. The National Gallery is on the left, St. Martin in the Fields is near the center, and most of Nelson’s column on the right.
This image highlights a problem that occurs in making panos, that is the need to keep the camera level through the entire pan. In this case, I had to keep the camera level and try not to chop off the tops of the National Gallery and Lord Nelson. I was successful with one and not the other, even when using my 16-35mm lens at 16mm.
The second handheld pano I want to show was taken in the Parthenon Hall at the British Museum.
This was an awesome space, but the reason I want to show this shot is to demonstrate that handheld panos can be done indoors, even with dim lighting. Again, I had my 16-35mm set to 16mm. I set my ISO to 400, and the exposure for the scene was 1/20th of a second across the whole scene. I am an aging geezer and the thought of having to shoot handheld at 1/20th of a second sends a chill through my bones. But the image is sharp – how did I do it? First, I was shooting with what is commonly thoght of as a super wide angle lens, and these can be very forgiving of minor shakes. But the Nikon 16-35mm has a very effective vibration reduction (VR) system. I have VR on my 85mm macro, and I have not been very impressed with it, but the VR on the 16-35mm is really effective. I used it almost constantly in iffey lighting situations and would check the sharpness by magnifying the LCD image on the camera. Each time I looked, my images were sharp – much sharper than I ever had imagined they would be in the situations I was shooting.
The following shot is another 5-shot handheld HDR. It is a shot of the Victoria Tower at the south-west corner of the Palace of West Minster, with the Buxton Memorial Fountain in the foreground. The Buxton Memorial commemorates the members of parliament and the public who were instrumental in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1834.
This was a free-standing handheld HDR, and to accomplish it, I had to go back to a technique I learned years ago when undergoing weapons training in the Army. Back then, we were instructed to create a “spot weld” to our weapon by pressing our right thumb against our cheek bone while bringing the weapon to our shoulder and the site to our eye. This time, I used my thumb to “hang” the camera from the boney protusion of my skull over my right eye. This steadied the camera enough as I applied steady pressure to the shutter button through the 5 shot burst. In post, I processed the HDR to be as realistic as possible, but I had to add a little contrast, saturation and structure as the HDR process flattened the scene somewhat.
I hope you enjoy it.