Looking up at the Gateway to the West

Gateway Arch St. Louis
Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Mo. | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.4 lens | Exposed 1/640 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100.

Who says you can’t make a good picture in the middle of the day?

Over the weekend Elizabeth and I found ourselves in St. Louis for Independence Day, partly thanks to a hotel deal through Hotwire.com.  While I’ve been going to school at the University of Missouri for two years, and have spent some time in St. Louis in that time, I haven’t actually gone up to the Gateway Arch since a seventh-grade field trip back around 1997.  Frankly, I can’t even remember if I took a camera (taking a 35mm SLR was something I was never too keen to do back when I was in middle school).  But I do remember going up in the arch and feeling the structure sway back and forth in the wind.  Fun!  But it’s still standing there.  Unfortunately, getting up to the top of the arch is harder than I can recall from all those years ago: you have to go through a magnetometer, your bag through an X-Ray, and rangers are standing by to pat you down.  We actually tried two days in a row to go to the top, and both times the line for tickets was either painfully slow or, on the second day, not moving at all because the eight (eight!) employees behind the ticket counter weren’t selling tickets.  C’est la vie.

Looking up at the Gateway Arch
Tiny dog, huge tongue at the Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Mo. | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.4 lens | Exposed 1/4000 sec. @ f/1.4, ISO 100.

So, when life hands you lemons…

Common wisdom suggests that you can’t make a good image at mid-day.  For the most part, this is true, except when it is either cloudy, your subject is in shade, or you can block the sun within the frame.  The top photo would be an example of the third route: the sun is blocked (mostly) by the top of the arch.  Was the resulting image somewhat flat?  Sure.  But it came back to life with a few contrast and curve adjustments.  No magic required!

This image above of a man and his dog would be a case of the second option: put them in the shade, and keep ’em there.  Below, we have the classic fourth option: don’t photograph at noon, but wait for the magic hour†.

View of the arch from Broadway
View of the arch from Broadway, St. Louis, Mo. | Canon 5D Mark II and 50mm f/1.4 lens | Exposed 1/250 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 100.
† I’ve heard the concept of the “magic hour” defined in a couple of ways.  The classic, to me, is the hour proceeding sunrise and the hour preceding sunset: the two times during the day when you get fantastic, golden light.  But then I heard a different definition this past fall at the Missouri Photo Workshop–a photojournalist’s definition: the hour preceding dawn and the hour after dusk (twilight) when the tungsten lights from inside of houses and shop-windows mesh well with the ambient exterior light so you can get a photo of both the “inside” and “outside” at once.  It’s an interesting appropriation of the term “magic hour,” but frankly I think the classic should remain the prevailing definition.

2 thoughts

  1. We learned the hard way, you have to either call, or (if you are unfortunate enough to have Internet Explorer) go online and you can reserve tickets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *