Friday, October 25, 2013

Sunken ... and disappointed

I suppose every photographer has had those shoots in which you are pretty amped when you start out, only to feel great disappointment afterward. That was the case with the shots in today's post.

The disappointment set in the moment I arrived at the Garfield Park Conservatory and Sunken Garden in Indianapolis. It was a little before 9 p.m. Oct. 15, a Tuesday, and I'd been wanting to get some nighttime shots of the recently revived fountains and colored lights there. I'd walked through the garden a day or two before and noticed a sign outside the gates that said the Sunken Garden supposedly was open until 10 p.m.

It had been raining much of the day Tuesday, and there was a very sporadic drizzle when I arrived. I figured an hour would be plenty of time to shoot ... plus, being so late and rainy, I wouldn't have other visitors to work around. I had myself and my gear protected from the elements, so weather wasn't the disappointment. In fact, I was intrigued with how mist might inject an interesting element to the images.

The disappointment was twofold -- the iron gates were locked (again, it was more than hour away from the alleged closing time), and the colored lights were not being used on the fountains. I decided to shoot through the narrow openings in the fence and gates (thankfully, the openings were large enough to fit a camera lens through) and get what I could ... and maybe come back another night (which hasn't happened yet).

I experimented with settings from the get go. I had the camera on a tripod the whole time and used a cable-release shutter. I started with a pretty open aperture (f/5.6) at ISO-200 and a somewhat fast shutter (1/125 or so), and saw immediately that I was getting unappealing ghosting around all of the globe lights. So I narrowed the aperture gradually until I started getting neat sparkles instead. By the time I got to the slowest preset shutter, exposure still wasn't what I was hoping for, so I switched to the bulb shutter setting (which I had anticipated needing to do anyway).

The bulk of my shots were taken at f/18 or f/20, ISO-400 or 800 and a shutter of anywhere to 8 to 20 seconds. I boosted the ISO because the precipitation started to get more dense, the intensity of the fountain pour varied (frustrating compositions further, requiring one to wait as much as 10 minutes to get the right intensity), and I didn't want to spend a lot of time on each shot in fear that the skies would open up into a driving rain and force me to cut short the shot with so few images. So I wanted to get my shots taken as soon as possible.

As it turned out, the skies did not open up, the precipitation varied throughout the shoot from negligible to a few drops, and I got all the shots I felt I could get from outside the gates looking in. I was not greatly pleased with the results, but ... at least I got some shots. The tradeoff for the longer exposures was getting a neat-colored amber sky on views looking northwest (such as the image leading off the post) ... but also some disturbing flare. In some cases, I left the flare in the image. In others, I fought to diminish or remove it in post-processing to the extent possible.

Afterward, I grabbed a few shots of the conservatory building itself, a few landscapes in the vicinity and some angles of Garfield Park Baptist Church, which stands out at night thanks to a strong beacon of fluorescent light illuminating the front facade. I'd photographed this church front before, but that was several years ago, and I wasn't totally pleased with those shots.

Above: One thing I didn't mention in the narrative above is that while the colored lights remained mostly mute during my visit, there were very quick, unpredictable pulses of them on occasion. So because I was using the bulb setting for long exposures, I'd happen to catch a flash of color at the very bottom of the fountain in a few shots during such bursts, such as the shot above. Late during my visit, I was on the far (west) side of the garden, and I had just folded my tripod legs and covered my camera in preparation to head home when the colored lights actually came out and held solid for about 5 minutes straight. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and if you could have heard me curse ... I started jogging around to the near (east) side of the garden to get a better angle, and ... of course ... the colored lights went away -- for good -- by the time I got there. 

Above, the main entrance to the conservatory, which is adjacent to the Sunken Garden.  Below is a look at the conservatory through the north gate, integrating some of the brick plaza into the composition.

Above: Almost directly behind where I was standing to take the conservatory plaza picture two pictures above was this view of the conservatory light lighting up the tree on the left. There was a good breeze that evening, so a long exposure was not going to freeze the branches. But ... I liked the amber light and its cast onto the plaza on the right.

Above: A view of one parking area and access to Conservatory Drive on the north side of the conservatory. 

Above and below: Color and monochrome versions (although with different crops because I did them at different times) of Conservatory Drive, looking west from in front of the conservatory and Sunken Garden.

Above: A view of a meadow and one of the bridges over Bean Creek at the south end of the park, as seen from 30 to 40 yards south of the Sunken Garden's south gate.

Above and next two below: Views of Garfield Park Baptist Church, just across Southern Avenue at the southeast corner of the park. At the left of the image immediately below, you can see the source of light cast on the church's facade.

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