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Urban Industrial Imaging

Blue Hour Bayonne Bridge

Blue Hour Bayonne Bridge

The post Urban Industrial Imaging is written by Frank Villafañe (click on on images for larger view):

I grew up in the North East; specifically, Bayonne, New Jersey.  At least, I consider Bayonne to be my home.  My father was in the Air Force, so we moved around quite a lot, but we always came back to Bayonne.

As a child, I was completely enamored with the city...skyscrapers, industrial landscapes and huge structures absolutely fascinated me. The North East has a metropolitan flair that is totally unique - there is no other place exactly like it: a megalopolis with a frantic mechanized pace. Even storms here are known as Nor'Easters.

My goal is to capture, digitally, the quintessential North East - sweeping twilight urban vistas, large brooding structures, huge powerful intricate machinery and abandoned warehouses - essentially, urban industrial images, the very core of Urban Industrial Imaging.

What follows are some of my favorite images from this uniquely uncommon built environment. I love to shoot bridges and trestles, and this area boasts many world-class structures:

GWB @ Twilight

George Washington Bridge

Newark Ave Bridge & Trestle

Newark Ave Bridge & Trestle

Newark Penn Station Trestle

Newark Penn Station Trestle

Pulaski Skyway @ Night

Pulaski Skyway at Night

Above are: the acclaimed George Washington Bridge (built by the renowned architect Othmar Ammann, who incidentally also designed and built the famed Bayonne Bridge pictured at the beginning of this article); the Newark Ave Bridge & Trestle; the Penn Station Train Trestle; and the world famous Pulaski Skyway.  Since I do a lot of shooting at night, I like to employ one of two techniques in capturing these images - long exposure (as in the case of the GWB, which was a 20 second exposure) or exposure fusion (where I'll take 5 or 7 various exposures and blend them in post).  The B&W images are just B&W conversions of the same.  Most of my post-processing is done in LR5, but I use a number of plug-ins: for perspective correction I use DxO's excellent ViewPoint; for color images - Topaz Clarity and/or Adjust; for B&W either Silver Efex Pro, Topaz BW or onOne's Perfect BW.  I use Topaz Denoise for ALL post-process noise reduction.

One of my more recent series, "On The Passaic", features bridges and scenes from the Passaic River in NJ - except for the GWB, all of the above are from that series.

Scenes from "The Great American City":

NB From The Vue

NB From The Vue

Rockefeller Plaza

Rockefeller Plaza

Newark On The Passaic

Newark On The Passaic

JC From LBS

JC From LBS

Center City Philadelphia @ Night

Center City Philadelphia at Night

Golden Metropolis

Golden Metropolis

But, Urban Industrial Imaging isn't just bridges. There are a great many cities in the North East, and one of my goals is to visit each "Great American City" and preserve its unique character thru digital imaging.  Since I live in NJ, I started with the cities nearest me - New Brunswick, Jersey City, Newark, New York and Philadelphia.

The image is downtown New Brunswick, taken from the rooftop of the tallest building in the city, The Vue (courtesy of DEVCO).  That image started it all for me - featured in my first exhibit and sold at auction at George Street Playhouse, landing my first client (DEVCO), and emerging as the signature banner on the City of New Brunswick's web site.

The others are (in order): Rockefeller Plaza, taken handheld at night (and is the only POV in this series); Newark On The Passaic; Jersey City waterfront as seen from Liberty State Park; Center City Philadelphia from the rooftop of the Rittenhouse Hotel; and "Golden Metropolis", which is actually Jersey City and Lower Manhattan, taken just after dawn. Yes, one needs to get up early or stay out late to capture images during the Magic or Blue Hour (the hour before sunset/after sunrise or the hour after sunset).  Part of the fun is finding the best vantage points to get the shots...this is where I rely heavily on Google Maps.  Sometimes, my partner will be driving and I'll tell her "Stop!" if I see something, and I'll jump out and get the shot - which is what I did with "Golden Metropolis" above.

Machines, Urban Landscapes and Decay:

Night Train Express

Night Train Express

Austrailian Spirit

Austrailian Spirit

VW Dreams

VW Dreams

Monster Bridge Elizabeth

Monster Bridge Elizabeth

Rectangles

Rectangles

Tunnel

Tunnel

Urban Industrial Imaging can also include images of machinery, industrial landscapes, or even urban decay (best viewed in glorious black and white).

Above are: "Night Train Express", Western Maryland relic sitting in the B&O museum in Baltimore, MD; "Australian Spirit", docked at Elizabeth Seaport; "VW Dreams", my tribute to that wonderful automobile (I really miss them); "Monster Bridge", a derelict bridge on Amboy Ave in Elizabeth, NJ; "Rectangles", the NYC jungle from 70 floors up; and "Tunnel", the street access tunnel from the New Brunswick Train Station.

You can see a great deal more on my website: cityscapes, urban landscape/decay, bridges, trains, cars, ships (and even an aircraft or two).  I just want to thank the Lord for all His opportunities; if not for His providence, I would not be doing what I love.

I will leave you with a few images that have received accolades.  I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Clockwise, top to bottom right:

Rutgers Clock New Brunswick

Rutgers Clock, New Brunswick, NJ (Published in City Market Calendar)

Tempe Town Lake Centennial

Tempe Town Lake Centennial Trestle, Tempe, AZ (hosted on DieHardDevil.com, this was my FIRST night shot)

NB On The Raritan

New Brunswick on the Raritan, taken from Highland Park, NJ (DEVCO ad featured in NJBIZ – they also ran a color version which DEVCO features as the banner image on their Facebook page)

Victory Bridge Perth Amboy

Victory Bridge, Perth Amboy, NJ (nothing, people just like it)

Thank you for reading and viewing my work (don't worry, there is more).  Until next time...

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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  • Spy Black

    Nice stuff. A bit heavy on the saturation sometimes, but nice work overall. If you ever take the Path to Newark you’ll notice, on your way in, the remains of the industrial revolution scattered about still, waiting to be converted into condos. Some of that decrepit stuff looks like awesome stuff to shoot if you can get in closer, and not be mugged while you’re at it.

    • Frank Villafane

      Spy Black,

      Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I do like the colors a bit more pronounced. As for shooting in Newark, I usually have a shooting partner and we shoot in the daytime, so I’m not too worried. The most dangerous place I’ve shot is actually Elizabeth, NJ – great industrial landscapes but I won’t shoot there at night.

      • Spy Black

        Yeah too bad, because nighttime is great time to shoot a lot of those environments. I remember years back in the early 90s driving down the turnpike and as I approached the refineries in Elizabeth, ALL of them were going full tilt. I’ve never seen anything like that. It looked like I was driving right into hell. The sky was literally on fire. And I didn’t have my camera…

        • AlphaTed

          and it stinks. you have to put the air into recycle mode.

  • Neopulse

    I liked a lot your first night shot, tunnel and golden metropolis. How long have you been doing this might I add?

    • Frank Villafane

      Hello Neopulse,

      Thanks for the comments. I’ve been shooting just over 3 years.
      Take care…

      • Neopulse

        Keep at it then, you’re doing well. Hope to see posts from of your work in the future.

  • George

    I would have liked to see the same shots in maybe foggy conditions or under adverse conditions. Capture a fleeting moment other then what every Joe/Sally can do with a cell phone. Please….no offense to you Frank.

    • Frank Villafane

      George,

      Yes, every Tom, Dick and Harry/Sally can take shots with a cell phone. Whether they are great is questionable: no cell phone camera can really capture good images at night (imho). I have seen some excellent shots from some great iphonagraphers, but one thing they lack (again, imho) is detail. They image quality of an iphone (or any cell phone camera, for that matter) simply does not stand up to a good DSLR or ILC. Many of my images are published and hanging in corporate boardrooms all over NJ, so no offense taken.

  • George

    Sometimes images don’t benefit from over saturation as Spy Black pointed out. Your photo should be strong enough to stand on it’s own without any manipulation. You do have a good eye, keep up the great work!!

    • Frank Villafane

      Hey George,

      Thanks for the kind words. I once overdid the HDR…but I no longer engage in that technique. I DO like the colors, admittedly, and I still do a fair amount of exposure fusion, but only when appropriate. Call it a weakness :)…

    • Frank Villafane

      Hey George,

      Thanks for the kind words. I once overdid the HDR…but I no longer engage in that technique. I DO like the colors, admittedly, and I still do a fair amount of exposure fusion, but only when appropriate. Call it a weakness :)…

  • Jo

    Halfway through when you started the HDR madness it all went to sh!t. Sorry.

    • Frank Villafane

      Well Jo,

      I guess we are all entitled to our opinions. Thousands of viewers, multiple clients and publications would beg to differ with you, however. Since they’ve published my work, obviously I’m doing something right.

  • AlphaTed

    I thought I will never see …
    a wonderful photo image, of Pulaski!

    Thanks for the post.

    • Frank Villafane

      Thank you AlphaTed.

  • Lockon

    I love all of it, very well done. The rail engine is just amazing as are all of them really. Do you get permission for the bridges? In this day and age one can kiss concrete for pointing at bridges and other “sensitive” items regardless of the whether such restrictions make any sense at all.

    • Frank Villafane

      Hello Lockon.

      The only time I really requested permission was to photograph the Port Authority Bridges. I contacted the Port Authority and they informed me that the bridges were accessible to photographers. Otherwise, no special permission was obtained. I was detained once and had to erase all the images I took of the BayWay Refinery in Linden…THAT is “verboten”.

      Thanks for the compliments. The Western Maryland relic (“Night Train Express”) is still at the B&O museum in Baltimore. I just happened to photograph it when nobody was there. Just an expression of my love of large machinery.

      • Lockon

        Very funny to hear where that engine is located – I line 30 minutes form there and have never been there! I know they had a roof collapse several years ago but I think they have rebuilt so maybe now is the time.

  • KnightPhoto

    Very nice work and keep at it! What sort of focal lengths do you use for this kind of work?

    Found abbreviations and place names a bit confusing at first, e.g. never heard of Bayonne and “JC From LBS” (which you later did elaborate). A map graphic would be a nice addition.

    • Frank Villafane

      KnightPhoto,

      Thanks for the kind words. I use mostly 24-70mm as a focal length. Bayonne NJ is a sister city to Jersey City – i.e. they are geographically next to each other. JC is my abbreviation of Jersey City and LBS is Liberty State Park (NB would be New Brunswick, etc.). Next time, I’ll include a map graphic. Apologies for any confusion.

  • Kadidal

    Great work. Curious, with this as with any architectural photography: in the post-9/11 era, have the police ever given you a hard time for being out shooting photos of bridges? and landmarks generally? I’ve heard so many horror stories of brown person-of-color tourists getting harassed by the NYPD that I now worry about going out to shoot the bridges at night.

    • Frank Villafane

      Hi Kadidal,

      It all depends. Case in point: I decided to walk the Bayonne Bridge 2 years ago and shoot as I walked over. I had my fiance drop me off on the Staten Island side and she was going to meet me on the NJ side. While she waited, NYPD stopped her and asked what she was doing. When she told them she was waiting for her fiance to cross the bridge while photographing, they became agitated and said, “He’s not shooting the bridge, is he??”. To which she replied, “No, he’s shooting the harbor”. “Oh, well that’s ok…”, they said. When I met up with her on the other side, we proceeded to Mayor Dennis P Collins Park and saw two of Bayonne’s finest stationed in the park just under the bridge. So I thought it would be best to ask before I began shooting, so I asked them, “Is it ok if I photograph the bridge?”. They said, “Do you see a sign that says you can’t take pictures? Go ahead!”. I’ve been stopped many times, but only once was I detained. Most of the time, if I have my iPad with me, I’ll show the Police/Security that I am an architectural/industrial photographer and when they see my work they usually leave me alone to finish up. The one time I was detained, I was unknowingly trespassing on the BayWay Refinery property (in Linden, NJ). I had taken some photos of the refinery, to which the security and Police requested I delete all photoghraphs. 45 minutes later, they let me go with a stern warning that they would arrest me on sight were I to trespass on the property again. The basic rule of thumb is this: if you’re on public property, you have every right to photograph whatever you want. Publishing is another matter, as some buildings/structures will require releases. I contacted the Port Authority, and they are fully aware of my work…provided I don’t make a profit from the photographs, they are fine with my photographing the bridges. Rutgers U has given me permission to photograph the university and I have limited publishing rights (nothing with the Rutgers logo can be published without their express permission). When in doubt, ask. Hope this helps.

      BTW, thanks for the compliment vis-a-vis my work. Take care…

  • AlphaTed

    For the uninitiated, they would think all the buildings in the “Golden Metropolis” were from the State of New York.

    • Frank Villafane

      AlphaTed,

      The first time I drove by (years ago), I thought it was all lower Manhattan until I learned better. Of course, the compression on the telephoto lens makes it all look like one continuous city, although in the article I do state that it is actually Jersey City AND Lower Manhattan. The Goldman Sachs Tower frame left should give it away…

  • Guy With-camera

    I’m from NEWARK. Do NOT GO TO NEWARK. Also the AIR around the PULASKI SKYWAY is CARCINOGENIC, AND HAS A TERRIBLE TASTE TO IT. Great photos by the way.

    • Frank Villafane

      Yo Guy With-camera,

      Yes, the air around the Pulaski Skyway is a bit toxic: while photographing the Pulaski on the Carson-Nguyen bridge my eyes were literally burning after about 30 minutes from all the trucks’ exhaust fumes. Not a place where one should spend an extended period of time…nevertheless – to “get the shot”…

      As for Newark…there are actually great places to photograph. I was there last week during the day and I was able to get quite a lot of nice shots of downtown Newark near the Prudential building.

      Anyway, thanks for the compliment and kind words.

  • iut

    Some really great shots here and before I state my negative, opinion I want to say I respect art… but being the creative type myself I am a nit picker… Some of these shots made me feel cross eyed. I would revisit with a bit of a tone down on the effects. Perhaps in print they look awesome but I just not getting that warm fuzzy feeling partly because of the slightly dated/amateurish and overdone nature of the images but most of all the disregard for a focal point/place for the eye to rest on. I think you are talented but I wonder if you are getting tunnel vision based on measured success from publications, viewers etc… or simply you are an artist with a style and a message. We will never know….

  • neversink

    Nice pics. I grew up next to the GW Bridge on the Manhattan side and am halfway around the world on the equator now. Anyway, I have been photographing the GW Bridge most of my life and have thousands fro all sorts of angles, and your photograph is stark and beautiful. You shot that photo from the historic park in Fort Lee, NJ.
    One point that bothers me about your photos is that they seem overly saturated and sometimes hyper-real. This can work sometimes, but be careful about entering the realm of the cliche. However, you may prefer these photos this way and obviously you enjoy photographing the urban landscape. Keep up the good work.

    • Frank Villafane

      Neversink,

      Thank you very much for the kind words. After the comment before you, yours is very encouraging.

      You obviously know your vantage points…I did indeed shoot the GWB from historic Fort Lee Park, on the Hudson Terrace (actually, in front of the fence on the cliff, to be specific). “Stark and beautiful”…a very nice descriptor, I hope you don’t mind if I use it…thank you. It is a 20 second exposure, and I shot it at 8:45 pm in the summer, with a .9x ND filter on.

      You are also correct in that my photos sometimes are a bit over-saturated. I do lean more towards color, and will usually crank it a bit. I do have to be careful so as not to overdo it, though (apparently, some of my compositions are too much for some here). While I don’t necessarily strive for hyper-realism, my overzealous application does sometimes result in exactly that…something of which I am now more acutely aware.

      The Victory Bridge shot started out in color, and I moved it to a B&W with just a “hint” of color. It is very warm for a B&W…but the most appealing aspect (imho) is the perspective. Shooting from below a 400+ foot structure emphasizes its immensity and grandeur – almost as if one were a child marveling at such a sight (which is the effect I was after). It is one of my favorite bridge shots (behind the GWB and the Bayonne bridge – of which I have numerous shots). I placed it last in the post to finish strong, so to speak. I probably should’ve opened the post with the GWB, but I chose the “Blue Hour Bayonne Bridge” (admittedly a bit oversaturated) because it has special significance to me – it was the first really big bridge I remember crossing (i was 4 at the time).
      While a number of the photos have won accolades (and are published), this one has no special significance other than that people who see it do like it (myself, and now you, included).

      I would love to see your photographs. Please forward a link so I can “marvel at your work” – seriously, I do like to see what other photographers are up to. Put 10 photographers in front of a scene and you will have 10 different interpretations of the same scene – that is the wonder of photography. As for creating a scene “as I see it” (i.e. interpretive, not documentary), wasn’t it Ansel Adams who said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it”. I don’t want to just record a scene…I want to make art – doesn’t every photographer? Going back to the GWB image – I wanted to get the light trails from the traffic, so I purposely took a 20 second exposure to get them – my eyes didn’t actually see the trails, but my “minds eye” conjured them, so that is how I recorded the scene. Interpretive? Absolutely!

      Anyway, thanks again for the compliments. I look forward to seeing your work. Take care…

  • http://www.besceneimages.com Drummerd

    Great work. Your passion for your art really comes through in all of your images. My favorite image is the GWB. It’s got it all. Great composition, great leading lines, nice sharpness. Just a fantastic image. It would look amazing enlarged and framed -you should consider that. That is the one that you might have used to open your blog. Lead strong to really make that lasting impression. As far as some of the other comments about over saturation – well that is their opinion. I say – that is YOUR vision. The way you saw it in your mind when you were setting up the shot, choosing from the different exposures, the post processing work that went into it and then, finally – posting it for everyone to see.

    Besides the GWB image I love the Rockefeller Plaza shot. LOVE the POV on that one. You really captured an iconic building and I like how you caught the spotlight on the building. And finally – the Victory Bridge shot. What a different perspective. You can feel the power in that shot. Great work. Thanks for sharing these with everyone.

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