An Urban Landscape

General Thoughts
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium - Raleigh, NC- Green

Raleigh Memorial Auditorium © jj raia

If anyone has looked through most any part of these blog posts, they would come to the realization that my photography centers around the landscape, in particular, places that have eluded the influences of human existence. But the other morning, I tried to take the same approach I utilize when photographing the natural scene into downtown Raleigh. As usual, I got up and out very early, but not nearly as early as usual because there seemed to be no clouds that might light up before the sun rose which was slated for 614am. I utilized the same method of deciding on a location which was dependent on it’s directional view in relation to the location of the sunrise. Since it was basically mid-July, knowing the sun was pretty far north of east when it rose, I wanted a building that would receive the early morning rays of sunshine across it’s facade which meant it had to face north and I would be shooting looking south with the sunrise to my left. It seemed that the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, with it’s tall fluted columns and a large open space which include a reflecting pool on it’s north side, just might fit the bill. When I arrived it was not dark, but early enough that the building was illuminated by special lighting, and it’s reflection was perfect in the still, mirror-like water of the pool. It was stunning! Lucky enough to get a parking spot a few steps away, I began to get my gear out and set up when the lights went off!! It was 6am, and I imagine they were timed to go off just then. But now the building became a dull version of it’s previous self and disappointment set in. But a little patience may provide a second opportunity, the original pre-visualized scene. As the sun rose above the horizon, it first touched the highest peak and worked its way down a bit until I thought it was at just the right spot, and with the addition of the trusty 2-stop split neutral density filter, I balanced out the light values of the building and its reflection in the pool.

Sculpture Detail Downtown - Raleigh, NC

Sculpture Detail — Raleigh, NC  © jj raia

As is usually the case after the larger scene has lost the “good light”, I started narrowing my view to areas with strong directional light or smaller details completely in shade. I came across several very tall columns in shade with an intricate array  of brushed aluminum oak leaves that reflected the sky and sunlit buildings behind me. It was best to have the western sky behind me which was much more blue being unaffected by the bright sun in the east. It was then just a matter of searching for a pleasing arrangement of leaves where the building was reflected in the middle of the frame and the sky on either side to provide the warm/cool contrast I was looking for.

Windows Downtown — Raleigh, NC

Window Reflections – Downtown Raleigh, NC © jj raia

Then, after some more wandering, it was a set of windows above a sandwich shop reflecting the building and skyscrapers on the opposite side of the street. The reflections reminded me of cartoon characters laughing at all of us down in the street. As is usually the case, when it just seems like it’s time to pack up and head home, I notice something else that I want to explore (always, just one more). This time it was an interesting graphic architectural arrangement along an alleyway between blocks. But when I looked through the viewfinder, it seemed to lack something that would attract the eye first. The placement of a someone “resting” after a long night seemed to be fitting so I coaxed someone to sit in. B+W eliminated any color distractions from the main character illuminated by a shaft of light streaking through the alley.

Alone in Downtown — Raleigh, NC

Alone Downtown — Raleigh, NC © jj raia

I suppose utilizing the same approach used when photographing a natural landscape can carry over when attempting an urban environment, but I wonder whether the method employed by someone who generally only photographs cityscapes and urban scenes, would be transferrable in the opposite direction as well.



Virgin Exploration

General Thoughts

In the last post I included an image from last spring when traveling along the Blue Ridge Parkway and stumbled upon an old store that had been pretty much abandoned. Some photographers I know actually search for places like this to record the history that still inhabits them, so I stopped to see if it were possible to get inside and discover its secrets. With a bit of effort, I was able to get inside and was inspired enough by the tattered American Flag to go back to my car and get my camera gear. It wasn’t much of an exploration, but it did kindle an interest in me to try again in the future if the opportunity ever came along. Well, that opportunity came by about a week ago when I was invited to tag along with two photographers who have had a few years experience doing these “Urban Explorations”. So we headed off to an abandoned textile mill about an hour away and I began my first entry into this new (for me) field of photography. While it was certainly interesting to discover all the things that were left behind when the mill was shuttered, photographically I was having a difficult time trying to extract some compositional interest amongst all the dimly lit machinery. Happily, along the way there, we made a quick stop at a grocery store and picked up a dozen roses that I thought may play well against the grit and decay of these buildings, and I worked mostly with that idea.

Then we moved on to another building adjacent to the first, and having more windows and better lighting, I began to find my footing a bit although continued focusing mostly on the flowers. Then a few abstracts of pealing and fading paint layers before finally finding something that would include a broader view. There was even a loom that still had the fabric in the midst of being produced, suddenly terminated on that last day long ago. But, it seems we over stayed our welcome a bit and “retired” to a nearby local eatery for a bite to eat.

After lunch, we ended up traveling a few back roads and came across a house surrounded by tall, overgrown weeds that showed some potential as a subject and found it accessible. Unfortunately, it appeared to have been trashed somewhere along the line, but there was quite a bit to spark some ideas, being sure to respect the place as we searched the rooms to photograph. I guess the presence of an old organ was a bit unusual from what they told me, but it’s surroundings were a bit difficult to work with since so many things were thrown about and piled up that getting a clean, unobstructed image proved difficult if not impossible. I did feel connected to the place though and ended up with a few decent images, most of which needed to be HDR because of the great difference in light values between the windows and dark corners of the rooms. By the time we decided to head back home, we had all sweat enough to soak our shirts pretty thoroughly twice and one of the “experienced” explorers had a pretty bad day having fallen on his tripod leg, bending it enough that it was deemed unusable for photography when we were in the house. And he had the additional insult by falling through the floorboards of the back porch as well! Luckily, no serious injuries reulted.


Being in these old, abandoned places did stir the imagination quite a bit to visualize the day-to-day history that occurred within them. Everywhere you turned were clues as to what transpired, the lives that were led there, and possibly the end of a life which led to its eventual abandonment. So many stories are left to be discovered before these places fall into complete disrepair or succumb to either gravity or progress.

Funeral Cross_No Dish

Funeral Cross – Abandoned Home, NC — © jj raia


General Thoughts
American Flag - Abandoned

Abandoned American Flag, NC — © jj raia

It’s hard to believe that this marks the 100th post on the blog, and I just wanted to take a moment to thank all those folks, nearby and from around the world, who have chosen to spend some time with me as I explore places and things that end up in front of my lens. I am always humbled, and quite frankly a bit embarrassed, to realize that others enjoy my work as I do.

Today also marks our country’s 240th birthday, and I would hope that in addition to backyard bar-b-ques, parades and fireworks, we reflect on the efforts and sacrifices so many have made throughout our history to become the great nation it is today.