Playing All the Angles

Comment

Playing All the Angles

The original house (on the left) inspired the new structure’s composition (everywhere else). 1100 Architect

The original house (on the left) inspired the new structure’s composition (everywhere else). 1100 Architect

I love being able to see the same thing in new ways – especially when the geometry of a structure like the Perry World House lends itself so well to this passion. 

For three different clients and on three different occasions I was chosen to photograph this uniquely designed global policy research center on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

For the Architecture Firm: The building’s architects, 1100 Architect, elected to keep portions of an original 1851 brick-and-stucco cottage and fuse them into a thoroughly modern limestone building. In what’s been described as a “blunt collision” of old and new, its singular mission is to bring the entire University – all 12 schools – together to debate and explore global issues.

1100 Architect commissioned me to photograph a multitude of exterior and interior views, looking at the building from all sides, at a range of distances, and in both daylight and at twilight.

 Perry World House, Philadelphia, PA.

One of the challenges was to show the street-facing façade of the building without the clutter of cars and food truck normally parked there. While I arranged with the Philadelphia Film Board to get the block designated a “No Parking” zone for the shoot, I knew that signs alone would not deter Philadelphia drivers from parking. So my assistant set up more than a dozen orange traffic cones to keep any and all vehicles out of my shots – and my resident photo editor later zapped out the cones and signs.

Research shot of 38th Street façade; the food truck really annoyed the architects.

Research shot of 38th Street façade; the food truck really annoyed the architects.

38th Street façade, with and without signs and traffic cones. Here’s where great lighting and the perfect time of day change everything!

38th Street façade, with and without signs and traffic cones. Here’s where great lighting and the perfect time of day change everything!

Thank heaven for connections at City Hall and Photoshop.

Ultimately, Perry World House was selected as one of “The 9 Best New University Buildings Around The World” by Architectural Digest – and I’ve been told that my photography had something to do with that!

For the Development Office: Penn’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations asked me to shoot images of the house that would be used as mural-sized displays for “Our Penn,” a traveling presentation hosted by the University’s President that highlights new developments on campus. For this assignment, I focused on the building in use by a variety of students and organizations.

Perry World House with people (for “Our Penn”).

Perry World House with people (for “Our Penn”).

Global conference center or space age sun room?

Global conference center or space age sun room?

The gateway to Perry World House's World Forum, the artfully designed lobby is often the scene of catered receptions.

The gateway to Perry World House's World Forum, the artfully designed lobby is often the scene of catered receptions.

The multi-level Global Policy Lab is a model of versatility, accommodating workshops, conferences, seminars and other events.

The multi-level Global Policy Lab is a model of versatility, accommodating workshops, conferences, seminars and other events.

For the Alumni Magazine: Then Pennsylvania Gazette, the university’s alumni magazine, asked me to capture the essence of the house, as well as photograph its director, William Burke-White.  For this outing, I sought out more heroic images of the building, focusing on light and space, and less on the people using it.

Perry World House without people (for Pennsylvania Gazette).

Perry World House without people (for Pennsylvania Gazette).

Natural light and artwork are everywhere.

Natural light and artwork are everywhere.

Being the photographer of choice is a great feeling. Being the photographer of choice three times for the same gorgeous building is the best feeling.

Comment

Holding Court

Comment

Holding Court

“The Cathedral of Basketball.”

“The Cathedral of Basketball.”

I have a confession to make. Growing up, the lure of basketball somehow escaped me. As a Pittsburgh kid, I played and watched football and baseball.  But it’s true. For all I cared, Dr. J might as well have been Dr. No. 

But all that changed when my son began playing Little League basketball and, like any dutiful dad, I wanted to be supportive. I started attending his games and practices. At around the same time, Allen Iverson started playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. Watching Iverson (and my son) was undeniably exciting – and it turned me into a fan.

If the Medicis had built a basketball arena during the Italian Renaissance, it might have looked like this.

If the Medicis had built a basketball arena during the Italian Renaissance, it might have looked like this.

Which brings me to the Palestra.  Situated on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, it is, by all standards, the greatest venue on earth in which to experience basketball. Note that I said “experience” and not “watch.”  Basketball played anywhere else is just a game. At the Palestra, it’s a celebration.

With a capacity of just under 9,000, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

With a capacity of just under 9,000, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The Palestra has hosted more fans at more games over more seasons than any other college arena in history.  Which is all the more amazing when you consider that it was built to seat only 9,000 people, has undergone only minor renovations since it opened in 1927, and remains, for all intents and purposes, just a big gym. But what a beloved big gym. 

It’s known the world over as “The Cathedral of Basketball.”

So you can imagine my glee when I got the assignment to photograph the Palestra for a story to run in the Pennsylvania Gazette commemorating its 90th anniversary. 

Fans have witnessed some of the greatest moments in men’s and women’s basketball from these seats.

Fans have witnessed some of the greatest moments in men’s and women’s basketball from these seats.

Part of capturing the vibe of any place is spending time walking and looking, sizing up the space and the light, figuring out where to put the camera and when. The editorial staff decided to have me shoot during the day with the arena empty, but set up for a full court game. I used timing and the illumination of the natural light to my advantage.

For the widest views, I used a very wide angle architectural shift lens, the Canon 17mm. In post-production we stitched together two frames in order to create an even wider view.

Sitting on the wooden bleachers is a key element of attending a game at the Palestra, so I chose to feature the simple seating in some of my detail shots.

The people’s palace.  No skyboxes, but plenty of flat wooden bleachers.

The people’s palace.  No skyboxes, but plenty of flat wooden bleachers.

The venue’s history is celebrated along its concourse.  As a high schooler, Wilt Chamberlain played for the Philadelphia city championship at the Palestra.  He was 6’ 8” by the 8th grade.

The venue’s history is celebrated along its concourse.  As a high schooler, Wilt Chamberlain played for the Philadelphia city championship at the Palestra.  He was 6’ 8” by the 8th grade.

Comment

Adventures in Arch-itecture

1 Comment

Adventures in Arch-itecture

Dick McDonald in New Hampshire. © Greg Benson

Dick McDonald in New Hampshire. © Greg Benson

Recently, I went to see the movie “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the man who turned a California roadside burger joint into the worldwide fast food franchise known as McDonald’s. Kroc expanded the Speedee Service System started by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald beyond their wildest dreams.

I had the opportunity to meet and photograph Dick McDonald on an assignment for the McDonald’s Corporation’s in-house magazine. Dick was the person who had dreamed up the Golden Arches, so photographing him in front of that iconic logo was the only choice!

Bright lights, big city.  57th Street, Midtown Manhattan.

Bright lights, big city.  57th Street, Midtown Manhattan.

On assignments with Mickey D’s, I traveled to more than 30 states capturing the architecture of the company in the country, the suburbs and in cities. And always—there were always those golden arches attesting to Dick McDonald’s original vision.

A McDonald’s in rural New England or Virginia Beach?  Exactly!

A McDonald’s in rural New England or Virginia Beach?  Exactly!

I learned a lot from my work photographing fast food restaurants. During one shoot I had to climb onto the roof to replace burnt out light bulbs. (We didn’t have the luxury of Photoshop retouching then.) And wow, that’s when I learned to appreciate pre-planning, calling ahead and asking managers to check a list of things that could derail a shoot.

Being an advocate for my client’s needs while on location made my crew, the workers in individual locations and my clients happy with our results. And ensured that we “got the shot.”

I learned to make the plain and ordinary look exciting. Not every building is the Taj Mahal, so knowing how to bring drama into any architectural image is an important part of my craft. Great lighting, smart angles and the talent in finding the perfect p.o.v. were my tools.

I understood trusting my instincts. I was secure knowing that I had nailed the shot before flying a thousand miles back home—something absolutely critical in those non-digital days.

During this work, my portraiture skills increased as I worked with lots and lots of people—both in planning and scheduling, as well as having them in front of my camera.

And, let’s face it, I learned to appreciate the occasional Big Mac with fries and a Coke.

More dining destinations:

1 Comment

No Door Necessary

2 Comments

No Door Necessary

Those little white specks are birds 1,000 feet below me.

Those little white specks are birds 1,000 feet below me.

As someone who specializes in architectural photography, most of my subjects stay in one place.  With my camera and feet planted firmly on the ground, I’m able to control the environment and set up a shot just the way I want it – and from a variety of angles and perspectives.  

It’s a little different when I’m 1,000 feet up.  In most cases, I have to wait for the shot to come to me – and be ready to take it when it does.  I’m literally shooting on the fly.

Whether it’s a structure or a landscape, it’s all about form, shape and composition.

Whether it’s a structure or a landscape, it’s all about form, shape and composition.

But whether on the ground or in the air, I always look to create a strong design and composition, organizing visual info as it comes into frame.  As the helicopter hovers over a site, the geometry of what I see continually shifts. I zoom in and then out.  I aim my camera left, then right. Up, then down. I’m free to improvise. And when the elements of a location form a solid design, I take my shot.

Snow acts as a white seamless background for the landscape.

Snow acts as a white seamless background for the landscape.

Now, it might sound a little crazy, but when I photograph from a helicopter, the door is always off, so that I can have a clear unobstructed view to as many angles as possible. But I’m no daredevil – I’m strapped in with a seat belt and safety harness.

Flying without a door is particularly challenging when it’s really cold. One of my commercial real estate clients needed aerials of buildings and they couldn’t wait for better weather. When my son Paul (who assists me) and I climbed into the Robinson R44, the temperature on the ground was 0°F. Imagine the wind chill factor when flying at speeds of up to 100 mph – with no door. 

A pattern on a window?  No, it’s ice on a small lake.

A pattern on a window?  No, it’s ice on a small lake.

On that assignment I wore long underwear, insulated orange ski pants, wool socks, heavy boots, multiple layers on my torso with a windproof shell, a balaclava on my head to cover all but my eyes, and a hat over that. Add warm gloves with mittens over them to protect my hands when not shooting. At times during the two hour flight, I felt like a war correspondent about to be dropped into the Arctic Circle.

And I loved it!

Here are more skybound stories:
Soar Like An Eagle
From Up High
Scene From Above
Night Flight

 

 

 

2 Comments

All is Calm

Comment

All is Calm

Philly scene of winter.  The Fischer Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania, designed by Frank Furness.

Philly scene of winter.  The Fischer Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania, designed by Frank Furness.

‘Tis the season for taking time and taking stock. So many things I’ve learned – and relearned – over the past year.

I’m continually reminded that the needs of clients change and evolve over time, as do clients themselves.  It’s good to take things off automatic every once in a while and make manual adjustments.

People who know me, know I love to talk.  But the practice of listening is perhaps my most valuable life skill, one I’m perpetually perfecting.

Keep an open mind and open heart. Differences of opinion are just that.  Best to seek ways to solve them in mutually beneficial ways.

I’m wishing everyone a winter holiday of peace and calm, things I feel every time I look at the Fischer Fine Arts Library. It’s one of my favorite buildings in Philadelphia. Designed at the height of the Victorian era, it’s an elaborate structure of riveting red (I think it’s vermillion) and filled with intricate details just waiting to be discovered. 

Not too long ago, when Victorian buildings were considered old and outdated, there was a proposal to knock it down. I’m glad they didn’t.

What’s that they say about sticking your tongue to a flagpole?  How about a gargoyle?

What’s that they say about sticking your tongue to a flagpole?  How about a gargoyle?

Comment

Much Obliged

1 Comment

Much Obliged

Gratitude comes in many colors.

Gratitude comes in many colors.

I’ve been doing what I do professionally for quite some time now.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned (and, at times, have had to relearn) it’s that no man or woman is an island.  As a creative professional, the folks I’m honored to count as clients count on me to make the buildings they build and the spaces they design shine as boldly and brightly as possible.  And I count on them to keep food on my table and film in my camera. Digitally speaking, of course.

So, as we move into the holiday season – and at a time of uncertainty – I’m determined to keep my attitude one of gratitude.

I’m thankful for all the good work and projects I’ve been able to be part of throughout 2016.  The worlds of real estate and architecture in and around Philadelphia are active and vibrant.  When I travel through the city’s streets, I see new constructions that are enhancing Philadephia’s story, rather than detracting from it.

Light Play weaves color into the fabric of the city.

Light Play weaves color into the fabric of the city.

The interactive Light Play installation at Southstar Lofts is a prime example.  Built as part of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s “Percent for Art” program, I was asked to photograph it by Mags Harries and Lajos Heder, the Boston-based artists who designed the project.

Pools of color light the way to work or school.

Pools of color light the way to work or school.

Projecting color onto the building and street in synch with the motion of the sun, the effect is a literal representation of the connection between art and commerce – a flourishing rental market helps fund the art, while a vibrant art scene helps create a place where people want to live and businesses want to locate.

I’m grateful to Harries/Heder for choosing me to shine a light on their work.  I’m also grateful for long-standing relationships with companies including CBRE, Jones Lang LaSalle, Newmark, HFF, University of Pennsylvania and EP Henry – as well as new clients like Greystar and Bohlin Cynwinski Jackson. If I’ve left you off the list, my apologies.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t express thanks for all of the people who support me in my business.  My editor and assistant, Paul (who also happens to be my son), deals with my quirks on a daily basis and makes me proud every day.  My office manager, Tanya, keeps all the behind the scenes financial and database tasks flowing seamlessly.  A shout out to all of the freelance photo assistants, Fernando, Matt, Dan, Mike and Jason, who raise the level of my game.  And shout outs to my marketing consultant, Janie Hewson, my writer, Steve Rotterdam, my designer, Aaron Vinton, and my accountant, Bill Irish.

Finally, there’s the rest of my family.  My amazing wife, Bev. My daughter, Lily, whose spirit and ambition make me proud.  My loving mother, Eva, who at 80 sends more texts than I can keep up with. And my brother, Chan, who holds the record for my longest running friendship.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

1 Comment

Show and Sell

Comment

Show and Sell

The ultimate destination for the Ultimate Driving Machine.

The ultimate destination for the Ultimate Driving Machine.

Auto dealerships are funny things.  Buyers come in thinking this is going to be a one-time experience.  See the car, negotiate on the car, pick up the car, drive the car away.  Dealers, on the other hand, want that first visit to be the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship.  In other words, come back repeatedly for maintenance and service – because that’s where the real money’s made.

Checking in to get checked out.

Checking in to get checked out.

Streamlined customer service center acts as a gateway to the owner’s lounge.

Streamlined customer service center acts as a gateway to the owner’s lounge.

So on a narrow strip of underutilized land on Bala Avenue in Bala Cynwyd, BMW of the Main Line commissioned Penney Design Group to create an inviting structure that would reflect the style and feel of the luxury performance brand in a way that emphasizes openness and accessibility – and that’s what Penny expected from my photography.

Creation of a pocket park was part of the a deal with the township to reconfigure and revitalize the property.

Creation of a pocket park was part of the a deal with the township to reconfigure and revitalize the property.

On top of that, the location, situated near a commuter rail station and running parallel to train tracks, was ripe for revitalization.  As this new construction was to serve as the catalyst for this effort, my images had to serve the needs of the town as well as those of the designers and dealership. An intermittently cloudy day afforded me the opportunity to angle and shoot the exterior against dramatic skies.  Every corner of the interior was flooded with light to highlight the abundance of windows and the openness of design.

Right this way, your "bimmer’s" waiting.

Right this way, your "bimmer’s" waiting.

Deal?  Deal!

Deal?  Deal!

Moving inside, I emphasized the accessibility of cars parked within easy reach of the sales associates and their desks, making sure to capture the warm touches of wood that brought texture and tone into the space.  

Expanses of light, glass and height greet you at every turn.

Expanses of light, glass and height greet you at every turn.

After descending the glass-framed staircase, I took a similar approach to the streamlined efficiency of the service center’s reception area and work stations.

As the Welsh Quakers who originally settled Bala Cynwyd might have said, it’s an anhygoel (awesome) new addition to the area’s landscape.

Comment

Penn’s New Urban Oasis

1 Comment

Penn’s New Urban Oasis

Student life is already underway at the new gateway to Penn’s main campus.

Student life is already underway at the new gateway to Penn’s main campus.

Situated in one of America’s signature cities, the campus of the University of Pennsylvania is a vibrant, ever evolving center of learning, living and discovery that beats with a heart of its own. 

At least that’s the way I’ve come to feel about it, having shot so many of its classic and contemporary facilities and facades over the years. 

Façades of patterned brick seem to change with the shifting sun; tall glass enclosed areas indicate shared social spaces.

Façades of patterned brick seem to change with the shifting sun; tall glass enclosed areas indicate shared social spaces.

So it was with more than typical enthusiasm that I took on this assignment to capture the many facets of what Penn has dubbed “New College House.” This brand new residence (the first since the 1970s) houses over 300 students, faculty and house masters and includes dining facilities and wide-ranging social spaces.

Timber and concrete lend a somewhat rustic, but sophisticated feel to the building’s main entrance, one that complements the meticulous landscaping.

Timber and concrete lend a somewhat rustic, but sophisticated feel to the building’s main entrance, one that complements the meticulous landscaping.

Designed by the architectural firm of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the project transforms one of the university’s last major open green spaces into a focal point of campus life while preserving and literally raising the profile of that green space (via a “lifted lawn”).

The view along 34th Street is stately serenity.

The view along 34th Street is stately serenity.

On the morning of the shoot, as I made my way around the residence (to call it a “dorm” would be unfair), I discovered that each view offered a different perspective on the building and its surroundings – a bit like college itself. 

A low profile stairway about midway along Chestnut Street provides public access to the lawn.

A low profile stairway about midway along Chestnut Street provides public access to the lawn.

As these images were to be used to accompany an article in Penn’s alumni magazine, Pennsylvania Gazette, heralding the opening of the facility, I was determined to capture this quality and further illustrate how the building’s design, with its redbrick exterior, limestone trim and tiered glass stairwells, serves as an inviting gateway to the greater campus just beyond.

The publicly accessible “lifted lawn” rises up to offer an open invitation to all. 

The publicly accessible “lifted lawn” rises up to offer an open invitation to all. 

The inner courtyard lies at the crossroads of living, learning, social and dining spaces.

The inner courtyard lies at the crossroads of living, learning, social and dining spaces.

Concurrent with this assignment, Penn’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations planned to showcase the new construction as part of its 10-city “Our Penn” tour, highlighting new developments on campus.  This called for a range of additional shots (some aerial) depicting ways in which its first residents were already embracing the building and its environment.

Green is emphasized above as well as below. 

Green is emphasized above as well as below. 

Just west of Center City Philadelphia, New College House stands out as a true urban oasis.

Just west of Center City Philadelphia, New College House stands out as a true urban oasis.

If it could ever be said that a space pulsates with a life of its own, let it be said about New College House.

 

1 Comment

My Trip to the Amazon

Comment

My Trip to the Amazon

Welcome to Amazon@Penn!

Welcome to Amazon@Penn!

I’m often asked to capture the “specialness” of places that some people might consider “ordinary.”  This is usually the case with what I call “branded spaces,” locations like the interior of a Starbucks or a Target or an Apple Store that are pretty familiar to almost everyone. 

Yet just as much planning goes into such a seemingly “routine” assignment as that required for shooting a one-of-a-kind environment or distinctive architectural landmark.  Sometimes more.

It was going to be a regular day, so we got there early.

It was going to be a regular day, so we got there early.

Such was the case when Amazon asked me to document an Amazon Campus pickup point recently installed on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.  This new delivery option is Amazon’s latest effort to get customers what they want faster and more securely than ever.  These photos would be used for public relations purposes as well as to help “sell-in” the idea to other locations.

Yes, it’s as easy as it looks!

Yes, it’s as easy as it looks!

The twist here was in figuring out how to best capture a physical space for a brand best known for its online presence.  The images had to feel as if you’d seen them before when, in reality, few people actually ever did.

Working with actual staffers simplified everything.

Working with actual staffers simplified everything.

In addition to finding the most compelling angles, lighting was crucial to the success of the shoot.  Note the pickups of the warm tones, simple lines and inviting textures. 

Feels like Amazon, doesn’t it?  And that’s the point.

These students came to play.  Perfect timing for us!

These students came to play.  Perfect timing for us!

Comment

Fly Ball

1 Comment

Fly Ball

A well manicured field in the western suburbs of Philadelphia.

A well manicured field in the western suburbs of Philadelphia.

It all began years ago while I was up in a rented helicopter capturing aerial shots for a client. From the air, you can see dozens of ball fields. While flying over cities, suburbs, or farmland, that familiar diamond shape jumps out.


Baseball diamonds are a bit like snowflakes … the shape is immediately recognizable but no two are exactly alike. I admit that photographing ball fields from on high is a bit of an obsession. As a kid I was really into following baseball, especially the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now I capture diamonds from the air. 

A field in North Philadelphia.

A field in North Philadelphia.

The sizes, colors, conditions and surroundings varies greatly. Baseball fields can spring up on virtually any piece of land--from a gritty North Philadelphia vacant lot to a manicured university turf field.

This field is faintly visible like a ghost. Notice how there is less wear as you go from home to third base.

This field is faintly visible like a ghost. Notice how there is less wear as you go from home to third base.

In contrast to photographing buildings from the air, ball fields are exceptionally flat. The character traits of a given field are etched in the terrain, whether it’s sand, grass, dirt or synthetic turf. Others are circular from base-rounding wear and tear that show a field’s age like tree rings in a stump.

Baseball can be played anywhere there is an open field.

Baseball can be played anywhere there is an open field.

Two fields in Camden, NJ under construction, with new grass seed recently sprayed on the left.

Two fields in Camden, NJ under construction, with new grass seed recently sprayed on the left.

Softball fields lack the inner field grass of baseball fields.

Softball fields lack the inner field grass of baseball fields.

I love the rings of the grass mowing, like tree rings.

I love the rings of the grass mowing, like tree rings.

1 Comment

Suburban Living

1 Comment

Suburban Living

Since my blog on City Living last month, I ventured out to the Philadelphia western suburbs to photograph a Main Line makeover for architect Jeffrey Spoelker, AIA, of JMS Architecture. Jeff started his own practice in 2009 but is now pumping up the marketing volume with a new website and bigger, better photos. That’s where I come in.

Old Is the New “New”
Interior images make you think you’re looking at a brand new house. But the exterior’s Center Hall Colonial style gives away the home’s 100-year age. The couple who live here love their charming neighborhood and its historic architecture, but found themselves “making do” in a home designed for a century-old lifestyle. Jeff’s first step was to help this atypical family rethink interior spaces to enhance the way they really live.

Top floor guest room for older children when they visit.

Top floor guest room for older children when they visit.

Empty Nest? Not Yet.
This couple’s recent re-marriage spawned a hybrid style of Brady Bunch living. The husband’s grown children have flown the coop … but come back to visit. And the wife’s younger kids still live at home. So the nest is full again … fuller even. To accommodate the needs of all parties, under-used rooms were transformed into walk-in closets, computer rooms and private baths adjoining bedrooms. The attic was refashioned as a dynamic guest room with private bath. Most spaces were made sleeker, more spacious and tailored for optimum functionality with fun accents like sliding barn doors and pebble-look shower tiles.

The unfinished attic before its transformation.

The unfinished attic before its transformation.

or interior shots, I blended multiple exposures to fully express the characteristics of reflective materials like countertops, tile, shower doors, mirrors, windows, wood grain. To highlight the interesting geometries of the attic bedroom, I shot from four different angles and digitally fused the shots to span all dimensions, from ceiling shapes to rug and side dormer windows.

6-Sided Living
In contrast with “City Living” in a rowhouse or apartment tower, most houses in the Burbs have FOUR SIDES! This house’s whopping six sides compounded the challenge of timing for optimum sunlight while factoring in patios, overhangs, porches, chimneys, dormer windows, foliage, garage and neighboring houses. Exterior images show improvements like the new gable created over the front door. The house was re-roofed and re-stuccoed with wood siding inserted here and there for a contemporary touch. A small outdoor porch was stripped off and another exposed and connected to the larger back patio.

1 Comment

City Living

Comment

City Living

2116 Chestnut Street with the Philadelphia skyline.

“Life is better here” is the simple, but bold, marketing slogan for the new 2116 Chestnut Street apartment tower in Philadelphia. Working for the building’s owner, CBRE Global Investors, my challenge was to fully express this glassy, 34-story tower as “The ideal address for an urban lifestyle,” as advertised. The images are being used to show off the property to investors through marketing materials and quarterly reports.

2116 Chestnut Street lights up at night.

2116 Chestnut Street lights up at night.

Eager to tell the full story of the building’s context, I shot from several different locations and heights to capture the true, but changing, personality and spirit of this contemporary structure.

Older lower scale neighborhood surrounds the building.

Neighborhood! From the street, images demonstrate how the streamlined tower adjoins a charming, 100-year-old residence on the corner to physically and visually connect with the surrounding historic neighborhood. Stone churches, schools, trees, parks and shops accessorize the street-level appeal. At twilight, the tower shoots up over the older, low-lying buildings almost like a rocket being propelled into the future from a launching pad of the past. Dusk shots are animated by splashes of twinkling light from occupied apartments above colored streaks from passing cars on the otherwise tranquil, city streets.

Seen from the roof top of a nearby building.

Views! Images taken from a rooftop a few blocks away let you imagine how living in the tower would offer tremendous, unobstructed views in all directions. And no one is looking in (uh, except for me). So you are free to open the blinds or hang out on the balcony and savor the dynamic backdrop of skyscrapers on one side and the Schuylkill River on the other. A very close-up view activates sleek interiors and cutting-edge amenities as residents enjoy an easy, urban lifestyle.

Trails along the Schuylkill River are filled with people running, walking and biking.

Trails! I found a great shooting location on the University City side of the river in order to show how 2116 Chestnut is mere blocks from the new Schuylkill River Trail System. Being two blocks from the river also means you’re within walking distance to University City, if you take classes or work over there. You can see from here that the building is also just blocks from the city’s skyscrapers, Rittenhouse Square, shops and restaurants. This is truly an ideal location in a thriving but quieter part of Center City.

This simple, state-of-the-art structure in a way represents the missing link between sparkling, sky-high downtown and a calmer, more down-to-earth community. It is all the best the city has to offer. How could you not want to be a part of that?

Comment

Skyscrapers: Above and Beyond

Comment

Skyscrapers: Above and Beyond

Keystone Blue Cross, Philadelphia, PA

Photographing skyscrapers is a tall order in many ways. These giant feats of architecture, engineering and construction first get conceived, then designed, then built, often over the course of years and to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. I appreciate, and am humbled by, the immensity of the challenge to show these herculean structures to their best advantage.

For many of the skyscrapers I photograph, I am working for commercial realty companies that use my imagery to sell either a whole building or available space within a building. The goal is to obviously make the buildings look as formidable and desirable as possible: large, classy, sophisticated, modern, state of the art, and featuring the latest in contemporary amenities in an ideal location. Many businesses understand that having an office in a shiny, towering edifice will positively reflect the building’s sophistication, stability and permanence onto their own company’s brand of success.

When photographing skyscrapers, I try to “read,” and then tease out, the unique qualities and individual contexts of each structure, from the ground level to the very top. Skyscrapers “read” one way from a distance and another way from closer up, gazing up at them from the street.

Mellon Bank Center, 1735 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA

BNY Mellon Center
One of the most important aspects of the BNY Mellon Center is its famous pyramid structure at the top that houses the Pyramid Club and offers space with an amazing view for parties, business meetings and other events. I was able to get just slightly above the pyramid in a neighboring building to show not only the structural details of the sky-high atrium but also bring into view the Philadelphia Museum of Art along with the Schuylkill River beyond to demonstrate the building’s impressive location.

For many of these projects, I am challenged to show a building or buildings in the context of their urban environment to let a buyer or new tenant know what a great location they’d be buying (or leasing) into. Showing the building’s surroundings, and even getting a view of the structure’s middle and top, requires “getting some height” on the building. This becomes a matter of locating a neighboring building high enough to offer up a perfect view from the middle or near the top of the subject building. The next hoop to jump through is getting permission to photograph FROM these other buildings, which in my experience is an endeavor that’s either really easy or nearly impossible.

Once I identify an ideal building to shoot from, I often show up and ask the security staff if I can go up in their building to photograph a neighboring building. Some people agree readily to my plan and accompany me on my travels through their building. Others say I’ll need permission in writing from the building managers, which may take a month at which time I’m welcome to come back. So getting some height on these tall buildings requires a little ingenuity, persistence, people skills and luck, especially given today’s concerns about security.

Penn Mutual Building, Philadelphia, PA

Penn Mutual Building
To shoot the Penn Mutual Building, I was challenged to show off the ideal urban neighborhood that the buildings are located in, just across from Independence Park and down the street from the iconic Society Hill Towers. With the Delaware River in the near distance, the Penn Mutual complex stands out as an impressive corporate structure that blends its significant architectural history with its more contemporary components that have evolved over time to represent stability and success for the long haul.

Since so many skyscrapers are faced with glass curtainwalls, “reading” each building becomes a study in what is reflecting in the building at the time. Once I’m up in an adjacent building, it’s almost like a chemistry experiment: mixing just the right amount of height, light and shadows, with reflections of clouds and other buildings. For a different perspective, I also photograph skyscrapers from the ground to demonstrate the grandiosity of the entrance and present a more dramatic “towering” view as the top of the colossal structure fades into reflections of clouds and then meets up with the wild blue yonder.

Comcast Tower, Philadelphia, PA

Comcast Tower
The Comcast Center is more than 1,000 feet tall and 59 stories high, so finding a nearby building tall enough to photograph from was a challenge. Once I found it, though, I had the perfect vantage point to capture the Liberty Place skyscrapers reflected in, and dwarfed by, the more massive Comcast Center. I managed to match up the reflected horizon and surrounding city view with the “real” horizon and clouds beyond the building. Having one consistent skyline lets the viewer focus on the building and not be distracted by too many disparate impressions of surrounding scenery.

Comment

Tis the Season to Be Shopping

Comment

Tis the Season to Be Shopping

High-end urban retail spaces must feel as luxurious and unique as the merchandise sold within.

Shopping is as American as apple pie. It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that the United States has over 45 sq. ft. of retail space for every person — double that of our nearest shopaholic rivals, the UK.

The “Super Bowl” of this national pastime is Black Friday, that annual stampede of savings that marks the start of the holiday shopping season. Beginning in early November, we hear the rumblings of fanfare. Stores will do everything they can to lure customers in for the biggest shopping day of the year.

A clean-lined, tidy display of products entices customers to explore at Ulta Cosmetics in Philadelphia.

With the rise of Cyber Monday and the prevalence of online shopping, it has become even more important for brick-and-mortar locations to “up” their game. Shopping has been transformed into a theatrical experience, laced with temptation and discovery.

Many shopping centers have turned into nostalgic, village-like theme parks. These pedestrian-friendly designs are meant to encourage leisurely browsing and enhance the social experience of “going shopping.”

This village-style shopping center invites consumers to make a day of it.

When I photograph retail spaces and shopping centers, I always try to convey that sense of excitement. Often, I choose to shoot at twilight to capture the dramatic glowing lights and colors designed to entice shoppers.

Lighting and color attracts shoppers.

Comment

Community Facelift

Comment

Community Facelift

Fresh, modern interiors in the model units appeal to upscale tenants.
Fresh, modern interiors in the model units appeal to upscale tenants.

Buildings aren’t meant to last forever — ask any homeowner! Even well-built architectural treasures need renovations eventually.

I’ve always been fascinated by how buildings change over time. Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn changed the way I look at buildings. It opened my eyes to the story and history of every building.

The sparkling swimming pool and inviting common areas beg for a late-summer party!
The sparkling swimming pool and inviting common areas beg for a late-summer party!
BEFORE: The old tennis court was poorly maintained and under-utilized.
BEFORE: The old tennis court was poorly maintained and under-utilized.

In the real estate business, “value-add” refers to an investment in an aging property to make upgrades and repairs, bringing the place back to life and make it viable again. It’s an inevitable part of the construction life-cycle — and can be a very profitable investment for those who know what they’re doing.

One particularly dramatic transformation of a “value-add” property is Yardley Crossing in suburban Philadelphia. Built in 1979, the 196-unit, 24-acre apartment complex was purchased by Relative Properties, in 2014.

I’ve had the unique opportunity to photograph Yardley Crossing twice — once in 2011 for a commercial real estate firm listing the property for sale, and again in 2015 for Paul Aschkenasy at Relative Properties, after its comprehensive makeover.

The clubhouse at Yardley Crossing was transformed into a stylish Craftsman-style multi-purpose space.
The clubhouse at Yardley Crossing was transformed into a stylish Craftsman-style multi-purpose space.
BEFORE: The old clubhouse, clad in “blah” white vinyl, was attracting no one with its outdated styling.
BEFORE: The old clubhouse, clad in “blah” white vinyl, was attracting no one with its outdated styling.

The property is nearly unrecognizable now. When I photographed it back in 2011, it was definitely showing its age — the finishes were outdated, the amenities unappealing, and structures were in need of repairs.

With a complete renovation and upgrades to the clubhouse, pool and surrounding common areas, as well as elegant and modern remodels of the unit interiors, Yardley Crossing is now able to market itself as a luxury apartment and townhome community.

Modern, upscale finishes in the newly renovated units appeal to more upscale tenants.
Modern, upscale finishes in the newly renovated units appeal to more upscale tenants.
BEFORE: Outdated “builder-grade” finishes had no personality or warmth.
BEFORE: Outdated “builder-grade” finishes had no personality or warmth.

When photographing interiors, it makes all the difference to have a talented designer styling the spaces. For our shoot at Yardley Crossing, we collaborated with the fun and talented Lisa Furie . She brings great energy, stylish flair and a thoughtful eye to every project.

What a transformation!
What a transformation!

Comment

Always Learning

1 Comment

Always Learning

Golkin Hall, Penn Law School

Golkin Hall, Penn Law School

September is a time of change, as millions of students and their families begin the new school year. The lazy days of summer are over, and it’s time to hit the books.

Educational projects are some of my favorite to photograph — and some of the most challenging! Being on campus again reminds me of my own school days, and the predictable rhythm it gave to the whole year.

Surrounded by a busy urban area, Golkin Hall closes off one side of the Penn Law School quadrangle, providing a green space for students to relax or study.

Surrounded by a busy urban area, Golkin Hall closes off one side of the Penn Law School quadrangle, providing a green space for students to relax or study.

Recently, the Penn Gazette commissioned me to photograph Golkin Hall, a major renovation and addition to the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia. This $30 million, 40,000-square-foot Kennedy & Violich Architects-designed space replaced a bland 1960s building that, by all accounts, won’t be missed.

Working with The Gazette is always a great experience. Their art director gives me the freedom to capture the essence of a place and create images that pop off the page. I’ve photographed for this magazine on several other occasions, including the Singh Center for Nanotechnology and the Lerner Center Music Building.

The spacious Fitts Auditorium features warm wood tones and a variety of lighting levels to respond to student’s and faculty’s needs.

The spacious Fitts Auditorium features warm wood tones and a variety of lighting levels to respond to student’s and faculty’s needs.

Photographing educational projects — Golkin Hall included — poses a special set of challenges. University-level construction projects are a high-stakes game. The school spends years planning for each new project, soliciting millions from important alumni, and contracting top architects and construction firms to create and implement a stunning design — all with the hopes of attracting the best students and faculty and boosting the school’s reputation with state-of-the-art facilities.

Images of these valuable projects are vital for attracting publicity, so that the University’s key constituents see the result of all that hard work. It’s our goal to capture the best possible shots while respecting the University’s ongoing teaching and research, and not disrupting the building’s occupants.

At Golkin Hall, we photographed a variety of spaces, from the undulating brick and marble facade, to the spacious new 350-seat auditorium, and the buzzing café and lounge area. For most shots, we were able to pull people into the space to give a sense of scale and life to the design.

Located on the lower level of Golkin Hall, just outside the main auditorium, this open lounge area provides space for students to socialize between classes.

Located on the lower level of Golkin Hall, just outside the main auditorium, this open lounge area provides space for students to socialize between classes.

1 Comment

Jewel Box for Cars

Comment

Jewel Box for Cars

The sophisticated design of the showroom matches the luxury automobiles on display.

The sophisticated design of the showroom matches the luxury automobiles on display.

Luxury buyers expect a luxurious environment, with high-end design that reflects a brand’s quality and style. The Audi showroom in Devon, Pennsylvania provides these buyers with the ultimate shopping experience. The metal and glass structure presents vehicles as coveted works of art in a glowing jewel box.

Vehicles are displayed like works of art in a modern gallery.

Vehicles are displayed like works of art in a modern gallery.

Warfel Construction and Penney Design Group commissioned me to photograph the building, which reflects Audi’s signature design philosophy — sleek, modern, forward-thinking, and comfortable. From the sloping angles conveying a sense of motion and energy, to the soaring ceilings and open spaces populated with clean-lined furnishings, the customer is surrounded by an atmosphere of sophisticated design — similar to a modern art gallery.

Clean lines and angled walls energize the space and reflect Audi’s signature design aesthetic.

Clean lines and angled walls energize the space and reflect Audi’s signature design aesthetic.

Clean lines and angled walls energize the space and reflect Audi’s signature design aesthetic. Customer experience is a top priority at this Audi showroom, which is loaded with extras to make their high-end clientele more comfortable. There is even a coffee bar — with free cappuccino. Now that’s a luxury I could live with!

The Devon Audi dealership has a fleet of 55 loaner cars — one way they go the extra mile to keep their upscale customers happy.

The Devon Audi dealership has a fleet of 55 loaner cars — one way they go the extra mile to keep their upscale customers happy.

The architects suggested that we incorporate people to give a sense of life and scale to the photographs. Hiring models was not in the budget, however, so instead we used employees during a normal workday. It was challenging to shoot while the showroom was open and employees were focused on their jobs, but everyone was very friendly and helpful.

Customers take delivery of their new Audi in a custom-designed glass room — a truly special moment, above and beyond a typical car-buying experience.

Customers take delivery of their new Audi in a custom-designed glass room — a truly special moment, above and beyond a typical car-buying experience.

The metal and glass showroom really came to life at twilight. Our exterior photographs reveal the sparkling interiors and the angled lines of this clean, modern design.

At twilight, the showroom glows like a jewel box.

At twilight, the showroom glows like a jewel box.

Comment

Time for a Backyard BBQ!

Comment

Time for a Backyard BBQ!

Put your feet up and watch the sunset from this gorgeous private patio in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Put your feet up and watch the sunset from this gorgeous private patio in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

The days are long, the nights are warm, and invitations to backyard BBQs are piling up. Summer has arrived! After a winter that dragged on for months, I’ll take any excuse to get outside. Add the mouth-watering sizzle of food on the grill, an icy spray of foam from a freshly-cracked beer, and I’m in heaven.

Get ready to toast s’mores (or a glass of wine!) by the firepit in this elegant outdoor entertaining area.

Get ready to toast s’mores (or a glass of wine!) by the firepit in this elegant outdoor entertaining area.

One of my long-time clients, EP Henry, is a manufacturer of hardscaping materials, specializing in backyard patios and entertaining areas. Their products turn basic backyards into a summertime host’s dream party zone. When photographing these fun outdoor spaces, I must showcase their products — the tiles and walls which draw guests in and sets the mood for entertaining. My goal is to help people imagine their own backyard as the perfect place to gather friends and family.

An outdoor chef’s dream setup, this covered outdoor pavilion is the center of any party.

An outdoor chef’s dream setup, this covered outdoor pavilion is the center of any party.

Using props, creating a roaring fire, adding outdoor lighting, and by shooting at twilight, we’re able to set the mood for gatherings small and large. By scouting the location in advance, we can plan for the best angles, props, and times of day to shoot different areas.

As with any residential shoot, we must coordinate with the homeowners to get the shots we need while respecting their private space. Good communication is key.

Looking back at these images, it’s easy to start day-dreaming about my own outdoor oasis — surrounded by family and friends, enjoying ice-cold drinks and delicious food just off the grill!

A firepit sits poised for sundown, ready to draw guests into casual conversation.

A firepit sits poised for sundown, ready to draw guests into casual conversation.

Stunning underwater lights and garden torches light up this party-ready pool.

Stunning underwater lights and garden torches light up this party-ready pool.

Comment

Twilight: Timing Is Everything

4 Comments

Twilight: Timing Is Everything

Striking angles are accented by glowing windows at dusk. 1650 Arch Street, Philadelphia.
Striking angles are accented by glowing windows at dusk. 1650 Arch Street, Philadelphia.

Timing is everything when you’re shooting a building at twilight. That perfect moment — when the sky darkens to a gorgeous indigo and the artificial lights start to glow through the darkness — appears during a tiny window of just 10-30 minutes. Blink and you might miss it!

If you shoot too early, the bright sunlight will overpower the artificial lights and you’ll lose that wonderful glow. If you shoot too late, you lose the definition of the structure and will only see windows and other bright lights set against a dull black sky.

A vibrant indigo sky illuminates Endo Pharmaceuticals in Malvern, PA.
A vibrant indigo sky illuminates Endo Pharmaceuticals in Malvern, PA.

When you get a twilight shot just right, the results are truly special, providing energy and drama to a shot. The effect is amplified in an urban setting where the many hard surfaces reflect light all around.

Twilight photography can also be a great strategy when a building — such as the L2 Partridge designed office building for Endo pharmaceuticals — faces north and lacks direct sunlight for most of the year. In order to get the best photographs of this building right away, I chose to shoot primarily at twilight.

A darkened sky draws your eye to the entryway connecting these two buildings.
A darkened sky draws your eye to the entryway connecting these two buildings.

Because dusk is so fleeting, my assistant and son, Paul Benson, and I set up two cameras to maximize the number of photos we could shoot in a brief window of time. There’s no way we could set up and break down the same set of equipment for this many shots on that cold and windy night.

To ensure that we captured the perfect twilight images, we shot many frames of each scene. Light moves so quickly at twilight that two pictures shot just a minute apart can appear drastically different!

During a fleeting moment, the sun has sunk just low enough for the artificial lights to glow, but not so low as to obscure this exterior covered walkway.
During a fleeting moment, the sun has sunk just low enough for the artificial lights to glow, but not so low as to obscure this exterior covered walkway.

Twilight shots are even more dramatic when a building’s windows are uniformly lit by interior lighting. During this shoot, one section of the building had all the blinds closed — not a great look! The security staff helped us open and close dozens of blinds on five stories.

It takes a great team to get great twilight images.

4 Comments

A Beacon in the Night

1 Comment

A Beacon in the Night

The entrance to the Morristown Hospital Emergency Room glows brightly in the night.

The entrance to the Morristown Hospital Emergency Room glows brightly in the night.

Photographing an empty hospital or healthcare facility, you can really feel the calm before the storm. In these situations, it is imperative that we get into the facility before the whirlwind of patients, doctors, nurses and other staff arrive. Can you imagine trying to photograph an active ER?!

High-traffic areas such as these would be impossible to photograph occupied.

High-traffic areas such as these would be impossible to photograph occupied.

The healthcare industry is one of the largest drivers of our economy today — one out of every six dollars spent is related to healthcare expenses. In communities across the country, hospitals are often the largest employers, surpassing big manufacturers that were once the backbone of the American job market. These hospitals are the cornerstone of local economies, providing jobs and growth.

Reception area at Morristown Hospital.

Reception area at Morristown Hospital.

Calming colors and textures in the new facility at Morristown make hospital stays more comfortable.

Calming colors and textures in the new facility at Morristown make hospital stays more comfortable.

Hospitals are constantly expanding and upgrading their facilities to keep up with demand and changes in technology and care. The Morristown Hospital in Morristown, New Jersey hired Buckl Architects to update their older facilities as well as design new ones. When their new Emergency Room was completed, we went in to photograph it before it was occupied.

1 Comment