Taking The Field

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Taking The Field

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Autumn is my favorite time of year. Not just because of the vivid colors that emerge from the fall foliage in my part of the country (nature’s gift to photographers). And not just because of the crispness I can feel seeping into the air as October approaches. It’s mostly because, as temperatures cool down, my personal obsession heats up – my love of baseball. 

With the playoffs and the World Series more on my mind at this time of year than at any other (apart from periodically checking in on my Pittsburgh Pirates during the season), I think back on all of the baseball diamonds I’ve had the opportunity to shoot from the air while on assignment to photograph a building or structure.

Presented here are some of my favorites. I guess you can say that they’re my fields of dreams.

Diamonds on the soles of my shoots.

Diamonds on the soles of my shoots.

baseball vs softball.

baseball vs softball.

Covering all the bases.

Covering all the bases.

Skate park vs ball park.

Skate park vs ball park.

Industrial strength baseball.

Industrial strength baseball.

Diamonds don’t have to be perfectly cut – rough and ready works just fine.

Diamonds don’t have to be perfectly cut – rough and ready works just fine.

Summer and winter – Trenton Stadium.

Summer and winter – Trenton Stadium.

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Now that’s my kind of snow angel.

Now that’s my kind of snow angel.

 

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Robert's Franks

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Robert's Franks

We all have tragedies in our lives. How about that Hot-Dog man in Philadelphia?

We all have tragedies in our lives. How about that Hot-Dog man in Philadelphia?

For many years I have loved the work of Robert Frank, the Swiss photographer who traveled around America in the 1950s documenting in gritty black & white. His selected photographs became a book, The Americans, with a forward by beat writer Jack Kerouac. As an outsider, Frank photographed the unseen and unromantic parts of America.

He died two days ago at the age of 94, on September 10, 2019. Many obituaries have appeared in the press. I have been a fan of his work for a long time. I suppose you can say he was one of my heroes.

I blogged about an exhibit that highlighted the 50th anniversary of The Americans.

“Charleston, South Carolina” from The Americans.

“Charleston, South Carolina” from The Americans.

“Santa Fe, New Mexico” from The Americans.

“Santa Fe, New Mexico” from The Americans.

In my early days as a photographer, while I was wandering around Philadelphia with my camera, I came upon a hot dog cart advertising Robert’s Beef Franks. I photographed this in Frank’s off-hand black & white style as both an homage and a visual pun. I showed this picture to Arno Minkkinen, who at the time was teaching at the art school I worked for. He told me, “You should send that to Robert Frank. He’d get a kick out of it.”

So on Arno’s suggestion, I wrote a letter to Frank and enclosed the photograph. I haven’t written many fan letters, but in my letter I asked him about knowing Jack Kerouac, who had died young from alcoholism, and whose books I had recently read. Addressing it was easy, Arno told me just put his name, and Mabou, Nova Scotia, Canada as the address.

To my surprise and delight, Robert Frank wrote back to me.

Robert Frank’s letter to me.

Robert Frank’s letter to me.


Mabou Sept. 1981

Dear Greg Benson—

Yes—Kerouac was a good man and honest.

We all have tragedies in our lives.

How about that Hot-Dog man in

Philadelphia?

You become an artist without thinking

If you’d think too long about it

you’d lose momentum and become

a Telephone Repairman.

Chacun a son gout. [To each his own.]

Thank you for yr letter.

Stay with it

Salut

Robert F.


And I say, Rest In Peace, Robert Frank.

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Summer Evenings

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Summer Evenings

Penn Park via bicycle.

Penn Park via bicycle.

Summer evenings can be amazing. The heat of the day tapers off, and the cool of evening settles in as the sun disappears. It’s time to be outside—walking, socializing, drinking, eating. The time between day and night is fleeting. Because the magic hour is so brief, it can look amazing in photographs.

As an ode to summer here are photographs of summer evenings.

Cheesesteaks taste better at twilight.

Cheesesteaks taste better at twilight.

Portal to Sugar House Casino.

Portal to Sugar House Casino.

The evening awaits….Riverworks Apartments in Phoenixville.

The evening awaits….Riverworks Apartments in Phoenixville.

View of Independence Hall and surrounding neighborhood.

View of Independence Hall and surrounding neighborhood.

The necessary long exposure gives the feeling of life moving quickly.

The necessary long exposure gives the feeling of life moving quickly.

Singh Center for Nanotechnology at Penn lights up with a warm glow in the evening.

Singh Center for Nanotechnology at Penn lights up with a warm glow in the evening.

 

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The New Schoolroom

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The New Schoolroom

Not your father’s classroom, take a tour of the new learning environment.

Not your father’s classroom, take a tour of the new learning environment.

With greater emphasis being placed on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), particularly in elementary and middle school curricula, greater attention is being paid to enhancing the concept of the “open classroom” that originally came into vogue in the mid-20th century with designs, equipment and professional resources necessary to prepare even the youngest students to tackle the ever-evolving challenges of the 21st.

I’d love to have an hour to work or play in the garage-like Tinker Lab.

I’d love to have an hour to work or play in the garage-like Tinker Lab.

In April of 2019, 1100 Architect, a New York based architecture firm, reached out to me to photograph an addition they made to Germantown Academy, a private school in the Philadelphia suburbs. With school still in session, this was a particularly opportune time to take pictures of the new science spaces with actual students in class and engaged in their projects.

If it was good enough for Apple and Hewlett Packard, it’s good enough for the students of Germantown Academy.

If it was good enough for Apple and Hewlett Packard, it’s good enough for the students of Germantown Academy.

One of the spaces is a garage-like maker space named the Tinker Lab. Here students from grades K to 5 can literally tinker around and create all kinds of things—an important opportunity to gain real hands-on experience through trial and error in an age when almost everything seems to lean toward digital.

Kindergarteners get a crack at making projects.

Kindergarteners get a crack at making projects.

Photographing such spaces with students on site and “in action” does have its challenges. For me, it was a matter of waiting for and seizing on those decisive moments when they were interacting with each other and their creations.

Students can work in teams or pursue individual projects.

Students can work in teams or pursue individual projects.

Students work on their iPads to create fact-based videos about planets.

Students work on their iPads to create fact-based videos about planets.

One such student announced, “I’m going to make a trailer for my planet video!” As proficient with an iPad as generations of the past were with pencil and paper, these young minds are encouraged to think open-endedly, to say, instead of “what,” “what if?”

What if, indeed.

On the look out for the next big adventure.

On the look out for the next big adventure.

The renovation of Germantown Academy includes light filled corridors that connect classrooms and inspire joy.

The renovation of Germantown Academy includes light filled corridors that connect classrooms and inspire joy.

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Summer Splash

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Summer Splash

If an Englishman’s home is his castle, then an American’s pool is his ocean.

If an Englishman’s home is his castle, then an American’s pool is his ocean.

Though I’d never consider myself a travel photographer, I do think the closest I come to that specialization is when I’m offered the opportunity to photograph a pool. Of all the architectural structures and environments I shoot professionally, pools are more “destination” than most – and my job is to make them look their most attractive and inviting. They’re some of my favorite subjects of summer.

This indoor pool comes complete with sunroof.

This indoor pool comes complete with sunroof.

To be honest, I’ve long had a fascination with pools and how they’re depicted in various media. Be it the opening scene of Sunset Boulevard, where William Holden is seen floating in a pool after having been shot, to The Graduate, in which Dustin Hoffman relies on a pool as a refuge from family, to the hijinx of the Beverly Hillbillies around their “cement pond.”

When planning a series of photos that’ll be used to sell a property, the “pool shot” often gets the most attention.

When planning a series of photos that’ll be used to sell a property, the “pool shot” often gets the most attention.

What is it about a small body of tepid water that makes us yearn for it? The promise of escape into a dimension of calm blue? The need for escape into the primal element of water after a busy day? These are questions that run through my mind as I plan and set up my shots.

Twilight, the best time for a swim and a photograph.

Twilight, the best time for a swim and a photograph.

First thing we do is close down the pool so we don’t have any non-models in the shot. The subject is always the pool, not the people in it.

This urban pool isn’t much bigger than a large bathtub, but what an incredible invitation to dive right in.

This urban pool isn’t much bigger than a large bathtub, but what an incredible invitation to dive right in.

We then line up the chaise lounges with OCD precision. The pool and its surroundings should look untouched, inviting the viewer to be the first to dive in (though, in some cases, we’ll use a pool hook or net to add a slight ripple to the water).

You pick  –  warm, swirling jets or calm, cool H2O.

You pick warm, swirling jets or calm, cool H2O.

We’re also careful to avoid having water drips on the pavers. Though Photoshop can remove them, it’s more work.

Rooftop pool on a Philadelphia high rise, as seen from a helicopter. Drones also come in handy on these sorts of shots.

Rooftop pool on a Philadelphia high rise, as seen from a helicopter. Drones also come in handy on these sorts of shots.

With everything set for the shot, I try not to show all of the edges of the pool to make it appear larger than it really is. Here what the camera doesn’t see is just as important as what it does.

In the Northeast, the short summer season makes outdoor pools special.

In the Northeast, the short summer season makes outdoor pools special.

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A Home and Its Range

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A Home and Its Range

A sanctuary for all at the end of the day.

A sanctuary for all at the end of the day.

I’m often called on to photograph private homes, either for the sake of the homeowner’s posterity or to document an architect’s vision and the resultant work. In the case of this suburban Philadelphia home and its surroundings, it was a little of both. 

Functional green roofs and a generously proportioned patio blur the lines between indoors and out.

Functional green roofs and a generously proportioned patio blur the lines between indoors and out.

My client, JMS Architecture, was brought on by their client, the owner of this stunningly beautiful 5,000 sq. ft. 1920s home and garden situated on a bucolic 3/4 acre of land, to enhance the design and living experience to better meet the needs of a busy contemporary family. My job was to document the results.

Corridor connects all of first floor rooms and brings in the light.

Corridor connects all of first floor rooms and brings in the light.

The architect, Jeff Spoelker, transformed the stone home by opening it up to the outside – adding a glassed corridor that runs the length of the house. By bringing the outside in, not only did he lighten and brighten the overall feel of the home’s interior, but he created a sense of even more space. The effect is a more expansive environment – a bigger house – more in harmony with its great outdoors, be it warm weather or cool.

Deluxe living for all members of the family.

Deluxe living for all members of the family.

From a practical perspective, photographing a private home like this is more easily achieved when the residents are out. We’d get in their way, and they’d get in ours. So, it’s off to the movies for this homeowner and his family!

Year-round outdoor feeling – even when the weather dictates otherwise.

Year-round outdoor feeling – even when the weather dictates otherwise.

Morning salutation with a side of Zen – right off the master bedroom.

Morning salutation with a side of Zen – right off the master bedroom.

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Eye in the Sky

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Eye in the Sky

Looking straight down, a living replica of the architects’ plans.

Looking straight down, a living replica of the architects’ plans.

I’m not really sure how one’s spirit animal gets assigned, but if I had my choice, I’d pick a bird. An eagle, to be exact. I love to see the world from on high and imagine I’m soaring above it all. Looking down, the landscape becomes my personal model world. Perfectly lovely – both miniature and vast at the same time.

Drones help make this happen for me – letting me reach new heights, both literally and creatively.

Photograph as an architect’s plan, looking straight down via a drone-enabled camera.

Photograph as an architect’s plan, looking straight down via a drone-enabled camera.

Drone technology continues to advance at a rapid pace. Drone-enabled cameras can get to the higher vantage points from which I’m able to gain a better, deeper understanding of and appreciation for the intentions of architects and planners – and to capture that perspective in my photography.

While I’ve long relied on helicopters to allow me to shoot from the air, there are certain places they can’t get to and altitudes at which they cannot realistically fly. Plus, they can be expensive.

Drone as very tall tripod – The Point at Glen Mills Apartments.

Drone as very tall tripod – The Point at Glen Mills Apartments.

Drones, however, are incredibly affordable. They can fly from 20 feet to up to 400 feet above the ground – serving as a very tall tripod or low flying helicopter.

With a modern drone, it’s relatively simple to hover and shoot straight down. It’s also possible to navigate in relatively tight spaces. And shooting high-quality aerial video is just as easy as shooting still images.

I could never jump high enough to get this angle. No one could.

I could never jump high enough to get this angle. No one could.

The images featured here are from an assignment to document The Point at Glen Mills Apartments in Concordville, Pennsylvania in support of real estate advisory firm ARA Newmark’s efforts to sell the entire complex.

As humans, our field of vision is usually anchored to the earth. But a drone-enabled camera becomes my eye in the sky.

Drone as helicopter – entire apartment complex, with townhouses and retail in the distance.

Drone as helicopter – entire apartment complex, with townhouses and retail in the distance.

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Shooting Color

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Shooting Color

Color, light – even shadow – are the photographer’s palette.

Color, light – even shadow – are the photographer’s palette.

It’s fair to assume that everything is, by default, shot in color. But that doesn’t mean that I’m “shooting color.” When I’m shooting color, as opposed to just shooting in color, I’m going for the vibrancy, the excitement, the living energy that color carries with it.

No workplace boredom here.

No workplace boredom here.

Color excites the eye and draws attention. It conveys emotion and feeling. I feel “blue”. He was “green” with envy. She was so angry, all she could see was “red.” These same emotions can be applied to physical spaces through similar shades of color.

Corporate yet casual color compliments a great view.

Corporate yet casual color compliments a great view.

In photographing an otherwise utilitarian environment, I seek out splashes or notes of color in the scene that will help tell the story that my client wants told.  Whether it’s an item of furniture, a piece of art or simply a surface, color can liven up a space; make it less dreary and humdrum. Light brings in color as well, be it the cool colors of twilight or the warmth of light at the end of the day.

The right shade of lipstick puckers up even the most pedestrian waiting room.

The right shade of lipstick puckers up even the most pedestrian waiting room.

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Clean to the Extreme

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Clean to the Extreme

Cleanroom for pharma. Lots of equipment, zero dust.

Cleanroom for pharma. Lots of equipment, zero dust.

In the deep recesses of my mind is a memory of a science fiction thriller from the early ‘70s called The Andromeda Strain in which a team of scientists have to isolate a destructive alien virus in a stark white “containment room” deep within a high tech underground lab.

So, as you might imagine, when a company called AES Clean Technology hired me to photograph their advanced design “cleanrooms,” my initial thought was that I was going to be subjected to a decontamination shower, have to don one of those white hazmat suits and then travel miles below the surface of the earth in order to take pictures of an environment that defines the term “white space.”

Well, not exactly.

Tanks… a lot.

Tanks… a lot.

Cleanrooms, as I learned, are spaces designed, built and constructed almost anywhere to manufacture items where the tiniest particles of dust can easily ruin the final product. Producing microelectronics, tubing for medical devices, biotech and pharmaceutical products can all require a hyper degree of dust-free cleanliness.

Even in antiseptic white, a human touch adds both warmth and scale.

Even in antiseptic white, a human touch adds both warmth and scale.

The investment companies make in cleanroom facilities are meant to reduce risk and should maximize performance. AES wanted photos that would both capture the tech and represent this value in brochures, on their website and in other marketing materials.

This image of a room within a room is one of three gracing the AES homepage.

This image of a room within a room is one of three gracing the AES homepage.

As you can see from the photos here, cleanroom facilities are often loaded with stuff. It’s just that all this stuff is really, really clean.

Above the ceiling sits an entire universe of mechanical systems and ducts.

Above the ceiling sits an entire universe of mechanical systems and ducts.

How clean? Well, entering a clean room is, in fact, a major procedure and it does require wearing specific shirts and pants. Booties, gloves, hairnets and beard nets are all part of the required get up. Some areas of a cleanroom can require double layers – and wearing two layers of gloves can lead to sweaty hands that make it challenging to manipulate the camera controls.

There’s also a procedure for cleaning and bringing photo equipment into a cleanroom. I brought in minimal gear and wiped down much of it with alcohol wipes.

Me with one layer of cleanroom clothing, including a beard net. Why a beard net? – I know I shaved that day!

Me with one layer of cleanroom clothing, including a beard net. Why a beard net? – I know I shaved that day!

I mean, I pride myself on working clean, but this was above and beyond.

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Skin Deep

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Skin Deep

Every now and then I run into an avocado colored refrigerator. Not literally, of course. But sometimes I’ll look at a building and my mind will conjure up an image of an old Hotpoint or Amana or Kelvinator straight out of an early ’70s Brady Bunch kitchen. Perfectly workable, but having seen better days.

Stucco and strip windows with a ‘80s vibe.

Stucco and strip windows with a ‘80s vibe.

One Franklin Plaza had morphed into just such an avocado colored refrigerator. Completed in the early 1980s, the building at 16th and Race Streets in Philadelphia was built as the headquarters of Smith Kline French Pharmaceuticals, one of the predecessors to GlaxoSmithKline. [Glaxo vacated the aging building for a new headquarters at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. ] As a building, it was perfectly workable, but had seen better days.

Facelift complete. Conversion to a residential tower has given One Franklin a new lease on life.

Facelift complete. Conversion to a residential tower has given One Franklin a new lease on life.

The new owners, PMC were determined to change that. As part of their plan to convert the 24-story building into rental apartments (with about 200,000 square feet of office space on the lower floors), a literal re-skinning was called for. That’s when my client, Apogee Enterprises, came into the picture.

New windows from Apogee bring the building into the current century.

New windows from Apogee bring the building into the current century.

One of the interesting aspects of my work is the occasional insight it gives me into the breadth of U.S. industry and how different companies with different areas of expertise tend to rely on each other. Apogee specializes in architectural glass, framing and renovation of commercial buildings. While One Franklin Plaza’s distinctive shape would be maintained, brick would be replaced by glass—lots and lots of state-of-the-art, highly tempered glass.

Documenting the “before and after” of this architectural facelift necessitated careful planning and positioning. Coincidentally, I had already photographed the original building years before, so it became a fun challenge to match the angle of the shot I needed to take now to the one in the photo I took back then—a rare opportunity for a photographer’s lens to come full circle.Documenting the “before and after” of this architectural facelift necessitated careful planning and positioning. Coincidentally, I had already photographed the original building years before, so it became a fun challenge to match the angle of the shot I needed to take now to the one in the photo I took back then—a rare opportunity for a photographer’s lens to come full circle.

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My Diners Club

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My Diners Club

An appetite for design. Independence Prime, the steakhouse and bar at the Philadelphia airport, designed by  Daroff Design .

An appetite for design. Independence Prime, the steakhouse and bar at the Philadelphia airport, designed by Daroff Design.

Food, glorious food. I love it—and I love to eat out. That’s why I get particularly excited whenever I’m asked to photograph a place where people meet to eat. A five-star restaurant, a neighborhood eatery, even a branch of a casual fast food chain—it doesn’t really matter. The environments created by people who cook for people who eat have always fascinated me.

Talula’s Daily: lunch time grab and go.

Talula’s Daily: lunch time grab and go.

I’ve photographed an endless number of eateries. As far as actually working in one, I did spend a summer before college cooking up fries and roast beef sandwiches at Arby’s. That’s where I learned that you don’t always want to know how or where your food is made.

Love Grille with the iconic Love statue logo, features Philly cheesesteaks.

Love Grille with the iconic Love statue logo, features Philly cheesesteaks.

I much prefer shooting “in the front of the house.” As a photographer of architecture, I like to be able to control the situation—and, as we all know from watching countless cooking shows, that’s not always possible back in the kitchen.

So many choices, so many lines. Lunch at Houston Hall at Penn.

So many choices, so many lines. Lunch at Houston Hall at Penn.

But whether or not I include people in my shots is usually decided by the nature of my audience.

 

The curvy undulating ceiling of Independence Prime draws you into the bar and restaurant.

The curvy undulating ceiling of Independence Prime draws you into the bar and restaurant.

All of the pictures of restaurants, cafes and casual dining spots you see here were taken from the client’s POV—and each tells a unique story or part of one. My architecture and construction clients prefer the emphasis to be placed on the look, design and physicality of the space.

Real people require real food. I’m not above treating students to a meal to get the right shot.

Real people require real food. I’m not above treating students to a meal to get the right shot.

Neighborhood places should reflect the neighborhood.

Neighborhood places should reflect the neighborhood.

My editorial and academic clients want to see people enjoying good food, drink and the company of other people, promoting a sense of community within neighborhoods and on university campuses.

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  
  
  
  
  
  
     I see fed people. Students eat and socialize at Penn’s New College House.

I see fed people. Students eat and socialize at Penn’s New College House.

Dine and dash. Baba Bar, an on-the-go bar and noshery at Philadelphia airport.

Dine and dash. Baba Bar, an on-the-go bar and noshery at Philadelphia airport.

Me? I’m just here for the food—and drink.

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Face Time

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Face Time

Keeping the background recognizable but just slightly out of focus makes the subject pop.    Amy Cha of Bohlin Cywinski Powell

Keeping the background recognizable but just slightly out of focus makes the subject pop.  Amy Cha of Bohlin Cywinski Powell

As an architectural photographer, I’m always looking for ways to bring out the human qualities of everything I’m assigned to shoot, be it an office tower, sports arena, campus center, residential space, commercial concern or what have you.

This is particularly true when it comes to photographing actual humans, which happens more often in my area of focus than one might assume. As I do love to take portraits, I consider the chance to photograph architects–many of whom design the buildings I shoot–to be an extra special assignment and opportunity.

A workplace portrait should say, “this is where you’ll find me.” Brandon Collins of Bohlin Cywinski Powell.

A workplace portrait should say, “this is where you’ll find me.” Brandon Collins of Bohlin Cywinski Powell.

In an age of selfies and otherwise disposable snapshots, I’m thankful for clients who recognize and appreciate the context, texture and import a professional portrait can convey.

Over the past year, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Cicada Architects, and landscape architects Ground Reconsidered have all had me photograph their architects. I prefer to take these portraits in their subjects’ natural habitats – their workspace environments. In that regard, I have a lot in common with nature photographers.

Reviewing test shots with subjects gives them feedback on how they’re expressing themselves. Karen Skafte of Cicada Architects.

Reviewing test shots with subjects gives them feedback on how they’re expressing themselves. Karen Skafte of Cicada Architects.

Lighting at architecture firms is better than most, but may still need to be filled in. Ryan Simpson of Bohlin Cywinski Powell

Lighting at architecture firms is better than most, but may still need to be filled in. Ryan Simpson of Bohlin Cywinski Powell

Like any good nature photographer, I try to spend time where my subjects spend time. I walk around to get the lay of the land, examining it from all angles. Without being too obtrusive, I watch my subjects at work, aiming to find backgrounds that connect with them and quickly telegraph these relationships.

Scouting elements that reflect subject and occupation is time well spent. Landscape architect, Brittany Adams of Ground Reconsidered.

Scouting elements that reflect subject and occupation is time well spent. Landscape architect, Brittany Adams of Ground Reconsidered.

These portraits rely on a combination of natural and supplemental lighting. In summary, my portrait process goes beyond face value.

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Urban Oasis

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Urban Oasis

This ergonomic, yet cozy lounge opens onto an expansive roof deck.

This ergonomic, yet cozy lounge opens onto an expansive roof deck.

Sometimes a photograph will be called upon to serve many masters. In the case of 3601 Market Street, a modern luxury residential complex in the heart of University City, one of Philadelphia’s hottest communities, that could mean investors, developers, managing agents, city planners, and, of course, prospective tenants. 

Nighttime is the right time for showing 3601’s sleek urban silhouette.

Nighttime is the right time for showing 3601’s sleek urban silhouette.

These young, up and coming professionals are often referred to in real estate circles as “Meds and Eds” – healthcare professionals, students and educators whose lives and lifestyles infuse this urban oasis in West Philly with a rhythm and vibrancy all its own.

Though commercial realtors ARA Newmark brought me on board to showcase aspects of the building that would be used to help sell the property to new investors, I knew that my photographs would also be used online and in printed materials aimed at securing both commercial and residential tenants.

Kitchens at 3601 are big enough to satisfy anyone’s inner Julia Child.

Kitchens at 3601 are big enough to satisfy anyone’s inner Julia Child.

The building itself is a millennial’s paradise. Spacious apartments and penthouses with spectacular city views, controlled access with doorman service, on-site parking for vehicles and bikes, a modern 24-hour fitness center, game room and lounge, and a rooftop heated saltwater pool.

Ben Franklin (Philadelphia and Penn’s mainstay mascot) surveys a model apartment.

Ben Franklin (Philadelphia and Penn’s mainstay mascot) surveys a model apartment.

The client wanted an open, warm, summertime feel to the imagery, something to help convey the energy of the building and the surrounding community. As we were shooting on a cold, dreary day in February, this would be our primary challenge.

Panoramic views fill each apartment with light.

Panoramic views fill each apartment with light.

We shot the interiors early in the morning, taking advantage of the cool natural light and city vistas.  The exterior was shot much later in the day in the warm glow of twilight.

Seeking summer in the midst of February.

Seeking summer in the midst of February.

Capturing the lively street life of University City would be tougher.  Remember, this was February. It was cold and the days were still not long enough. This is why it pays to work with a photographer who knows the neighborhood and has a deep archive.  A street scene shot in late summer of the previous year did the trick.  One picture, but now with a different story to tell.

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Big STAR on Campus

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Big STAR on Campus

We used a very wide architectural tilt-shift lens to fully show the two-and-a-half-story glass atrium entrance with climbing wall.

We used a very wide architectural tilt-shift lens to fully show the two-and-a-half-story glass atrium entrance with climbing wall.

There’s big and then there’s really big. Temple University’s new Aramark Student Training and Recreation (STAR) complex is really big. Massive, in fact. A sprawling 110,000 square foot multifaceted facility serving the needs of the College of Public Health, Athletics and Campus Recreation Departments.

The Indoor Pavilion houses a 70-yard turf field. Capturing the detail in the stained glass logo window was of critical importance to the client.

The Indoor Pavilion houses a 70-yard turf field. Capturing the detail in the stained glass logo window was of critical importance to the client.

Shortly after the complex was dedicated in the fall of 2017, construction management firm E.P. Guidi brought me on to document the building and its interiors, as well as the considerable physical impact this new addition had on the campus.

Greg pays a visit to one of the physical therapy classrooms.

Greg pays a visit to one of the physical therapy classrooms.

The STAR complex was designed to centralize a host of initiatives, with athletic facilities, clinical education space for various therapies and physical training, and state-of-the-art lecture and lab space. One of my key challenges then was how best to showcase these relatively intimate spaces while at the same time capture the considerable enormity of the place.

No waiting for weights in the weight room.

No waiting for weights in the weight room.

We started with the inside, showing up early on a Saturday morning and setting up our shots before even the most devoted of athletes showed up.

A new 400-meter, 2-lane track encircles the facility.

A new 400-meter, 2-lane track encircles the facility.

Drone-assisted photography closes in on the mammoth size of the STAR complex, with Center City Philadelphia in the distance.

Drone-assisted photography closes in on the mammoth size of the STAR complex, with Center City Philadelphia in the distance.

Tackling the exterior on a separate day, we took advantage of a beautiful blue sky and shot with multiple cameras at twilight. My Phantom 4 Pro drone was the perfect tool to capture the scale and setting of the building.

The STAR at twilight.

The STAR at twilight.

Temple misses no opportunity to highlight their brand.

Temple misses no opportunity to highlight their brand.

While each photo is a story in itself, only when taken together does the complete picture of this big star on campus come into focus.

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Come for the Workspace. Stay for the Wet Bar.

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Come for the Workspace. Stay for the Wet Bar.

You call this working? Yes. Yes, we do.

You call this working? Yes. Yes, we do.

Gone are the days when commercial real estate was primarily about location, location, location—and maybe a break room. Today’s office buildings are in the business of creating cultures. Because in today’s economy, where technology and opportunity have made it easy to work remotely and at one’s own convenience, “heading into the office” is no longer a given. But not if places like 1735 Market Street have anything to say about it.

Creature comforts. Employees who play together stay together.

Creature comforts. Employees who play together stay together.

Equity Commonwealth, the owners of the building in Philadelphia’s central business district, commissioned me to shoot what are known as “amenities”—the on-site extras that properties invest in to attract and retain businesses that, in turn, use them to recruit and retain employees. 

Take it outside. At 1735 Market in Philadelphia, it’s highly recommended.

Take it outside. At 1735 Market in Philadelphia, it’s highly recommended.

 The Lounge at 1735 Market Street Philadelphia PA

At 1735 Market, this includes a lounge and rooftop deck with panoramic views of Philadelphia landmarks. The lounge has large meeting rooms, a smaller 12-person conference room, hangout spaces that feature a pool table, shuffleboard, kitchen—even a wine bar with a wine locker.

Grabbing success by the bottles.

Grabbing success by the bottles.

Shooting during the workweek would be problematic, so I scheduled a Saturday for the photography. My assistant and I had the space to ourselves, allowing us to set up lighting and tweak furniture and props. Though we were the only ones there, we did not have direct access to the wine lockers. Sigh.

At Endo Pharmaceuticals, wellness extends to the on-site fitness center.

At Endo Pharmaceuticals, wellness extends to the on-site fitness center.

At 1650 Arch Street in Philadelphia, communal conference space has been redefined.  

At 1650 Arch Street in Philadelphia, communal conference space has been redefined.
 

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It's a Different World

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It's a Different World

Dusk shines just the right light on one of the world’s most exclusive showrooms.

Dusk shines just the right light on one of the world’s most exclusive showrooms.

The first time I had more than an inkling that there existed an entire world outside of my own experience was during my freshman year in college. My friend’s roommate, to put it politely, “came from money,” and where I had plastered the walls of my dorm room with posters for movies and rock bands, he plastered his with framed blow-ups of Ferraris. Not just any Ferraris, mind you, but the Ferraris owned by his family. “It’s a different world,” I remember thinking to myself.  But, wow, those cars were cool.

It’s the car as star from all vantage points.

It’s the car as star from all vantage points.

I still get that feeling when I’m assigned to photograph a building, home, retail space, showroom—anyplace really—that unabashedly proclaims “luxury.” Such was the case when I first stepped inside Wide World Ferrari-Maserati in Spring Valley, New York. Everything about Wide World reflects world class performance, design and service—exactly what someone in the market for a Ferrari would expect.

Customization and personalization start here.

Customization and personalization start here.

Wheel cool.

Wheel cool.

New Country Motor Car Group, the dealership’s owner, and Penney Design Group, the architects, hired me to photograph the building as well as document the physical spaces through which a buyer is escorted along the “path to purchase.” Every step of the way—from selecting seats, steering wheel and rim designs to choosing interior colors and fabrics—is a ritual in itself. All of which builds to the creation of a customized high performance car crafted in Italy to the exacting standards of the driver. 

Lighting is always a critical factor in environments like this and being able to provide our own fill lighting allows us to counter the relative flatness given off by overhead fluorescents. Here, however, we were required to shoot during business hours. So our nimble battery-powered lighting units really came in handy, making it easier to maneuver and light with precision without drawing undue attention or having the potential trip hazard of power cords on the floor.

But does it come in red?

But does it come in red?

Because personalization is such an integral part of the buying experience and the cars themselves are so expensive, few are actually kept in inventory. So the ones that are here are true showpieces. Which is why every photo we made—from reception area and private consultation rooms to an upstairs promenade and owner’s lounge—features one or more models.

In this world, it’s more than just about the cars. But, wow, those cars were cool.

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Raising Expectations

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Raising Expectations

Taking wing.  Hercules Plaza, 1313 North Market Street, Wilmington, DE.

Taking wing.  Hercules Plaza, 1313 North Market Street, Wilmington, DE.

Closing in on 2:00pm.  Detail of clock at Hercules Plaza from vantage point afforded by a drone.

Closing in on 2:00pm.  Detail of clock at Hercules Plaza from vantage point afforded by a drone.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve fantasized about being a pilot. As a photographer of buildings, I’ve staged dozens of shoots from helicopters—but somebody else was always doing the flying.  Now, with drones, I finally get to fly solo.

City views. Philadelphia seen from above University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Park; new FMC building on the left.

City views. Philadelphia seen from above University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Park; new FMC building on the left.

I’ve been shooting with drones for a few years and I still marvel at the angles and perspectives I’m able to achieve for my clients—without sacrificing clarity or quality. Now that broad expanse of multi-dimensional space between me shooting from the ground and me shooting from a helicopter is part of my canvas—and under my complete control.

In the heights . Façade of Bentley Homes’ model house shot from 15 feet above the ground

In the heights. Façade of Bentley Homes’ model house shot from 15 feet above the ground

It does take a lot of practice and experimentation to get the hang of it—and just like anything else related to flying, safety is priority one. I went through a lot of studying and training before I was granted an FAA 107 license allowing me to operate a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) for commercial purposes. 

And as I got better, drone technology got better, too. Better cameras. Better stability. More flexibility and greater agility.

Second story job. E.A. Delle Donne Corporate Center I, Wilmington, DE

Second story job. E.A. Delle Donne Corporate Center I, Wilmington, DE

I’m a big fan of drone maker DJI. They’ve developed some amazing technology for the control and flight of their UAV’s and their Phantom 4 Pro is an incredible flying camera, capable of producing a raw still image using a 1-inch 20 megapixel Sony chip. It also features a lens with minimal distortion (meaning straight lines stay straight) and has a wide angle lens that’s great for photographing buildings, close up and far away. For capturing video, its automated flying modes assist in achieving consistently smooth and steady flights.

Of course, I could drone on and on…but I think I’ll let these pictures tell the rest of the story.

Going wide.  T he Royal Athena apartment building next to the Schuylkill River, as seen from a drone operated next to the building.

Going wide. The Royal Athena apartment building next to the Schuylkill River, as seen from a drone operated next to the building.

The Royal Athena shot from the ground without a drone. Due to limited space and maneuverability, it’s very difficult to get a camera angle that shows the whole structure .

The Royal Athena shot from the ground without a drone. Due to limited space and maneuverability, it’s very difficult to get a camera angle that shows the whole structure.

Looks like it could be shot from a helicopter, but it’s a drone’s-eye view of Polo Run, an apartment complex .

Looks like it could be shot from a helicopter, but it’s a drone’s-eye view of Polo Run, an apartment complex .

DJI Phantom 4 Pro with integral camera. (photo source: DJI)

DJI Phantom 4 Pro with integral camera. (photo source: DJI)

Me, piloting, and Fernando Gaglianese, waving, captured by the drone itself.

Me, piloting, and Fernando Gaglianese, waving, captured by the drone itself.

Drone vs. Helicopter

  • Drone flights limited to 400 feet above ground, high enough for many site views.
  • Drone can also be thought of as a “tall tripod,” 15-30 feet above ground.
  • Drone flights can operate at lower costs.
  • Helicopter can fly higher—a good way to show how a site sits relative to surroundings like highways and landmark buildings.
  • Helicopters can fly in some areas that are restricted or difficult for drones, such as dense urban areas and near airports, and for a multi-site assignment, helicopters can travel quickly to multiple places.
  • From a helicopter, I can shoot with a very high quality camera and a larger variety of lenses.

 

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Self-Cleaning House

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Self-Cleaning House

Imagine a house that would clean itself. Who wouldn't want that? Frances Gabe, an inventive woman tired of housework set out to design and build such a house. 

From left to right: Paul Benson, Bev Benson, Frances Gabe (91 at the time), Lily Benson, Greg Benson. August 2007.

From left to right: Paul Benson, Bev Benson, Frances Gabe (91 at the time), Lily Benson, Greg Benson. August 2007.

In 2007, our family visited her self-cleaning house in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. The concept of a self-cleaning house is great. The actual house was anything but sparkling clean. Still Gabe deserves credit for seeking a way to free women from the drudgery of cleaning.

Years after our visit, my daughter Lily Benson, created an animated video inspired by Gabe's self-cleaning house.

Today's NY Times has an article telling Gabe's story. One of my photos is part of the article and my daughter Lily Benson is quoted in the story.  

The exterior of Frances Gabe's self-cleaning house.

The exterior of Frances Gabe's self-cleaning house.

Ms. Benson, the artist, recalled her surprise on seeing it a decade ago.“It was really cluttered: newspapers, books, clothes — just general household clutter,” she said. “It was kind of shocking, because I expected to be in the cleanest house of my life.”

Sprinkler head in the ceiling of the living room. A drain is located below and all of the furnishings are plastic covered and waterproof.

Sprinkler head in the ceiling of the living room. A drain is located below and all of the furnishings are plastic covered and waterproof.

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Going Places

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Going Places

At Gate B10 is Mezzogiorno, an Italian eatery created by Nomad Pizza founder Stalin Bedon.

At Gate B10 is Mezzogiorno, an Italian eatery created by Nomad Pizza founder Stalin Bedon.

Some of you may remember a movie from a few years ago called “The Terminal.” It starred Tom Hanks and told the story of a traveler’s worst nightmare – getting stranded at an airport through no fault of one’s own and then having to find a way to literally live at the terminal. The film’s tagline was “Life is Waiting” and, having experienced quite a few delays at airports myself, I could definitely relate.

I thought about that movie and of seemingly endless cycles of waiting as I made my way to Philadelphia International Airport for one of the more unusual assignments of my career.

Late night travelers passing Mezzogiorno.

Late night travelers passing Mezzogiorno.

As part of a massive redevelopment effort, good old Terminal B – dependable but uninspiring – was scheduled for a major facelift.  The Philadelphia Business Journal described it as “a $30 million game changer” – a big, bold blast of the future while you’re waiting to catch a flight to Chicago. And the folks behind the first phase of the project, EP Guidi Construction, wanted me to document the results. 

Three new restaurants had ushered in this new era. My challenge was to show the quality and details of each in the context of a place in which people are always going somewhere else.

The aptly named Germantown Biergarten at Gate B9 – a true taste of Philly.

The aptly named Germantown Biergarten at Gate B9 – a true taste of Philly.

No time for a beer, but the selection was tempting.

No time for a beer, but the selection was tempting.

Oh, did I mention that this all had to be done in the middle of the night? Oh, yes. No restaurant employees or consumers – only a handful of travelers passing through. Plus, I was assigned my own personal security guard. 

Yet the airport is a vibrant community of its own at night – a secret world populated by maintenance workers, construction workers and “third watch” airline personnel. Some we had to work around, some we had to wait for, and some had to wait for us. But it all seemed to work. 

Each seat has an iPad for ordering, paying and tracking when your flight is scheduled to depart.

Each seat has an iPad for ordering, paying and tracking when your flight is scheduled to depart.

Boule Café, la cuisine française in Philadelphia at Gate B-14.

Boule Café, la cuisine française in Philadelphia at Gate B-14.

No cheesesteaks at this bistro. 

No cheesesteaks at this bistro. 

But the thrill of the night? Getting to drive my Honda minivan across the tarmac, right beside the planes. Terminal velocity, to be sure.

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Urban or Suburban

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Urban or Suburban

This Philadelphia twilight view shows the proximity of Public Ledger Building’s (12 story building on right) to world famous Independence Hall with the steeple.

This Philadelphia twilight view shows the proximity of Public Ledger Building’s (12 story building on right) to world famous Independence Hall with the steeple.

While I list my occupation on my tax return as “architectural photographer,” I prefer to answer people who ask what it is that I do for a living with a simple “I shoot buildings.” It usually leads to a much more interesting conversation, as I first have to reassure them that I am indeed a photographer and not in the demolition business. 

“How did you get into that?” is often the next question, or “I didn’t know you could specialize in that.” And it goes from there. But, on occasion, I get asked something unexpected, like if there’s a difference between photographing a building in the city and photographing one in a more suburban setting. 

That’s a good one.  And since I love cities, but live in the suburbs, one worth considering here.

Triad, a revitalized suburban office building in a park-like setting.

Triad, a revitalized suburban office building in a park-like setting.

Many of the projects that I photograph are office buildings. It’s my job to make a building, regardless of where it is, look its best and make the viewer want to be there, to either work there, live there, or both. Creating desire is the centerpiece of marketing.

In a city, square footage is priced at a premium. Space is restricted and tight. Streets can be narrow. So the vantage points from which to shoot a specific building can be limited. In some ways, that makes my job a little easier. Less choice in these situations isn’t always a bad thing.

There’s also more activity in a city – more people, more traffic – so finding just the right time of day (or night) can be an additional challenge. Bottom line? More pre-planning.

Sure, there can be busy suburbs, but the variables are usually easier to manage.

5 Tower Bridge, Conshohocken, PA (All the cars are underneath in a parking garage.)

5 Tower Bridge, Conshohocken, PA (All the cars are underneath in a parking garage.)

2 West Liberty Blvd., Malvern, PA (Look Mom, no cars!)

2 West Liberty Blvd., Malvern, PA (Look Mom, no cars!)

123 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. Imagine no cars on the street—eerie.

123 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. Imagine no cars on the street—eerie.

Traditionally, these locations have green spaces and lots of parking. Navigating cars and parking lots is a common challenge here. In a city setting, we accept that cars fill the streets. In fact, it would look weird – unintentionally eerie – if there were no cars in the shot. Yet in the suburbs, we imagine a park-like utopia where cars are somehow invisible, even though they’re the primary way people travel to and from suburban locations.

Suburban offices are also shorter and more spread out. Many of these campuses have been designed to maximize flexibility for tenants and their employees. So my assignments will also call for capturing amenities like eateries, fitness centers and places to just hang out.

Mellon Bank Center: view up from the street, view from a neighboring skyscraper.

Mellon Bank Center: view up from the street, view from a neighboring skyscraper.

For city shoots, the emphasis is usually on height and grandeur. After all, the modern skyscraper got started in Chicago because land was limited and expensive. Building higher meant a landowner could get more rent from a single parcel of land. Yet, building amenities are becoming more a part of my recent work in urban settings.

Offices: City vs Suburbs

       City

  • More dense
  • More restricted camera angles
  • Land is pricier
  • Pricey land led to skyscrapers
  • Buildings are higher
  • More activity – people, vehicles
  • Landscape often not as important
  • Nighttime traffic can add drama

   

    Suburb

    • Park-like
    • More green
    • More space
    • Camera angles less restrictive
    • Parking lots
    • Do you show cars or not?
    • Lower scale buildings
    • Easier to fly a drone safely

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