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Time for a Backyard BBQ!

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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.

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Twilight: Timing Is Everything

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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.

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Summer at the Shore

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Summer at the Shore

Windward Harbour is located at the northern tip of Avalon, New Jersey.
Windward Harbour is located at the northern tip of Avalon, New Jersey.

July and August are the hottest months in Philadelphia, and escaping the heat of the city — with all its concrete and glass — is on everyone’s mind. A favorite getaway is the New Jersey shore, where you can just leave it all behind.

Courtyard at Windward Harbour.
Courtyard at Windward Harbour.

A few years ago, I visited the Shore (twist my arm!) to photograph the charming Windward Harbour Condominiums in Avalon, NJ.

E. Allen Reeves, Inc. was commissioned to rebuild Windward Harbor after it was lost to a fire. The Zacker Group Architects designed the 45 unit community which overlooks Cedar Island and the Atlantic Ocean.

Docks are located right outside your door.
Docks are located right outside your door.

Windward Harbour is truly a piece of paradise on the Jersey Shore. If you ever get tired of laying out at the beach, you can enjoy the community pool or go boating.

If you’re not in the mood for the beach, the pool or boating, you can relax on your shaded balcony. These views will never get old.
If you’re not in the mood for the beach, the pool or boating, you can relax on your shaded balcony. These views will never get old.

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Light at Midnight

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Light at Midnight

At midnight view of Stockholm from the south.
At midnight view of Stockholm from the south.

As a lover of light, I have always loved the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
So, while visiting Stockholm, Sweden, on the night of the solstice, we climbed a high hill to see the horizon at midnight. It's amazing how bright it is in the middle of the night. Full sunrise came at 3:30AM.

Despite the long hours of sunlight, the weather was unseasonably cold, getting as cold as 38 degrees F.

Me around midnight.

Me around midnight.

Jeff Stanford dressed for a chilly night. A great friend of mine who has lived in Stockholm for many years. He was a generous host for my wife, Bev, and me.

Jeff Stanford dressed for a chilly night. A great friend of mine who has lived in Stockholm for many years. He was a generous host for my wife, Bev, and me.

Midsummer, in English, or Midsommer in Swedish, is a major holiday in Sweden, the kick off to summer. Celebrations often involve dancing around maypoles and wearing flowers.

Midsommer celebration in Stockholm: father and daughter, who were originally from Eritrea, and who now call Sweden their home.

Midsommer celebration in Stockholm: father and daughter, who were originally from Eritrea, and who now call Sweden their home.

Young Swedish girls with garlands in their hair at a daytime Midsommer celebration.

Young Swedish girls with garlands in their hair at a daytime Midsommer celebration.

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Shimmer Wall

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Shimmer Wall

A new addition to Philadelphia's streetscape is the Shimmer Wall at the Franklin Institute. Last week I shot and put together this video. Thanks to my son, Paul Benson for his editing chops.

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Let It Snow

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Let It Snow

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This winter 2011-2012 has been unusually mild, with warmer than normal temperatures and virtually no snow. While I don't miss shoveling snow, I do miss snow. So in that spirit I thought I would post snow photos that I have shot in the past.

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April Fools' Snow

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April Fools' Snow

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This week I have been trying to dream up a humorous and believable April Fool's Day blog post, but I haven't come up with one. Instead Mother Nature has provided the perfect April Fool's event, snow. Here it is April and it's snowing in Philadelphia. The snow isn't sticking but it is keeping Spring at bay.

As a kid I always loved April Fool's Day pranks. One year when I was about ten years old, I woke up early and switched the contents of the sugar bowl and the salt shaker. My dad proceeded to put salt in his coffee and sugar on his eggs. My younger brother spooned salt onto his cereal. Salty coffee and cereal taste terrible. My parents were not amused, but I sure was.

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Sky Cam

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Sky Cam

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I am experimenting with a low cost time lapse camera. I want to document the sky above my studio, every day for an entire year. Here are the first four days, showing frames each shot at noon.

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Here is a composite of images from 12/27/10, each taken an hour apart. It is amazing how quickly the sky changes, and how much variation happens in one day.

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Getting the Shot: Going Back at Night

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Getting the Shot: Going Back at Night

Summer is the perfect time of year to retire to one's own backyard oasis. The one above was shot for EP Henry's current product catalog. EP Henry is a manufacturer of hardscaping products.

Greg captured many great views of this setting during the day, showing the pool, the built in grill and the pergola. But what lead to the dramatic twilight image was realizing that a second shoot at night would lead to even more dramatic images of this space.

For the twilight shoot, 1000 watt lights were set up outside of the frame, and a roaring fire was lit in the fire ring. Then Greg waited for the magic time when the sky is a deep blue, just before it turns black.

The homeowner should feel proud of what they have created for themselves. Now, who's ready for a summer cook out and a midnight swim?

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Weather or Not: Sunny, Blue Skies, and Dry

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Weather or Not: Sunny, Blue Skies, and Dry

A few weeks ago we shared some photographs of University of Pennsylvania's Weave Bridge to make the point that even though sunny days are generally the best days to shoot architecture the sun can also create unwanted, distracting shadows.

The following is a great example of why sunny days are, as a rule, best for architecture:

One could not ask for better conditions to photograph this office building in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The direct sun's contrasty light gives the brick facade an attractive color and makes strong, but open shadows that give an otherwise simple structure a sense of volume and presence. The beautiful blue sky also has a nice balance of soft, wispy, white clouds.

The weather does not often cooperate and can wreak havoc with deadlines. Above is a comparison between an unretouched shot of the same building during a cloudy and damp day, and the same shot with an example of the sort of retouching that is sometimes necessary. Even though the added sky improves the shot; the pavement is still very wet. It is clear that returning to the site when the weather was best yielded the better image.

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Weather or Not: Bridging Clouds and Sun

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Weather or Not: Bridging Clouds and Sun

I recently received an assignment from University of Pennsylvania's alumni magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette, to photograph a new pedestrian bridge on campus. The Weave Bridge is part of Penn's expansion of their campus towards the Schuylkill River. It crosses a major railroad line and connects distant sports fields with the main campus.

I scouted the assignment on a cloudy day, and returned when it was sunny to shoot final photos. In general most buildings and structures photograph better when it is sunny and the sky is blue. In this case when the sun is out, shadows compete with the strong visual design of the Weave Bridge. Whereas on an overcast day, the pattern of the bridge's floor is less confused.

This poses a dilemma and illustrates the reality that sunny is not always the perfect shooting condition.

On the other hand the below photos of a warehouse clearly illustrate the standard idea that a blue sky and strong sun beats clouds and snow.

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