I can’t get enough of Silo City. I made my second visit to this amazing place back in May of this year and previously in June of 2014. My visits and a full weekend of photography was arranged by Mark Maio and Visual Archeology. My previous article on Silo City can be found here.
The workshop that I have participated in as an instructor takes place in Silo City and the Francis Ward Pumping Station in Buffalo, NY. The next workshop will be on September 24-27 2015 and I highly recommend the experience.
Silo City offers a chance to explore an amazing set of buildings and practice shooting a different kind of landscape. It gives me a chance to try out new gear, new techniques and challenge the way I see. I always end up running into friends on these workshops and not only is the time we photograph fun, but the social aspect and follow on discussions about photography are great too.
This past trip I arrived with my Sony a7 II and a full compliment of lenses as well as my Fuji X-Y1 system. I had a goal to shoot a lot of images with my Tamron 150-600mm lens on the Sony. I like this lens and I like shooting with it in locations where I would normally shoot with a wider angle lens. There is something about seeing with a long lens that gives a different perspective on things. All of my good intentions would change come our first sunrise shoot.
It was early in the morning and we were setting up for the sunrise on the grain silos from across the river. There is a great spot to shoot the silos with water reflecting them; as the sun rises it lights them up in a most beautiful way. I have my tripod all set up and the 150-600mm lens ready to go. I am going to be concentrating on the iron work and scaffolding attached to the silos. As I am waiting on the light an old friend Paul T comes wandering down the sidewalk and we say good morning. I ask him where he is set up and he says right here. I ask him where his camera and tripod are and he pulls out his iPhone and says right here. I am dumbstruck.
Paul is one of the finest photographers I know. By day he is a very successful business person and in his spare time he is a dedicated photographer. This man has owned some of the finest camera gear money can purchase. He has owned Leica, Phase One, Hasselblad and just about any lens made for these cameras. He focuses on B&W work and he has produced stunning images from around the world. I have traveled to many locations with Paul and he somehow is always able to find an image that no one else ever saw. His talent is only exceeded by his kindness and generosity to others. You can see more of Pauls work at his Hipstamatic Projects website and his main site. If you wish you can contact him at his email.
So, I asked him, “What do you mean?” He explains that he has gotten rid of everything big and now shoots with his iPhone 6 Plus and the Hipstamatic app. So, as the sun rises we talk further and shoot photos. He shows me some of his images made with the Hisptamatic app and encourages me to try shooting with the iPhone.
I take him up on the challenge and decide to shoot with both cameras during the weekend.
I am no stranger to the iPhone and love shooting with it, but never really considered it for my main camera. What makes the iPhone great are the apps and the Hisptamatic app is one that I have always had fun with. Paul shows me some tricks and power user tips and we set up some film and lens combinations that I will work with for the next few days. The it is off to the races.
Silo City is huge and tall and there a lot of places where you can get lost and be by yourself to shoot the way you want. The first day I chipped in with Bill Woody and we photographed two models together. That was fun and it also got me out of my comfort zone of shooting the same old thing. I used my Sony, Fuji X-T1 and the iPhone to create some very nice images. It’s great being challenged and shooting out of your comfort zone. This was certainly an opportunity to be creative and try to fit a human form into this industrial space. Challenges like these are fun and rewarding.
You can shoot at your own pace in Silo City and that allows you to focus on certain things you may want to explore or work on. Having been there before, I kind of knew what worked and what didn’t, and went back to try and recapture some of the areas that I remembered as something that deserved special attention. I was looking for abstracts and the way the existing light played with objects in the building and outside.
Mark Maio, the organizer of this workshop, sprinkles in some talented instructors that are available to help with ideas and answer questions. Capture Integration sends a representative and a load of gear if you want to try some new camera or lens out.
Rick Smith, a colorful character who is fun and interesting to talk with, owns the property. He’s easily identified by his big cowboy hat. The other character on the property is Swannie Jim. He’s certainly a person you’ll want to sit down and chat with; he’s also a great model to photograph. He lives in a shack on the property with his dog and is a fascinating person with a real interesting story to tell.
On the second full day we take a trip to my favorite place, the Francis G. Ward pumping station which supplies all of Buffalo. It’s huge and filled with machinery, much of it a hundred years old. There are pipes, lights, gauges and rust. There are so many angles one can shoot in this place; you could spend hours working the shots. As usual, I walked out of that shoot with some great images. My favorites were made on the iPhone though. I think Paul was onto something.
That evening Paul and I went to dinner together and discussed the whole iPhone thing and in particular what he does with the images. When we got back to the hotel he showed me several books that he has made from his iPhone images and I was blown away. The way he explains it makes it so easy to learn. There are apps both on the Mac and iPhone where you can enhance the images further and then lay them out in book format and send the book layout off to a printer. In a few days a beautiful book shows up. I am hooked.
I asked Paul if anyone ever gives him grief about shooting with an iPhone. He explains, “Only other photographers. When I share my images with friends and family, they compliment them. No one ever asks what camera was used.”
Seems we photographers are the only ones who think adversely of photographers shooting with an iPhone. I know I am over it. It is about the image. What difference does the camera make? I know that is a loaded question, but if you capture an image and you are happy with it, then mission accomplished.
An optional photography side trip this year was taking an old Buffalo City Fireboat out to the intake station of the Francis Ward Pumping Station on Lake Erie. Trust me, it was worth the extra cost. The fireboat cruise is a blast and the intake station is like something out of a James Bond movie where the evil enemy resides. So many angles, pipes and catwalks–just an absolute blast to shoot in.
I came home with tons of wonderful images. I am still working on some files and enjoying the time reflecting on the trip. I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the iPhone images. I export these images out of the photos app (which syncs images from iPhone to my laptop, iPad and other machines) and send them to Capture One where I can do minor edits on them. They are JPEG but I can still use C1 to do some tweaking. I have made some prints using my Epson 9900 and 3800 printers. Three images from this trip made with the iPhone were used in a recent exhibit I had and were the ones most talked about at the show. I even had a local arts paper do a write up on them. I have been successful printing these images up to 17×22 using the Epson 3800 and Imageprint Software. I am in the process of laying out a couple of books. They will include Silo City, Francis Ward Pumping Station and the Intake Station. I’m looking forward to the completion of these.
I am not through with Silo City and most assuredly will return sometime in the future to continue my exploration of the location and look for new images.
You can also read my previous article on Silo City. Mark holds workshops in Silo City twice a year. If you can make one of these events it will certainly reward you with some special images. As mentioned his next workshop is September 24-27, 2015. You’ll meet some cool people and make new friends. Plus, you’ll have an opportunity to do some mazing photography. Go have fun!