I enjoy photography and I love doing landscape photography. It’s the one form of photography that I have never grown bored with or felt burned out on. Shooting landscapes allows me to slow down and see the scene as well as think about what I want to convey in the final image. There are times though that I like to dive into another area of interest to me. Urbex photography – the exploration of urban decay and abandoned things. It’s a form of landscape photography but involves shooting an aging and decaying manmade landscape.
In May 2014 I asked Michael if he would like to join me for a weekend of photography in Buffalo shooting what is known as Silo City. This workshop was organized by Mark Maio and Visual Archeology. He made all the arrangements for a small group of photographers to explore to their hearts content Silo City. We also had the opportunity to photograph for an afternoon in the turn of the century Buffalo’s Francis G. Ward Water Pumping Station.
This kind of photography is challenging and rewarding. It pushes you to see differently and think the whole shot through. It’s abandoned and dangerous and in some places downright nasty. Silo City is a complex of old grain silos sitting on the edge of Lake Erie. It’s hard to describe the size of this place.
It is spread out over acres and the building are hundreds of feet tall. These silos were used to distribute grain in early 20th century from the Midwest to other parts of the country. The whole history of these silos and how they contributed to Americas history is fascinating. Mark and his team thoroughly explain the history as part of the opening night ceremonies. Mark himself has published a book on this and spent a lot of time photographing the Grain Scoopers prior to all these complexes being shut down. Take a look at some of Mark’s Images.
Our day began shooting the silos from across the river at sunrise. The morning was cool and still making the water reflective. I shot a number of images with a wide angle lens to draw the viewer to the subject and knew I would do some post image production working the color and maybe even go to a toned BW image.
I like to shoot from many angles and thus I worked the area walking to several different locations to make sure I got a shot I wanted. While doing so I couldn’t help but see the way the light played on the rusty catwalks and chutes on the building exteriors. I changed from normal and wide angle lenses to the 80-400mm Nikon zoom and concentrated on the abstract and graphical look that this metal work formed.
After the sunrise shoot and a quick breakfast we began our exploration of the complex itself. We could climb endless stairs, walk on crumbling catwalks, shoot in grain processing rooms and climb to the roofs of many of the buildings. There were images to be had everywhere. Light played through windows and holes in the building and ceiling. It was a very different experience shooting a manmade landscape.
I was shooting with a Nikon D800E with 14-24mm, 24-70mm and 80-400mm lenses. A tripod was a must as well as a cable release. I kept my ISO low and relied on long exposures to get the shot. I varied f-stops based on depth of field that was needed. A good flashlight and headlamp were necessities. Michael and I tend to wander off and shoot our own thing so we had walkie talkies to keep in touch. You definitely want to always have a partner when exploring places like this.
Swannie Jim the man living on the property gave us a tour and some history of the Silos and the importance they played in America’s growth. He is a also a very colorful character living on the property in a small little shack. It was fun to sit with him for an hour or so and hear everything he had to share regarding this location.
At one point during the trip one of the photographers on the workshop had hired two models and invited Michael and I to shoot with him. Now this was a departure for both of us but we quickly caught on and it was a great experience to put something organic into the scene. I enjoyed poses where the model was in harmony with the objects in the scene. I have had a lot of experience shooting people and especially portrait illustration as part of my career but I haven’t practiced for almost 20 years as I was dedicated to just doing landscape photography. Wow, what a refreshing and challenging opportunity. It was downright fun. I will be hiring my own models for my next Silo City adventure and I already have a list of ideas I would like to try.
All the time while shooting I was also considering how I would post process the images. There were some techniques that I thought would really lend to this industrial environment. I saw a lot of Black and White as well as high contrast, some HDR and toned images. Overall the fun shooting in this location was only going to be half the experience as post processing I knew early on would be a whole other part of this experience.
We took one afternoon off and visited the Francis G. Ward Water Pumping Station. This was one of the coolest places I have seen. It is what I would call very Steam Punk. Big old machines, pumps, pipes with decorative cat walks and a touch of rust thrown in. I was in heaven in this place and the afternoon of photography resulted in a number of portfolio images.
As a landscape shooter I was challenged by the cold harshness of this place. But the light and design of the place presented a new landscape. Shooting a place like this not to mention the whole experience of Silo City forced me outside my comfort zone and the safe box I normally shoot in. It made me see the possibilities of shooting industrial landscapes and frankly was like a breath of really fresh air. It was a stimulating weekend that made for some very nice photography but also hours of post editing and processing which I love just as much as I used to love working in the darkroom.
I judge the success of outing and trips by the number of bottles of wine it takes edit the shoot. Silo city was a four bottle trip which in my book is as good as it gets. I look forward to May of this year and shooting there again. I now know a few places I want to shoot again there as well as the right times to do so.
On behalf of Michael and myself I want to thank Mark for making this weekend and shoot possible. If you attend this workshop you’ll be amazed to learn more about Mark and what he has accomplished in his life as well as get a chance to see some of his amazing photography work he has done of Silo City over the last few decades.
If you are interested in joining this years workshop (May 14-17, 2015) then Register Here. I’ll be at the workshop and hope to add a number of images to my portfolio of this very cool location.
To see some of the images made on this workshop you can visit a Gallery Of Silo City Images.
Some Other Images From The Silo City Shoot – By Kevin Raber
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