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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
The late afternoon sun highlights Golkin Hall’s unique brickwork and marble panels.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stunning colored underwater lights and garden torches light up this party-ready pool.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Paine Park, a skateboard park near the Philadelphia Art Museum. An aerial view highlights creative shapes and patterns in a way you just couldn’t achieve from the ground.
As a kid, if you asked me what kind of animal I wished I could be, I would’ve answered eagle in a heartbeat. I dreamt of soaring through the clouds, peering down at the earth far below. As an adult, I’ve come pretty close to this feeling when I’m up in a helicopter capturing aerial photographs of buildings, skylines and neighborhoods.
A wide view from above highlights suburban America’s highways, shopping malls, and office buildings.
Aerials capture an important viewpoint when documenting a site or structure. When a commercial realtor is marketing an office building or shopping center, showing the location from the air gives potential buyers a clear sense of scale and context.
Shot from high up, the Cira Center in Philadelphia reflects its surroundings.
A view from up high can be a powerful and dramatic way to show a project in a completely different way, like an architect’s scale model come to life. Sometimes when I’m hovering overhead in a helicopter, I feel like I’m looking down on my own personal model train set. What a feeling!
Aerial photography showcases the lush green campus of Glaxo Smith Kline in King of Prussia, PA.
Capturing excellent aerial photographs is not easy. It requires a great deal of planning, teamwork, communication — and strong nerves, as you’re hanging out of the open door of a small two-person helicopter trying to find the perfect angle.
An overhead view captures the precise geometry of the Quadrangle and student housing at University of Pennsylvania.
I’ve done many aerial shoots, so I’m able to accurately calculate time and cost. There’s nothing worse than underestimating the amount of time needed, or over-booking a pilot’s time. Experience matters.
Philadelphia turns into glowing pockets of light when photographed from above at night.
Before I climb aboard the helicopter, I like to have a clear vision of what I’ll see when I’m up there. I first look up the location on Google Maps and study the satellite view carefully. Once the client confirms that the building I’m seeing in the satellite view is in fact the one I’ve been hired to photograph (you’d be surprised how different something can look from hundreds of feet up in the air!) I mark down the GPS coordinates and print out the satellite view to help navigate the pilot.
Time to fly…