Center City Philadelphia from the east.
It’s a cold, dark night on the biggest shopping day of the year, and I’m hovering hundreds of feet above the city of Philadelphia. The world beneath my feet is glowing, the darkness pierced by pockets of light.
What am I doing here?
Deptford, New Jersey, Walmart from 1000 feet.
For three hours that night, we flew loops around Philadelphia in a small helicopter, capturing aerial photographs of cars at five different Walmarts to discover how large a parking lot should be.
Walmart had commissioned an engineering firm to study the capacity of their parking lots on their busiest sales day. My aerial photos would help them answer the classic Goldilocks dilemma — are existing parking lots too big, too small, or just right?
The answer is important: too large of a parking lot and money is being wasted, too small a parking lot and potential sales are lost due to customers not being able to park.
Cockpit of Schweizer 300 helicopter as we approached our final landing.
The next time you’re out shopping, remember that we’re out there too, working to make your life just a little easier through the magic of aerial photography.
Simplicity and orderliness are key inside a warehouse.
Warehouses are a hidden but important part our modern economy.
Most products that end up in our lives pass through a warehouse or two. Boxes of cereal, gas grills, TV sets, baseball caps, blue jeans – you name it, the product has probably been brought to and distributed through a warehouse.
Racking can extend to over 30 feet.
I’ve had a hard time coming up with an exact figure, but I think there is at least 1 billion square feet of warehouse space in the United States. In 2010, the 20 largest warehouse firms had 514 million square feet of space.
The size of many warehouses boggles the mind. One warehouse that I photographed was 1 million square feet–so big that 17 football fields would fit inside it. A walk around the outside is a one mile trip.
This warehouse contains 600,000 square feet of floor space.
I was asked to photograph this warehouse for the owner, Dermody, so they could promote it to new tenants. It is currently being used as a distribution space for h.h. gregg and also houses a UPS distribution center.
We don’t often think about where our stuff comes from, but the warehouse is a crucial part of the life of an item – from manufacturing to arriving at your front door.
Many warehouses are automated, and can be operated by only a few employees.
Some of the 17 clocks I changed for Daylight Savings Time.
Changing 17 clocks is a drag. Twice a year when daylight savings time starts or ends, I’ve got to adjust numerous clocks.
And I need to re-adjust my internal clock. I don’t understand why we still have this system. If I were king, I would keep the clocks the same all year long.
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.
Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology at University of Pennsylvania.
The building is littered with brightly-colored terraces for meetings and studying.
The Singh Center is not your grandmother’s research lab. The $80-million nanotechnology center, located on the University of Pennsylvania campus, will appeal to science geeks and architecture fans alike. During the design stage, architects consulted with engineers to measure the precise specifications for the labs inside. During construction, the Dean of Engineering was often seen standing outside with a stopwatch, measuring the length of time that pedestrians spent admiring the exterior.
Nanotechnology is the process of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Researchers have used nanotechnology to improve everything from medicine to tennis balls, and the potential applications are endless.
An electron microscope housed in the building’s basement.
The Singh Center houses laboratories for studying and engineering these very small structures. It is one of a few buildings in the country that boasts multiple electron microscopes, each performing a different and complementary function – an all-in-one nanotechnology wonderland.
The nucleus of the building is a small room that houses an extremely sensitive electron microscope, where engineers can study the movements of individual atoms under water. The entire structure was designed around the room’s precise coordinates. University Architect David Hollenberg told the Pennsylvania Gazette that the room is “the core out of which everything else spirals… if this were a Gothic cathedral, this is where the saint’s bones would be.”
The Singh Center distinguishes itself from other engineering buildings with its stunning and ultramodern design. The public face of the building is a transparent glass structure that allows passersby to peer inside. A cantilevered section that juts out the side creates an illusion of weightlessness that makes pedestrians below catch their breath.
The open corridors encourage interaction.
Inside the building, extensive public spaces provide a place for scientists and students to study, relax or exchange notes. The Philadelphia Inquirer referred to the open terraces as “nightclub-like lounges.”
Overall, the Singh Center has an exuberant atmosphere, bringing the light from outdoors inside and displaying a glowing interior at night.
It was a pleasure to finally get an up-close view of this architectural marvel, and to learn about the daily miracles that occur inside. The Singh Center will change our idea of what a laboratory can look like, fitting for a field of study that is changing the way we interact with the world we live in.
The SingCenter sits on the former site of a windowless engineering building and a parking lot.
With bright leather chairs and stark, futuristic walls, the Philips Lighting Application Center looks like a set from a Devo music video or the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The construction firm E. Allen Reeves commissioned me to photograph the facility in Somerset, New Jersey.
Philips uses this space to host lighting seminars for designers and other clients. The room’s unique construction helps demonstrate how different types of light and light bulbs affect our perception of color.
Color is just an illusion.
In one demonstration, all red wavelengths of light are eliminated from the room. Without red light reflecting off them, the previously loud leather chairs appeared mud brown to my eyes and to the camera.
In another display, viewers compare two identical office mock-ups lit with different types of bulbs. You get a sense of how something as simple as lighting can alter your workspace and even your mood.
A new perspective.
The chairs sit on a revolving platform, which rotates throughout the demonstration to show different sections of the room.
New Wave meets wavelengths.
The strong colors and minimalistic setting gave the room a futuristic feel that made me think of New Wave music videos from my youth.
As an architectural photographer who is fascinated by light, I loved photographing this room.
December 31st, 2011
Posted in technology by Greg Benson
Using the iPad preview photos while shooting the Philadelphia skyline.
It’s New Year’s Eve 2011, a time for looking back and looking forward. Photography has always been a technological medium. Digital has made photography both simpler and more complicated.
I use an Apple iPad with Shutter Snitch software to preview images from my Canon DSLR. Being able to see the images on its large 9 inch screen helps clients and me see and select images on a shoot.
The small size and weight of an iPad along with its day-long battery life make it a great choice for previewing images on location.
The best explanation of how to see up a Canon Wifi transmitter, a battery powered router and Shuttersnitch on the iPad is on Rob Galbraith’s web site.
This combination has been my favorite tool of 2011. I look forward to new and undiscovered tools in 2012.
Happy New Year.
It has been barely more than a full year since we migrated our blog from Blogger to WordPress. The experience has been overall positive (with the expected growing pains and hiccups in between). I think it is appropriate to celebrate with a quick tip about how to streamline the workflow of adding images to your own blog entries.
Luc Renambot’s plugin Dossier de Presse works by giving Lightroom the ability to automatically upload exported images to your WordPress blog. Lightroom has an excellent Export function that allows for saving presets and the real power comes in combining the power of these presets with the Dossier de Presse plugin.
Lightroom Export dialogue using Dossier de Presse plugin
Once Dossier de Presse is installed in Lightroom you can create a new Export Preset using the plugin. First set the “Export To” dropdown to “Dossier de Presse” and then fill out the rest of the export parameters to set the size, compression, and sharpening of the image to export. The final panel requires entering the address of the blog and then a valid login and password.
Selecting multiple images in Lightroom for WordPress Export
Selecting multiple images and then choosing the correct Export Preset makes very quick work of uploading images directly to the WordPress Media Library. You can skip the steps of exporting the images to some temporary folder, navigating through the WordPress web interface to the Media Library, finding the export folder through the upload dialogue, etc. With Dossier de Presse the images will be comfortably waiting in the Media Library ready to be inserted into your next blog entry.
At Renninger’s Antiques Market in Adamstown, Pennsylvania, I purchased some old photographs from a vendor. I paid five dollars for this tintype. Once I started examining it, I wanted to know: When was this photograph taken? Who are the people in the photograph?
Tintype of Henry Stehman and John Stehman, Lancaster, PA circa 1870s
Using the internet I have discovered the following. Gill’s City Gallery was a photo studio run by William L. Gill from 1859 to 1882.
Reverse side of paper holder for tintype from Gill's City Gallery, Lancaster, PA
The names Henry Stehman and John Stehman are written on the paper holder. The two men in the photograph certainly look like brothers. Having asked several people, the consensus is that these men are somewhere between twenty-four and twenty-eight years old.
There was a Henry B. Stehman who was born in 1852 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania who went on to become a famous doctor who treated lung diseases and who founded a sanatorium in Pasadena, California. While I don’t have definitive proof that the man on the left is this Henry Stehman, the other evidence supports this possibility. If Henry was twenty-five when the photo was taken, then the photo was taken in 1877, a date that is consistent with the years of operation of Gill’s City Gallery and the use of the tintype process.
Tintype circa 1870s
Unlike many photo processes, which have a negative and can easily produce multiple copies, tintypes are one-of-a-kind. Often a multiple lens camera was used to simultaneously take four images onto one metal plate. The developed image was then cut with tinsnips into four separate photos, hence the name “tintype”. With a black border on the left and top, the Stehman portrait looks like the upper left corner of a larger plate that was imprecisely snipped from the larger sheet.
A photograph has an uncanny ability to capture personality and detail whether it’s a tintype from the 1870s or a digital image from 2011.
Four lens tintype camera cira 1860s, image courtesy of The National Museum of American History, creative commons license.
Image from flickr.
Leslie Neilsen speaking at Penn Law School about Clarence Darrow in 1999 © Greg Benson
Actor Leslie Nielsen died at age 84, on November 28, 2010, of complications from pneumonia. He was a late bloomer. His comedic roles in the movies, Airplane and the Naked Gun series gave him fame and fortune in his later years.
In 1999, I had an opportunity to photograph him when he spoke at the Penn Law School. Nielsen had a serious side and used his Hollywood earnings to present a one man show on the early twentieth century lawyer, Clarence Darrow. Darrow is famous for defending a teacher on trial for teaching evolution in the 1920s Scopes Monkey trial in Tennessee. Darrow was also against the death penalty and defended many people in capital cases including Leopold and Loeb, wealthy Chicago teenagers who kidnapped and killed a younger boy.
Retrieving the 1999 image of Nielsen from my archive is illustrative of how much the technology of image making has changed in eleven years. The original is a color negative that was in a job jacket in my studio attic. Once I found the negative, I scanned it, a process that took me around fifteen minutes. A digital original would have been much quicker to find, view and post.
At the end of the day, technology only matters so much, Nielsen’s deadpan comedic delivery brings laughs or groans, whether on film, DVD or youtube.
Neilsen in spoof of Vanity Fair photo of Demi Moore