the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

CHANGE OF PLAN

Rainy day, dream away. Griffith Observatory under early overcast, 11/29/13. 1/160, f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

Rainy day, dream away. Griffith Observatory under early overcast, 11/29/13. 1/160, f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

by MICHAEL PERKINS

VISUAL WONDERS, IN EVERY HOUR AND SEASON, ARE THE COMMON CURRENCY OF CALIFORNIA’S GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY. The setting for this marvelous facility, a breathtaking overlook of downtown Los Angeles, the Hollywood Hills, and the Pacific Ocean, will evoke a gasp from the most jaded traveler, and can frequently upstage the scientific wonders contained within its gleaming white Deco skin.

And when the light above the site’s vast expanse of sky fully asserts itself, that, photographically, trumps everything. For, at that moment,  it doesn’t matter what you originally came to capture.

You’re going to want to be all about that light.

Upon my most recent visit to Griffith, the sky was dulled by a thick overcast and drenched by a slate-grey rain that had steadily dripped over the site since dawn. The walkways and common decks were nearly deserted throughout the day, chasing the park’s visitors inside since the opening of doors at noon. By around 3pm, a slow shift began, with stray shafts of sun beginning to seek fissures in the weakening cloud cover. Minute by minute, the dull puddles outside the telescope housing began to gleam; shadows tried to assert themselves beneath the umbrellas ringing the exterior of the cafeteria; the letters on the Hollywood sign started to warm like white embers; and people of all ages ventured slowly to the outside walkways.

The moment the light broke, 11/29/13. 1/640 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

The moment the light broke, Griffith’s common areas after the rain,11/29/13. 1/640 sec., f/5.6 (this image),  f/6.3 (lower image), ISO 100, 35mm.

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By just after 5 in the afternoon, the pattern had moved into a new category altogether. As the overcast began to break and scatter, creating one diffuser of the remaining sunlight, the fading day applied its own atmospheric softening. The combination of these two filtrations created an electric glow of light that flickered between white hot and warm, bathing the surrounding hillsides with explosive pastels and sharp contrasts. For photographers along the park site, the light had undoubtably become THE STORY. Yes the buildings are pretty, yes the view is marvelous. But look what the light is doing. 

Like everyone else, I knew I was living moment-to-moment in a temporary, irresistible miracle. The rhythm became click-and-hope, click-and-pray.

And smiles for souvenirs, emblazoned on the faces of a hundred newly-minted Gene Kellys.

“Siiingin’ in the rainnnn…”

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