When you’re out taking train photos for over a decade, things are bound to change. You probably will end up upgrading your camera equipment somewhere along the way, and your workflow for editing photos changes when you learn new things, or take advantage of new software. And somewhere along that journey you may suddenly realize that some fundamental part of your aesthetic isn’t quite what it was ten years ago. For some reason I found myself fascinated with panorama photography (which maybe you heard about?) back when I started this site in 2008, but it’s a rare moment today when I ever take a panoramic image. Heck, back then I wasn’t even using a DSLR camera… but I got a Canon 60D pretty soon after, then eventually upgraded to a 6D (and liked it so much I got a second one after I dropped the first one in the ocean, oops!). These days I have an R5, and instead find myself more enamored with close-up photos.
It seems that both obsessions come from the same cloth. Or at least that’s what I would say in the lame artist statement if I ever had to write one (I was a bad art school student, and consistently tried and failed at doing these well). Nonetheless, I’ve always been interested in capturing imagery with my camera that are beyond what my own eyes are capable of seeing. As an amblyope (or in more common parlance, a person that has a “lazy eye”) my vision has never been amazing (I wear glasses full time now, and don’t wear cat hats anymore either—I think this means I’m getting old). But panoramas, with their unnaturally wide frame of view, or high dynamic range images, with their extraordinary spectrum of captured colors and tones allow me to see places in ways I never could naturally. Closeup detail photos are in a similar vein, but in a way more pure, as they are images straight out of the camera, and without advanced technological manipulations.
Back in April I challenged myself to capture the details of the interior of Grand Central Terminal using only my 70-300mm lens. Earlier this summer I revised the challenge to capture the Terminal’s exterior during Summer Streets, an annual August event that closes seven miles of New York City’s streets to cars and opens them to bicyclists and pedestrians. The route includes the Park Avenue Viaduct, and allows unique chances for photography of Grand Central and the former New York Central building (sorry Leona, but we don’t call it that other name here).
Below you’ll find a collection of my favorite images from that day, including glimpses of the new One Vanderbilt, and reflections of Grand Central across the now-closed Grand Hyatt, which won’t be visible for much longer. The photos also revive a long-talked-about point among mythology-lovers regarding Grand Central and who exactly appears upon the façade. Though architect Whitney Warren specifically identified the sculptural trio as Mercury, Hercules, and Minerva, the gear, hammer, and anvil symbols are more commonly associated with the Roman god Vulcan (or Hephaestus of Greek mythology). Hercules certainly seems like the more glamorous of the two, fitting in perfectly with the “Vanderbilt aesthetic,” yet Vulcan, god of metalwork, seems appropriate for a mighty railroad building links of iron and steel that connected the ever-growing United States. You’ll also find that another significant portion of the Vanderbilt aesthetic—the acorn and oak leaf motif—extends to the exterior of the station, including the streetlamps.
Although the initial challenge was to solely use the telephoto lens, you’ll find a few images that stray from the concept. I’ll admit, I cheated. But since I made up the rules, I suppose I can break them, too. However, if you’d like to challenge me to another telephoto photography adventure, drop the subject in the comments and I promise I’ll stick to the rules.
If you missed the first version of this post, you can view the gallery by clicking the link below.