There are few better ways to spend a Sunday evening in Seattle than wandering the Industrial District. As a photographer, I find myself returning here time and again. It’s a place that offers something different each visit, a place that is incredibly beautiful but without beauty.
I recently spent another evening down among Seattle’s shipping yards and cement plants, shooting vertical panoramas using a Minolta CA 35mm shift lens on my NEX-7. Here are a few of the resulting images.
When I first got into photography, I mostly took landscapes and was fond of creating panoramas to better capture the entirety of the natural beauty around me. Yet the results often felt like pale imitations. The experience of being out in nature is hard improve upon, and perhaps this one reason that I’ve been increasingly drawn to shooting industry and bridges and other more unconventional subjects. You may not understand this—and some people may even find these subjects ugly, both ascetically and in what they reveal about society—but I see a deeper and far more profound beauty in them. This duality captivates me.
The Industrial District south of Seattle—of SoDo and Harbor Island and the land along the Duwamish River—is a perfect example of this aesthetic. These places were not created with beauty in mind, and yet they are simply marvelous. It’s no Cleveland, but these patches of industry in Seattle have an unpretentious visual rawness that I love.
In a sense, wandering about with my camera gives me permission to explore the world visually, to look more closely at shapes and textures and colors, and find interesting ways of coaxing out the beauty I discover. That’s why I go out on Sunday evenings. I don’t care what my subjects are or what they may represent, but how they appear and how they fit into a scene. All this makes cities—with their endless variety—very attractive, especially their less manicured sides.
As my taste in subjects has evolved, I’ve also moved to shooting in portrait orientation almost exclusively. I can’t explain it entirely, but a good portrait photograph seems to capture something that more wide-angle shots never quite can. Maybe it’s a better sense of depth; maybe it’s that you must spend more time to take in a picture in portrait vs one in landscape; I don’t know for sure.
While I normally shoot at a 2:3 aspect ratio, I’ve also explored a few less standard ratios using the Minolta’s Shift CA. This is a interesting lens, and one that I’ve written about before. The lens is a bit a of a nightmare from a purely functional point of view: bulky, finicky, and optically temperamental. What I use it most for though is shooting vertical panoramas. These combine two or three shots shifted vertically to create high resolution images with aspect ratios of anywhere between 9:16 to 5:16, with 7:16 or 1:2 being my current preferences.
I almost always prefer a 7:16 image to its 2:3 crop, even when all the action is in the middle. Let me see what is happening around the focus, give me a large field of asphalt or dirt in the lower third of the frame and a beautiful expanse of sky in the upper third, and leave the middle to stand proudly between. Such framing would be counterproductive in landscape orientations, yet I find it gives these vertical shots a far more immersive feeling.
Besides the appealing aspect ratio, I’ve also come to enjoy the process of creating these panoramas. It requires slowing down to select and compose shots, and I find this let’s me better experience the environment. The process also adds back some sense of mystery. You can check that each individual shot is focused or exposed correctly, but are never completely sure what the stitched together result will look like until later.
Most of my photographs are not good in a classical sense. They are not beautiful or evocative at first glance, and are far from technically perfect. That’s not why I take them though. Wandering about with my camera—be it in the Industrial District or somewhere else—always makes me feel better. There’s a sense of exploration and discovery in finding the beauty in these places. I try to capture that wonder and excitement and beauty in my photographs, perhaps so that others can understand, and hopefully so that they can discover this beauty themselves.
You can find the complete set of photographs from the evening here.