Mascot Substation – Capturing Speed.

This is a start of a series of posts recording my experience of taking photographic record of projects. This set is taken for my workplace, PTW Architects.

The Plan

When my office asked me to capture the completion photo for this project, there was an intent to capture the energy of the location and the dynamic facade. If I am doing a rendering/perspective for the project, what will I do? That mental visualisation is important, before even planning the photographic session. The screens are best viewed at between the blue hour (where the sun is just below the horizon) and the night when it gets dark. I planed to do this handheld, without tripod, as I want to get multiple angles within a 45 minutes or so duration and there is no time to do repeated setups at multiple locations.

The Site

The location is at the gateway to Sydney from the airport, at a busy traffic junction that is full of trucks and buses all day long.

I love light-painting with slow shutter speeds, but have not done low light photos for a long while, so I am excited about this project.

The Prep

Mascot Substation – traffic light trail, elevation study

I travel to this location late afternoon after sun down, scout the location and look for the preferred angles before the time is right. I decided to use the curve of the street to frame the building with the leading lines from both North and South facing directions. The equipment I use is the Leica SL2 with Sigma 14-24 F2.8 DG DN Art lens. It gives good resolution with in-body stabilisation without tripod.

I like to use between 1/5 second to 1/2 second exposure to capture the light trail of cars on the road with moderate car speed. It is all about testing and experiments to land a balance between relative speeds of the traffic and the length of the trail captured, with enough exposure on the subject building and the sky.

Mascot Substation – traffic light trail. Looking from the back, car light trails are in red
Wait for the right traffic to enter the frame.

The past couple of test photographs are taken behind the cars as they travel away from the camera, and they give red tail lights.

Mascot Substation – traffic light trail, car light trails from the front are in white.

If the camera is capturing cars coming into the frame, the white head lamps light trails will be capture like the one directly above. In this lighting condition, my settings are: F5.6 aperture, 1/2 seconds exposure on ISO50 on the test. 1/2 second is a good starting point from previous experience.

The Execution

Mascot Substation – traffic light trail from the North, varying speed of traffic

As the night falls, the skylight continue to dim, I increase the camera’s sensitivity to ISO 100, and open up the lens aperture to F3.5 to compensate the dimming skylight. The artificial light, however, is more intense as it takes over as the main light source. With a mixture of slow and fast cars on the road, the sense of speed is shown through the contrast, to increase the visual impact of the scene.

Mascot Substation – traffic light trail with pedestrian

The sky gets darker and the colour saturation of the night is more intense. The camera sensitivity is now pushed to ISO 200 and lens aperture is further opened up to F2.8 to bring in more light. At this time contrasting the speed of moving cars and the pedestrian’s walking speed to create dramatic in the varying motion blur. This photo also highlights the taller door clearance that induced this intentional twist of fold of the louvre screens. Phono antenna tower is outside the site, but provide important phone coverage to the local area next to the flight paths.

The external up-lights reflected off the facade and provide a safe and secure feeling for pedestrians in the local area. It is great to see how busy this location is after hours, where people finishes work or school, walks the dog and push the pram. The human scale bring intimacy to the photos to the otherwise industrial tone of a sculpture with the twisting geometry,

Comparing Louvre appearance between Day and Night

During the day, the light source is just the sun and the skylight (just skyline on the left). Within half an hour, the same location is transform with multiple artificial light sources. There are warm colour up-lights from the base, cold olour street lights from the top and night sky in the background. Each lighting source invoke a difference emotion to this screen structure from a different angle, and provide the dynamic modeling to the structure.

Mascot Substation – closeup of screening, Night
Mascot Substation – Lookup of screening, Night

The design of the screening has two different styles. On the base, a triangular layout with one-side solid and one-side perforated, it shifts transparency as you approach and depart along the street. The upper tiers are aero-foiled shape louvres, twisted open and close and bend to form the taller gate opening,

Mascot Substation – Back view
Mascot Substation – traffic light trail, from the south


I apply minimal adjustments in Lightroom, typically some straightening, cropping, colour balance, basic brightness and contrast to my photos. The final photos are typically true to the original capture. The Leica SL2‘s raw files has a lot of headroom with highlights and the file is very malleable, so if needed, it can be push or pull with extreme exposure change afterwards. If higher ISO was used, I may work with noise reduction, but this set is mainly taken between ISO 50-200 so I don’t need to adjusted the noise slider.

I enjoy the process of preparing for the shots, executing them onsite and processing them after the session. Waiting for the footpath verge and ground cover/plants to grow before coming back for a day session, hopefully in a few months.

Closing thoughts

Visualising the images before the photographic session really helps the photographic session. In this case, doing the thinking earlier call for a good outcome with relative ease. Love this approach to architectural photography, when it is more about the poetic capture of the realistic place, and to do it right, it comes down to practice and experience. Need to be flexible about changing lighting conditions, and observe the environment. What is enhance the story-telling and what should be eliminated from the frame. I will asked these question every session. I could have use higher lens aperture to get some sun-stars by increasing the ISO also, but decided against it somehow. The shallower depth of view makes the photos more realistic and three-dimensional.

If you have any good tips to do it better, please share with me with comments below. Love to hear your feedback.