06.19.22: Looking up

A skylight provides ambient light to the top floor of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

A skylight provides ambient light to the top floor of the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

In photography, it’s key to keep eyes moving

I have hundreds of photographs in my files that I took either lying flat on my back or bending backwards so the camera is pointing straight up. 

I’ve learned through many years of photography that it is important to always keep my eyes moving when I’m walking through an area with my camera. 

Whether I’m in a city or a forest, I’m always scanning for possible photographs. I’m analyzing how light and shadows work with buildings or landscapes, how foreground elements fit into a broader composition, how shapes and colors and textures combine to form an eye-catching scene.

I’ve also learned that it is important to look up.

That’s how I got this photo at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. I was looking at the exhibits but I also checked the ceiling in every room we entered. When we reached the top floor I looked up and discovered this skylight surrounded by geometric figures.

I have hundreds of photographs in my files that I took either lying flat on my back or bending backwards so the camera is pointing straight up. And I have hundreds of others where I used an extreme wide-angle lens to get interior shots showing ceiling detail above a floor, sometimes tilting up slightly to create perspective distortion.

I’ve learned that the older the building, the more likely that common areas — lobbies, entrances, etc. — will have interesting ceiling detail.

That’s obviously the case with a number of European buildings I’ve visited. Centuries-old churches or palaces are often more interesting when looking straight up than they are at eye level. 

But I’ve also found the same to be true in some American buildings.

At times the upward view  is a primary feature of the architecture. That’s the case with the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, where a visitor’s eye is drawn straight up to the spiral walkway and skylight immediately upon entering the building.

Staring straight up from the center of the rotunda floor in the Texas Capitol in Austin feels like a visitor is looking into the bottom of a space craft, like a scene from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” come alive.

Skylights, paintings or architectural detail all provide interesting above-the-head indoor photography subjects.

When outdoors, I’m always checking “looking up” opportunities that show size, scale and relationships of buildings or other structures in large cities, or size, colors and patterns of trees when I’m in the wild.

That’s one of the things I really enjoy about photography — I never know what will catch my eye.

Tech specs

  • Date/time: Sep 3, 2016 3:30 PM   
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM 
  • Focal length: 16mm
  • Aperture: f/4.5
  • Shutter: 1/320 second
  • ISO: 1000

Purchase photos

Photographs and text: Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved. Photographs may not be used without permission.

Attorneys affiliated with ImageRights International pursue copyright infringement claims on my behalf.