Los Angeles Buildings Super Zoom
The Griffith Observatory is one of my favorite locations for a photo shoot when I'm in Los Angeles with my Nikon COOLPIX P1000 super-zoom camera. The observatory is perched high up on Mount Hollywood with amazing views of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. This spot provides a photographer with seemingly endless possibilities if you have camera with a medium or ultra-zoom lens.
For example, I've previously posted articles to my website about zooming in on the famous Hollywood sign and zooming in on the streets of Los Angeles from the observatory. Once while at the observatory, I watched a hiker being rescued from Mount Hollywood by multiple Los Angeles Fire Department helicopters. My article about that is posted here.
Today, we're going to zoom in on the tall buildings in downtown Los Angeles. But before we get started with today's photo shoot, I'd like to deliver my standard disclaimer for photo shoots at the Griffith Observatory. While the views from up here are great for zooming, the air quality is not so great for zooming. In LA, bad air quality usually means smog. The P1000 can get us really close to things that are really far away, but the pictures will not be as clear as they might be in other areas that don't have as much smog. The smog in Los Angeles can impact photo and video quality, however, I find that the goodness of the views up here significantly outweighs the badness of the smog.
The tall buildings in downtown Los Angeles are over five miles or eight kilometers away. So what should be our first zoom? There are sooooo many tall buildings in Los Angeles that when you're standing at the Griffith Observatory with a super zoom camera in your hand, you feel like a kid in a candy store. So let's be as impulsive as a child and go immediately for the tallest building in Los Angeles! The tallest building in Los Angeles is the Wilshire Grand Center. At 1,100 feet (335 meters) tall, it's not only the tallest building in Los Angeles, it's also the tallest building west of the Mississippi. You can read more about the Wilshire Grand Center on its Wikipedia page.
Let's zoom in to the Wilshire Grand Center using multiple focal lengths so we can see what type of picture you'll get at zoom level. If you're not going to be shooting with the P1000, then you can use these pictures to see how close your camera can get to the buildings. If you have different lenses for your camera, then you could use the series of pictures below to determine which lens to bring with you to the Griffith Observatory. Or you could just use this easy two-step process to determine which lens to bring: (1) Find the longest lens that you have, (2) Bring it :)
The first two pictures of the Wilshire Grand Center are at 24mm and 50mm. The Wilshire Grand is visible in these pictures, but it's not the subject. I see both of these photographs as establishing shots that let the viewer know that you can see downtown LA from the Griffith Observatory.
Our target building is still not the subject of the photo when we increase the focal length to between 100mm and 200mm (see below). But if you want to take a picture of downtown Los Angles, bringing a camera with a focal length in this range would be a good choice. By the way, that's the Goodyear Blimp floating over the city. We're not going to zoom in on it at today's photoshoot, but you can read my article about zooming in to the Goodyear blimp here.
It's not until we shoot at a focal length of around 500mm that the Wilshire Grand Center becomes the subject of the picture. The building is pretty unique and stands out from the other relatively nondescript buildings, so the Wilshire Grand could be the subject of the photo at slightly lower focal lengths, especially if you keep the US Bank Tower out of the frame. We'll see the US Bank Tower in just a bit.
At 2000mm and above, the subject is the detail of the building. At these focal lengths, we begin to see the atmospheric distortions of looking through over five miles (8 kilometers) of an active air mass with some smog in it. Straight lines look a little wavy and the detail is not as clear as it would be if we were closer to the building. You would see this with almost any camera, not the just the P1000. Although, good luck finding a lens with a focal length of 2000mm or 3000mm that you don't have to sell your house to afford :)
When people talk about the Nikon COOLPIX P1000, they usually just talk about it's insane 3000mm maximum focal length. And while that's definitely worth talking about, I like to point out that it's the P1000's insane focal length range that makes it such a versatile camera. With this camera, you can pretty much frame any shot you want in almost any setting. That's kind of what we just did on today's photo shoot. We started with a wide angle shot of the downtown Los Angeles area and ended with a tight shot showing the unique structures on the top of one of the buildings. All from the same photo shoot location!
The next skyscraper that we'll zoom in on is the US Bank Tower which, at a height of 1,018 feet or 310 meters, makes it the second tallest building in Los Angeles and the third tallest building west of the Mississippi. You can read more about the US Bank Tower, known locally as the Library Tower, on its very own Wikipedia page. It may only be the second tallest building in the city, but it's my favorite building in Los Angeles.
In the picture below which was shot at 3000mm, you can see that there's a heliport on the top of the building. Fun fact: according to the Wikipedia article, the US Bank Tower was the tallest building in the world with a roof-top heliport until 2010.
OK, something doesn't seem quite right about the official ranking of the tallest buildings in Los Angeles. I mentioned earlier that the Wilshire Grand Center is the tallest building in LA, which would mean, of course, that it's taller than the US Bank building. Umm, but the US Bank Tower sure looks taller to me. Take a look at the picture below:
So, what's going on here? Is this some kind of optical illusion? Nope, the explanation is in the fine print that defines the height of a building. It turns out that the building's spire is included when measuring a building's height. So, if your building isn't the tallest in the city then just add a pole at the top and... presto! You now have the tallest building in the city! So, apparently the Wilshire Grand Center became the tallest building in LA by... cheating! :) However, if you look only at the main structure of the building then the US Bank Tower is the tallest building in Los Angeles.
The time of day is an important consideration when taking pictures from the Griffith Observatory. Or more specifically, the position of the sun. The observatory is north and a little west of downtown LA. Each day, the sun rises in the east, travels overhead and to the south, and then sets in the west. That might be a rudimentary concept of astronomy, but it will have a significant effect on the pictures that you take on this photo shoot.
When you're at the observatory and pointing your camera at the buildings in downtown LA from the late morning to the late afternoon, the sun will be behind the buildings. This creates a backlight situation where the background of the image (the sky) will be brighter than the subject of the image (the buildings). Your camera will likely reduce the exposure to compensate for the bright sky which will obscure the details of the relatively darker buildings. So if you want to see the details of the buildings then late morning to late afternoon is not a good time for your photo shoot. Of course, you could bracket multiple exposures and stack the photos in post-production, but that is a topic for another day.
Another effect of backlighting in many big cities like in Los Angeles is that the sun tends to "light up" the smog in the air which further reduces the contrast of pictures. Take a look at the picture below. The top image was taken in the middle of the day and shows the effects of backlighting in LA. The bottom image was taken later on the same day when the sun was no longer behind the buildings. That's a big difference!
But I think that the absolute best time to take pictures of the buildings in downtown Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory is when the sun is setting. As the sun starts to drop in the western sky, it blankets the city in soft, warm colors. The entire Los Angeles area looks so nice from up on Mount Hollywood and with the super zoom on the Nikon P1000, you can frame any shot that you want.
Watch the Video
I also recorded some video clips with the Nikon COOLPIX P1000 while at the Griffith Observatory. There are lots of zooming in on buildings from a focal length of 24mm all the way up to 3000mm, showing the amazing range of the P1000's zoom. The video includes a good view of strange structures on top of the Wilshire Grand Center. Are they for washing the buildings windows... or do they protect the city from alien invasion? You can watch it all on YouTube by clicking on the picture below. If you enjoy the video then it would be great if you could "like" the video on YouTube or maybe even leave a comment to let me know that you stopped by!
Thanks for reading this article and watching the video! If you enjoyed it then check out some of the related articles and videos below. Or you can browse through all of my articles.
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