Archive for the 'engineering' Category

May 31 2009

freeway love

She had me at the first exit sign to Las Vegas. The moment I saw her Caltrans Curves it was love at first sight.

It was 1977, I had just moved out from Michigan to finish my last semester at Johnston College in Redlands, California. There were so many new sights. The snow capped mountains (before the smog rolled in) orange groves, palm trees and bast of all the sweeping freeway interchanges. My favorite was one still under construction in Ontario at the intersection of the I-15 and I-10. With some minor trespassing it was possible to walk on the middle roadway that was complete, but not yet open to traffic.

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Intersection of I-10 and I-15 in Ontario, California

It was the first time I experienced the sense of grandeur at a man-made object. It was similar to what I felt when seeing the great expense of rock at the Grand Canyon for the first time. This interchange felt alive though. There was a roar of the cars below and the vibration of the trucks traffic up above mixed in with the glorious sweep of the interchanges. It was a sight to behold.

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Intersection of the 110 and I-105

Years later when I returned to Los Angeles the love of those interchanges still remained and as the skill of the Caltrans engineers increased the sweeping curves became ever longer and more graceful.

With the construction of the new I-105 freeway there was the opportunity to revisit the theme. I found an area near the bus station…and down in the LA River that had great elliptical ramps.

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Freeway on-ramp sweeping over Los Angeles River

I recently had the opportunity to revisit the theme on an assignment to shoot Dr. David Brownstone, a UC Irvine economics professor that studies toll road use in Orange County. In my scouting I found a CalTrans maintenance yard that was perfectly situated in the crook of the 73 and 55. I asked and was granted permission to shoot there and the portrait can be seen below.

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Toll road researcher Dr. David Brownstone

Mark Harmel

3 responses so far

Mar 17 2009

how art directors and designers can “fix” people like me

At last. A new little know feature in Photoshop CS4 can save you from photographers like me!

When I was learning how to shoot, the documentary photographers I admired all made their prints using a filed out negative carrier. That would burn in the distinctive black border around the print that served as the seal of approval to indicate the the photo was so properly composed that there was no need at all to ever crop the image.

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The distinctive black border proves that the frame is not cropped

This palm tree shadow photo taken with a plastic Diana camera shows the distinctive ragged edge of camera opening inside the black border – proof that it was not cropped!

Just because the picture is perfect doesn’t mean that some well meaning designer or art director doesn’t have a perfect cover format or design that this photo want to grace. Before recently there was the battle of perfection -until now.

Content-Aware Scaling to the rescue.

This new feature in Photoshop CS4 goes beyond the crop and allows the people that want to mess with my pictures the opportunity drastically change the format without hacking off an arm or a leg.

As an example, here is the original rectangular capture of a radio telescope in Owens Valley.

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The original rectangular capture

Using Content-Aware Scaling the rectangle is stretched in perfect proportion into a panorama.

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The panorama version

Notice how the dish and sun remain unaffected and the mountains and sky nicely stretch. Now lets try a square…

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The square version

Once again it all looks natural. Imagine how you can now make photos fit your wonderful design without having to crop!

There are a couple of tricks to make this all work, but none of them require advanced Photoshop mind warping abilities. You can learn all about the technique from the amazing Dr. Russell Brown. This is a long page of tips and you will need to scroll 1/4 of the way down the page to the 9/23/08 tip. There you will find an entertaining and instructive video.

Mark Harmel


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Mar 15 2009

i’m steamed!

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Geothermal plant on the shore of the Salton Sea

Even out in the wilds I’m as drawn to the beauty a power plant as I am to  a majestic shoreline or a graceful cactus. But it hasn’t been until recently that it has dawned on me that there are companies that are behind the design and construction of these structures. A while ago I was asked to shoot a HNTB design engineer that worked on the expansion of the south runway at LAX so that it could accommodate the new Airbus A380.

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Sean Naismith redesigning a runway at LAX

I hadn’t heard of the either the company or noticed the profession before and when I visited their website I discovered that they design and build the sorts of structures that I consider man-made art. They create freeway interchanges, parking garages, ports and skyscrapers.  I organized some of these photos into a mini-portfolio and started to show them to some of these firms and it has landed me some commissions to make portraits of their executives, but I want to shoot the structures.

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Two views of steam hiding the sun

We are once again in a national conversation about infrastructure, perhaps we can talk about the beauty of it as well.

Mark Harmel


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