2016 Polar Vortex in Pittsburgh, PA

Discussion in 'Scenic, Architecture, and Travel' started by ijm5012, Feb 14, 2016.

  1. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    A Cold Morning In The Steel City


    For anyone who lives in the northeastern United States, they've become quite accustomed to the yearly "Polar Vortex" over the past few years. The Polar Vortex a period of time lasting anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks where arctic air from northern Canada drops down in to the US, and brings brutally cold wind chills to those in the US (for you Canucks, I'm sure you're used to it, but you're just gluttons for punishment IMO).

    For the past week, the meteorologists had been warning us about the weather that would roll through this Valentine's Day weekend, brining highs that wouldn't make it out of the single digits, and wind chills in the negative teens. While many would heed the warning to stay indoors where it's warm, I was deranged and thought this would be a great time to get some pictures of the city that I've been wanting to capture, but are somewhat difficult to come by: images with the city's rivers frozen. The rivers typically freeze every year, but with our increasingly mild winters, the frozen water doesn't last long. I figured this would be my best chance for this to happen.

    Friday night, just as the meteorologists predicted, the temperatures started to plummet. Temperatures over night fell in to the single digits, and I packed my messenger bag, a Lowepro Event Messenger 150, with one of my GH4's, my 12-35 f/2.8, my 7-14 f/4, and my Haida 10-stop ND and variable ND filters. I had to drop my wife off in the city the following morning for a couple hours of work, so I figured I would go exploring for a bit while she worked.

    Saturday morning I dropped her off, and headed over to the north shore of the city to see if I could get the shots I wanted. It was too late get any sunrise shots, but the sky was a beautiful hue of blue, and there were some nice clouds that made for a great sky. Once over on the north shore, I was driving along the river and saw an interesting statue that was facing the city. To make the scene even more impressive, the sun was just getting ready to crest the city skyline so the lighting was pretty great. I pulled a quick u-turn, parked my car, grabbed my camera and tripod and headed over to get the shot.

    24375360613_f03cfd1c17_h. The Law Enforcement Officers Memorial by Ian Menego, on Flickr

    It turns out the memorial is in memory of the fallen police officers in the city. The shot was taken with my GH4, 12-35 with the Haida 10-stop ND + variable ND filter. A 25 second exposure at f/8 shooting directly in to the sun. That is a LOT of neutral density.

    Being right on the river, I could see that unfortunately the water hadn't frozen yet, but I still had hope. Saturday night was supposed to be the worst of weather, with brutal ambient and wind chills over night. I figured this would be my best shot at getting the images I wanted, so once back home I packed my gear so it was ready to go the next morning.

    So, Sunday morning, 6:00AM, and while most people are sleeping in, my alarm clock is going off. I get up, throw on multiple layers of clothes, grab my hat, gloves, scarf, hand & toe warmers, and I'm out the door by 6:20. A short 15 minute drive down to my first spot, right along the river where I was the previous day. I see another car park, and it turns out it's two other photographers wanting to shoot the morning sunrise over the city as well (what better way to spend Valentine's Day morning than freezing your *** off taking pictures?).

    Much to my joy, it happened: The extreme temperatures over night caused the surface of the rivers to freeze. So I get my camera/tripod all set up, and start shooting. I loved the color of the sky, despite a cloudless and rather boring backdrop. And the reflection of the building and lights in the water/ice was just as I imagined.

    24930024501_638a87727a_h. Frozen River Sunrise II
    by Ian Menego, on Flickr

    GH4, 12-35 with Haida 10-stop ND on my Desmond CF tripod. ISO 100, 50 second exposure at f/8.

    While viewing the scene, I remembered that I've always been a fan of people's land/cityscape images where they include themselves in the frame. So I set up the 10 second timer, switched lenses over to my PL15 (I was trying to get some great starbursts with the city lights, but it didn't work out. I still think it's a great image regardless), pressed the shutter and ran over to get in position.

    24997008886_9a1afffb5c_h. Self Portrait by Ian Menego, on Flickr

    GH4, PL15 at 1/25s and f/5.6

    I had taken all the images I wanted to at this spot, and so I continued on along the river until I got to my next spot I wanted to shoot. I discovered this spot back in November where I managed to capture one of my favorite sunrise images. I thought it would be a great spot to capture some more of the city while incorporating the bridges and frozen river all together.

    24392709694_8f47ab819b_h. North Shore Dock Frozen by Ian Menego, on Flickr

    This image was a composite of 5 images stitched together. Taken with my GH4 & 12-35. I love this spot because of the dock moorings, bridges, and color of the buildings in the city.

    After grabbing this shot, I hurried back to my car (I was quite cold by this point) and drove to the final spot I wanted to visit: Point State Park. Point State Park is a park in the heart of Pittsburgh where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio. I wanted to get a shot facing the north shore (where I just was) so I could capture the morning sun falling on PNC Park and Heinz field.

    25009660856_14abb6223a_h. Fort Duquesne Bridge Sunrise by Ian Menego, on Flickr

    Another panoramic stitch with my GH4 & 12-35. I love being centered under the bridge, and having PNC Park off to my right, with Heinz Field off to my left, accompanied by their reflections in the partially frozen water. Below images of each stadium.

    24392734994_4552bef20f_h. Frozen PNC Park by Ian Menego, on Flickr
    25023345285_76eac00b91_h. Frozen Heinz Field by Ian Menego, on Flickr

    From here, my body and I had had enough. By the time I got back to my car, it was 8:10 AM and I had been outside for nearly and hour and a half (not consecutively, as I needed breaks from the temperature, plus I needed to drive from spot to spot). My fingers and toes were nearly frozen stiff (the hand/toe warmers don't work well in weather near 0*F), I had captured the shots I wanted, and the golden hour light was nearly gone.

    While it was a cold and somewhat painful endeavor, I'm glad I spent both days up early and out in the cold. I love the quiet and soothing ambiance of an early morning in the city, before the sun rises and the normal hustle and bustle begins. I'm also glad I managed to get some great shots of the city with it's frozen rivers. The weather is supposed to warm up starting tomorrow, and we're supposed to get rain later this week. It's likely the last time the rivers will be frozen for 2016, and so I'll have to wait again until 2017 to get my next set of images of the city with its frozen water.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2016
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  2. dmcgrew

    dmcgrew Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 1, 2016
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Awesome shots! I was just down there tonight as well with my Pen-F.
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  3. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Haha hey, a fellow m43 user in Pittsburgh! Can't say I've come across any so far. Feel free to shoot me a PM if you ever want to get together to shoot in the city.

    Thanks for the comment. Yes I was really hopeful that the rivers would freeze this weekend with how cold it's been. I was bummed Saturday when I saw the rivers weren't close to frozen, but it was all OK cause it was as I imagined this morning (and just as cold as I imagined as well!). I'm amazed at all of the amazing views this city has to offer, and I've lived here all my life!
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  4. Nice work..because you captured how the word "cold" looks. And it was crazy cold. Worked evening shift Saturday night and had a 10 minute walk home at 11pm, and even though I was fairly well dressed for it, nothing prepares you for that sting and shock when you first step outside..about -10 F and dropping. Saw -18 F on Weather Bug on my phone this morning in upstate NY. And that's in town. I know others in the Adirondacks that saw close to -30 F. You young guys get out there and get this stuff so us old farts can see what it looks like ;)
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  5. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Thanks @WithOpenedEyes@WithOpenedEyes, it wasn't that bad down in PA. It about around 5 F this morning, but wind chills were around -10 F. I was well prepared (2 layers on top, bottom, socks, gloves, plus a hat, scarf, and winter coat), but even with all that my fingers and toes got pretty cold. I was glad for the time spent in the car driving from location to location (plus it allowed the hand warmers to actually warm up again, they don't function very well in conditions that cold).

    The frozen rivers were pretty neat. Everything was quite still for the overall city shot early in the morning, but as the sun started to come up you could hear the ice start to creak, and could see the "fog" over the river. Totally worth getting up early IMO, likely the last time we'll see the rivers frozen this year.

    I have relatives up in the Adirondacks (Old Forge to be exact). I'll have to give them a call and see how they fared this past weekend.
  6. Head, hands, and feet...the 3 essentials. If you can keep them warm, the rest becomes easier to manage. Fleece balaclava for the head, Columbia Bugaboots for the feet, and I carry both mid weight glove liners for shooting and those heavy woven gloves that have mitten flaps over your fingers and lined with Thinsulate. The glove liners work well and are thin enough so that you can keep your hands in a warm coat pocket. I like the Patagonia Capilene liners..and their long underwear. Also use some bib type ski pants that LL Bean doesn't even sell anymore and an aging, but wonderfully warm Patagonia parka. That's what gets me through the winter. Cold is beautiful...being cold sucks.
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  7. joma416

    joma416 Mu-43 Regular

    Aug 31, 2014
    Toronto, ON Canada
    Great pics, Pittsburgh is a really pretty place and you have a great eye for composition!

    FYI, in Canada we get the vortexes as well and I have never gotten used to them. I think that the only people that ever really do live in the extreme North. The only thing to do is dress for the weather. Sometimes I really like going out for a walk in the very cold as everyone else seems to stay in so it can feel like you have the world to yourself.
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  8. Indianpeaksjoe

    Indianpeaksjoe Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2012
    Great shots of the city, I went to grad school at CMU. We are not city people, so every weekend we went down to Ohiopyle.

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  9. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Thanks to @barry13@barry13 for the feature!

    Thank you @joma416@joma416 for the compliment. I'm glad to hear that even native Canucks don't like the Polar Vortex :p

    @boulderjoe@boulderjoe, I wasn't a big city person either until a year and a half ago when I got married and move in to the city (I had grown up in the suburbs). While it's certainly different, it's a neat way to explore.
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  10. mpresley

    mpresley Mu-43 Veteran

    Sep 13, 2012
    Wolfe City, TX
    Fantastic shots, even better with the storyline. I don't think I could survive in those conditions!
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  11. Mellow

    Mellow Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 27, 2010
    Florida or Idaho
    Awesome photos, thanks for sharing. My favorite is the Fort Duquesne Bridge Sunrise--what a wonderful composition.
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  12. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Thank you @mpresley@mpresley, it was cold, even for us northerners (evident by the lack of people that were out)!

    @Mellow@Mellow, thank you. Yes it's a unique shot that I think captures feel of the city. There's the river, the bridge, along with PNC Park and Heinz Field being lit by the morning sun. I think this would look great printed LARGE and on the wall behind the couch in my living room. Unfortunately, that wall space is already occupied by wedding photos of myself and the wife, and I don't think she'd go for my plan ;)
  13. Nice work. If I sat like this, I wouldn't be able to walk for a week. It hurts just to look at it.
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  14. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Haha, thanks. Yeah I typically don't sit like this as it kills my knees, but the ground was WAY too cold to sit on normally that morning. Would've sucked all the heat out of my behind!
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  15. kimo

    kimo Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Dec 4, 2013
    Oahu, Hawaii
    Stunning photos. Nicely done. I really like #2...there's something otherworldly about it.
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  16. #2 is superb, I love the leading lines of the wind blown clouds and the statue figures' gaze, all directed towards the backlit city.
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  17. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Thank you @kimo@kimo and @wjiang@wjiang. I love the cloud movement in the sky as well, I think it really added a lot to the image.
  18. wonglp

    wonglp Mu-43 Veteran

    Feb 28, 2011
    Nice works. Though I doubt I can operate better than the camera in such conditions :biggrin:
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  19. JoJo Gunn

    JoJo Gunn Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 13, 2016
    Dan Gunn
    Great work AND effort. This answers the question about how good is the G4 for stills. What was the processing on the back end?
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  20. ijm5012

    ijm5012 Mu-43 Legend

    Oct 2, 2013
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Thanks @wonglp@wonglp and @JoJo Gunn@JoJo Gunn. Yes the GH4 and 12-35 performed flawlessly for the ~90 minutes or so I was out in nearly 0°F weather, despite not having any sort of "freeze proof" labeling attached to them like Olympus does.

    As for the processing, I ran the RAW files through LR6 to adjust highlight/lowlight levels, contrast / clarity, and saturation/vibrance. Then I exported them to Exposure 7 to apply a film emulation, though I can't remember the name off the top of my head.
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