The Making of "The Lure of the Abyss"

How the winning photo of the "Stairs" contest was made

By Dan R in Photo Contests on Jul 25, 2022

"The Lure of the Abyss"

First, my sincere thanks to everyone who participated and voted in the "Stairs" contest. I have been following the monthly Pentax Forums contests for several years now and am always impressed by the high quality of the entries, let alone the finalists, which are invariably superb. So it is indeed gratifying to see my photograph voted the top award this month.

The subject of the photo is a large non-functional structure that was intended to attract tourists and visitors to a newly built urban development on Manhattan's far west side. Currently known as "The Vessel," the 16 story structure consists of 154 interconnected staircases entirely surrounding a central void. Designed by English architect Thomas Heatherwick, The Vessel has since its inception generated a good deal of controversy involving various issues, aesthetic and otherwise. Sadly, in the months following its opening a series of people chose it as the location and means of their very public suicides by jumping off. After four such incidents it was closed to visitors while the management considers how to proceed.

The making of this photograph was rather straightforward. On arriving at the scene in the middle of the day I was pleased to see that the sky was lightly overcast, causing a diffused light that would prevent the appearance of deep shadows, which tend to conflict with and obscure the lines and shapes of architectural subjects. As I proceeded up the structure with an eye out for interesting compositions I was reminded of some graphic works by the artist M. C. Escher, who is known, among other things, for his spatially paradoxical and disorienting depictions of imaginary staircases. After about an hour of leisurely walking and photographing I reached the up most level. Peering down into the central void I thought that the vertiginous perspective and the seemingly infinite repetition of staircases would make an interesting composition somewhat reminiscent of Escher's.

In order to include as much of the structure as possible I used my Pentax 10-17mm fisheye zoom lens (I mistakenly identified the Sigma 17-50 in my entry). I took several shots from various points on the perimeter and ultimately settled on one that was the most symmetrical, due to the vertical structure (support for an elevator for those unwilling or unable to walk up) in the center. I set the exposure manually, using a relatively small aperture of f/8 in order to optimize sharpness and depth of field. Processing in Photoshop was very basic; I decided to convert the image to black and white in order to emphasize the graphic nature of the composition to which color only distracted, then I just made standard tweaks to the brightness, contrast and clarity to my taste.

Again, I am pleased that so many people enjoyed the photo and I look forward to participating in future Pentax Forum contests.

- Dan R

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