New Castle, Delaware is a quiet, beautiful town with a well-preserved colonial core. Established in 1651, it was one of the earliest settlements on the Delaware River (then known as the South River). Although already established when William Penn arrived in America in 1682 (indeed, it was where Penn landed), New Castle failed to compete successfully with the city Penn established, Philadelphia. By the late 18th century, New Castle had been eclipsed as a center of commerce by not only Philadelphia but also nearby Wilmington. At the west end of town, waterfront land once hosting port and railroad facilities was redeveloped into Battery Park in 1939.
Now that I live only about a ten minute drive from Old New Castle, Battery Park has become a favorite place for both exercise and photography. Indeed, it’s my favorite local place to watch sunsets. In terms of photographic opportunities, Battery Park is a mixed bag. There are clear views of the sky, varied natural backdrops (trees and marsh), and plentiful water. On the other hand, especially to the south, the views are somewhat marred by high tension lines and the Delaware City refinery. I also have mixed feelings about the remnants of the port, some of which make for interesting photographic elements and others which look downright ugly. I suppose all these aspects add to the challenge of getting a great photograph here!
Although this post was conceived of as purely a photography article, I thought I should at least look into why the place was called Battery Park in the first place. What emerged from my research was a fascinating story of military and transportation history barely evident to modern day visitors. As a history major, I simply could not tell that story in under 1,000 words, so I decided to split it off into a companion article.
Let’s start with sunset or sunrise photography in terms of general principles. One could say a great sunrise or sunset looks good in insolation (that is, just the sky and clouds). But I think the more exciting aspect of sunrise or sunset is the opportunity to approach landscapes in a completely different way than during daylight hours.
When the sunset is good, I try to meter off the sky to render the colors at their greatest intensity, bringing landscape subjects into silhouette. Sometimes I have to underexpose by an f-stop or so to get this result. The other main thing I have to watch while shooting is the white balance; if results are looking too cool compared to what I’m seeing with my human eyes, I switch the WB to “cloudy” for a warmer look.
In Battery Park, there’s a spit of land jutting out a little into the Delaware River which I find especially useful for my sunset photography. On the promontory are rose bushes, a flagpole, and some trees. There’s something about the tree closest to the flagpole that I find quite appealing. It always seems to be beautifully backlit against the setting sun with a graceful silhouette.
Although I generally prefer taking landscape photographs in summer or fall rather than winter, in some ways I think this tree looks even more graceful without leaves. The topography also contributes to the pleasing composition, since from a vantage point to the east, I can sometimes capture the sunset reflecting off water in the foreground and even the background.
Just for fun, I’m going to take advantage of the new slideshow feature to compare the two seasons. I guess my sense of composition hasn’t changed much in the past year, because the two images line up remarkably well without any cropping.
Flotillas of geese now ply a harbor once occupied by packet boats and ships. Canada geese are the most common, but I’ve occasionally seen brant or snow geese. When lighting conditions are favorable I sometimes use the birds as elements in my photography. However, the birds are only sometimes clustered in a way that I think makes for a really appealing photograph.
The Delaware River is usually rather calm, but passing ships (heading to or from the ports like Wilmington and Philadelphia upriver) sometimes send waves onto shore.
During a recent walk, I photographed such waves with the last fading light. Although the results were pleasing, some detail was lost to noise in the high ISO that was necessary to get such a shot. If I’d had a tripod, I might have had different results (or the water might have just ended up blurred, which may or may not have looked good).
The photos in this article thus far have all been sunsets, though the photographic principles are the same for sunrise as well. Primarily due to my schedule, I’ve only photographed the sunrise once in Old New Castle. On the morning of December 28, 2014, the sky outside my house simply exploded into one of the most incredible sunrises I’ve ever seen. I grabbed my camera and drove down my street to a part of the neighborhood with a clear view of the sky. This is what I saw:
I drove out to the Delaware River and climbed up on the dike near Army Creek. The sunrise was past its peak by this point, but I still got a relatively pleasing image of the river. Although it’s best to avoid splitting photos in half with the horizon, I liked the balance of marsh vegetation in the foreground, the outline of the shore on the New Jersey side of the river visible in the distance, and the cloud detail at the top of the image.