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Edition #140, December 15, 2010

Three Rivers Christmas

Photographer: Kevin Scanlon

                                                                                 Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Three Rivers Christmas

A simple pleasure I enjoy occasionally is to get up early and watch the sun rise over the city. Usually I go up to a small park on a hill overlooking downtown Pittsburgh and the three rivers. I try to arrive about an hour before sunrise and watch the day emerge. The only other people in the park at that hour are the occasional dog-walkers although in good weather it isnít unusual for other photographers to show up. .

When I started doing this a few years ago I naively envisioned that this would be one of those places where I get a good photo after a visit or two. After all, the sun is going to rise at a given time in the eastern horizon. All Iíd have to do is be there on a nice day and press the button. Of course I hadnít considered all of the variables. In this area we donít get many clear days, so a lot of the time sunrise means that the sky just gets a lighter shade of gray. When photographing from a specific vantage point I also learned that the point where the sun breaks the horizon varies greatly depending on the month. If I wanted the sun itself to be placed at a certain spot in the composition I had to wait until the proper time of the year. I was becoming less of a photographer, more of a Druid.

Watching the city wake up became a joy. In the early morning I would look down on the dim presence of the rivers and the building lights reflected in the water. As dawn approached it was surprising how the noise increased. Cars, planes, river traffic and the railroad all contributed to the sound. It becomes a roar that you donít notice unless you have listened to the volume increase by the minute.

The colors of the light change subtly and rapidly; sometimes my camera captured hues I hadnít noticed. The human brain wants to see all predominant light as a neutral white. Thatís why artificial light appears white when it actually isnít. When I was using daylight film, and later a digital camera set to a daylight white balance the images picked up some nice variations in the rivers. During the very early morning the rivers reflect a deep blue. As the sky picks up reflected light of the approaching sunrise the rivers would appear to be a luminescent violet. Late in the morning the water would take on the normal gray-green and brown color.

The photo above is pretty typical of what I see in the mornings .It was taken a few days before Christmas Day in 2007 at 6:23 AM. Traffic is still pretty light along West Carson Street on the lower right. A tow of coal barges has just passed under the West End Bridge and is heading east on the Ohio River. It will continue up the Monongahela River to the right, probably heading to the Clairton Coke Works or a power plant. In the middle right edge of the photo a Norfolk Southern coal train is northbound on the Mon Line. It is bringing a train out of the Bailey Mine on the Pennsylvania/West Virginia border. The locomotives had just passed under the tracks of the Duquesne Incline that climbs Mt. Washington. To the left side Heinz Field is dark. The Steelers had just played a game the night before, a 41-24 win over the Rams in St. Louis.

In the center of the photograph is Pittsburghís Christmas tree at the Point. It reminds me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Kevin Scanlon

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