Field Trip: Griffith Park at Night, March 8, 2012


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Griffith Observatory sits on Mt. Hollywood in Griffith Park. The most visited observatory in the world is a photographer’s delight. Sweeping views of the Los Angeles Basin, beautiful landscape, and a large number of exhibits lure visitors and locals alike.

Intended for public astronomy and enjoyment, Griffith Observatory brings the fascinating mysteries of the universe a little closer. You can take photographs for personal use inside the Observatory, but the outside photo opportunities are much better. Bring your tripod and walk the grounds.

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We will be arriving at 4:30pm at the park (leaving Lancaster at 3:00pm, if you want to carpool). There is no concert that night at the Greek, so parking should be ample. Before dusk, I plan to walk the grounds and observe positions for my photographs. Hopefully, a great sunset will occur. Plan staying until 8:30-9:00pm before heading back to the Antelope Valley.

Date and Time: March 8, Thursday night, 4:30 - 9:30pm (approx), Sunset 5:56pm
GPS position and Map
34° 7’6.69″N 118°18’1.41″W

How to photograph Griffith Observatory

L.A. Skyline with Observatory

You can photograph many different things at the Observatory. One of the most captivating subjects is the Los Angeles skyline in the distance. Take a moment to consider all the angles before you rush into snapping pictures. The observatory itself can make an excellent foreground element to give your skyline character. Since the skyline itself is far away, but the observatory is not, you should use a long focal length to compress the distance. This means you should pick a feature of the observatory that is as far away from you as possible. Line it up with the skyline and step back as far as you can. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to shoot from the terrace while using parts of the planetarium (the largest of the three domes) for your foreground. This works on both sides of the dome. At night, place your tripod on the stonewall allowing people less opportunity to bump against it. This places camera very close to a 10-foot drop, so you need to hold on to the neck strap at all times.

Observatory and Grounds

From the terrace, you also get an excellent view of the beautiful grounds. The white marble, green grass, and blue skies combine to create almost surreal looking photographs. The letters above the entrance to the observatory with some surrounding areas, including the Hollywood sign creates a good sense of the place. The wide-angle lens distorts the distance, making the Hollywood sign look smaller. It’s one of the best places to shoot the Hollywood sign with a telephoto lens. If you like to pose in front of it, make sure you use a long focal length and step back as far as possible to bring the sign much closer and make it appear bigger.

The observatory offers many good angles. Use the pavement or the walls as leading lines, guiding the viewer toward interesting features such as the domes or even people.

People looking or even pointing toward the skyline are an excellent way to guide the viewer to the skyline as a point of interest.

Angles and Compositions

Try different focal lengths and walk around the grounds. Look for unique angles. Use a wide-angle lens, and include a large portion of the sky, if clouds are present. Find a shape that is similar to the shape of a cloud, to balance the sky with an interesting foreground object.
The art deco style of the observatory offers many possibilities and many challenges. Framing the skyline of Los Angeles with two pillars of the promenade walkway requires a very wide angle lens. I intentionally included a large portion of the sky to limit the amount of perspective distortion and to give a sense of height. It is hard not to take great photographs here. If the light is not good in one direction, you can take photographs in another. Take your time, do not rush it, and you will walk away with a nice collection of excellent photographs.

Time required

It takes about hour and 45 minutes to drive there from the Antelope Valley including time to find a parking spot and walking up to the observatory (may encounter some traffic). Walking around the grounds and shooting different angles outside can take two to three hours if you are thorough and wish to cover all angles.

Equipment

  • Tripod and cable release (required)
  • All your lenses
  • Water and food, if needed (there is a small store selling food with limited choices), but we plan to be there four hours, so you may get hungry
  • ND filter, optional (creates opportunity for very long exposures. Helps eliminate people in your image)
  • CP filter, optional

Fees

Parking and entrance to the Observatory and its exhibits are free. You can buy tickets for shows at the ticket booth or online.

Exhibits (optional)

  • Samuel Oschin Planetarium
  • Wilder Hall of the Eye
  • Ahmanson Hall of the Sky
  • Roof Terrace (public access to the Zeiss telescope at night)
  • Edge of Space
  • Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon
  • Gunther depths of space

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