Going Up

Going up

This is a variation on panning, a technique I have explored before here on Weekly Fifty and continue to enjoy practicing whenever possible. But this time I switched it up a bit and tried something a bit different. First, a bit of background: the elevator in my building on campus is so old it’s listed on some kind of obscure historical registry. It’s not the most convenient transportation mechanism, but it does feel a bit like you’re stepping back in time when you set foot inside it. To enter you have to first open a massive door and then slide a collapsible gate which you can see here. The elevator won’t move unless both doors are closed, which causes problems if someone gets off the elevator and forgets to shut the inner gate, leaving would-be elevator riders on all other floors stranded. Some might say this old wreck needs to be replaced, while others would likely respond that it merely adds a touch of character to our building. I’ve worked here almost two years and I’m not quite sure where I fall along that spectrum just yet :)

I’ve often thought about how I could capture a bit of the essence of this elevator with my 50mm lens, but one problem its that the field of view is so narrow its usefulness is severely hampered in small spaces like a six-by-five-foot lift. I’ve taken a few snapshots of the mechanical buttons, but that never seemed to do justice to the, um…essence of the elevator. A few weeks ago it finally hit me: why not try a shot while it’s actually moving? I shot this in the morning before anyone else was in my building, and rode it from first to third floor a few times while snapping a lot of pics at f/1.8, 1/20 second, ISO 200. With no tripod I had to shoot this handheld, so of several dozen shots only two or three were clean enough to clearly show the buttons and demarkations on the side. I have since thought about going back and re-shooting it with a tripod but I’m pleased with the photo itself and would rather try other shots based on what I learned here than go back and re-create something similar just to get it a tiny bit more sharp.

My goal in this pic was to not only show the buttons (which give a sense of how old this thing is) but the gate and the passing innards of the building itself. It’s just not something you see everyday, and while a static shot would have likely sufficed I thought it was cool to get a sense of motion to help the viewer feel as though he or she is actually riding this rickety rush bucket. I mean, classy work of engineering.


  1. Very cool, I love old stuff! As long as it still operates, I say it should stay – I agree it adds character. Very nicely done, Simon. :)

    • It sure does add character, Julie. Sometimes a bit too much! Every now and then the doors refuse to open or it simply won’t operate, but that’s all part of the fun :)

  2. Simon —
    Had court this morning and didn’t get to see your post as early in the morning as I usually do. Interesting work today! If you shot this without a tripod, then having a shutter speed of 1/20 tells me that you really worked hard to keep the camera still and not to have any blur (other than the parts of the building on the other side of the gate passing by). They say a Rule of Thumb is no shutter speed slower than the 1 over the length of the lens without a tripod. 1/50th in this case.
    I assume that you focused on the gate itself and not the building behind it. I like the inclusion of the old buttons. I don’t like the plastic covered sign. I do like you taking the time to post this — Have a blessed day!

    • You’re right, David. I tried really hard to keep still, but I also used the continuous shot mode on my camera which helped a great deal. I just held the shutter button down for a few seconds so it took dozens of shots, and then a few of them turned out nice and clear while the rest were too blurry. That 1/focal length rule is a great tip, and one that I’ve been using for a while. Thanks for sharing it here, and maybe someone will read your comment and try that technique :)

      I hope court went well this morning!

  3. In the mid-1970s I had a job working an elevator such as this (we call it a lift in the UK) – an excellent way to meet a wide varity of people. They needed someone to operate it specifically to ensure that the lift doidn’t get stranded with the doors open.

    • George, sometimes I wish we had an operator like that in my building too. People often get stranded because the previous rider forgot to close the inside door and the elevator won’t move from the floor it is on :)

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