Olympic Park’s Sad Legacy

Wednesday 16 April was a fine day, warm and with a clear blue sky. I had a couple of events in the early evening in my diary to photograph, but it was far too nice a day not to go out before then and enjoy. And since the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park had opened to the public a few days earlier it seemed a good idea to go there (it was almost on my way) and spend the afternoon looking around it and taking pictures.

I’d already decided that I wanted to make panoramic images, and it wasn’t really a perfect day for that, as the sky was just blue. Almost all panoramics contain large areas of it, and the images almost always work better with some impressive clouds breaking up the blue, as I’d been fortunate enough to have on my previous panoramic outing to Wandsworth.

Occasionally you can avoid large areas of blue sky. But is this a park?

Blue skies are rather bland, but also when working with a wide angle of view pose problems because there is a gradation across them as recorded on film or digital that can look very unnatural – something our visual system largely corrects.  It’s quite difficult to correct the effect in post processing and get it looking natural and very easy to get light and dark patches. It was particularly a problem in the park as many of the views included the sun. The 16mm Nikon full-frame fisheye I was using is remarkably flare-free but of course the sensor can’t quite handle the extremes of brightness this presents, and there is some ‘burning out’ in the sky area around the sun, simply more light than the sensor can respond to.

Tests such as that by DXOMark showed the D800 sensor gave it the highest score ever recorded for dynamic range at 14.4 EV and it is certainly very effective at handling high contrast scenes (I think better than colour neg film ever was – and of course transparency film allowed you no hope.)  And with no clouds in the sky to reflect light into the shadows there was very high contrast (and very blue shadows.)

So technically it was workable, though not always too attractive. And while I’ve previously been looking at using the full vertical scope of the image at its centre in the perspective transformation, for these images I decided they were going to look better with rather less sky, and made them thinking in terms of cropping the vertical dimension.  A few of the full-frame images actually have some of my fingers visible in the image, being used as a ‘flag’ to block the direct sun, and later cropped out, though this seldom seemed to make a huge difference. You do get some flare close to the sun, so it is a problem if you have subject matter there you want to include so you can’t crop that area, but otherwise it seldom seems to make a great difference to the rest of the image.

Pacing the horizon high helps this image, where the top half would be rather empty otherwise

Using the camera and lens in this way does give the equivalent of a rising or falling front. One small problem with panoramas is the need to keep the camera level (something the level indicators in the D800E viewfinder make much simpler.) So assuming the horizon is visible, it will always go across dead centre of the image. Cropping vertically allows you to place it above or below the centre and provide some variation.

And the low horizon helps here, eliminating some rather empty foreground.

It wasn’t easy at times to work out where I was in relation to the old area. The whole land surface has been replaced, and there are no longer hills and slopes in the same places. Everything has gone, and virtually the only things that are still there from before are the various streams of the River Lea (except for the Pudding Mill River, for some years mostly only a small stream.)   But all the old buildings and trees have gone and what is left seems to me more like a desert than a park.

I listened to some of the other people also exploring the park. All that I heard where people who only knew it from the Olympics and were recognising some of the changes since then. Some of them seemed to be quite enthusiastic, but there was little I could see that made me feel at all positive.

This was perhaps one of the best views. It is hardly a picture of a park. You can see the rest of what I took online at QE Olympic Park Panoramics.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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