Baltimore signs: Night and day

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If you’re a Baltimore lifer or you’ve been here long enough to get yourself good and lost (and then found), you may have figured out by now that the natives like to give directions from Point A to Point B either without using street names or based solely on what buildings used to be at those locations.

Who needs street names when you can just say: “Remember where the old Caldor was on York Road? Drive there.” Or better yet: “Go north on 83, the Pepsi sign will be on your right. If you see the Mount Washington Whole Foods, you’ve missed your exit.” Of course, here in Charm City, we don’t just use landmarks for driving directions, we also use them as easy meet-up spots for the directionally challenged (ahem).

“Meet me under Mr. Boh,” “meet me in front of The Senator marquee”… are you starting to get the picture, yet?

Signs, signs are everywhere in the former City That Reads and the ones that light up are some of our faves, not to mention the most iconic — and easiest to give directions to. Here’s a sampling of Baltimore signs — night and day — to help you find your way around. — Amanda Krotki

And, if you happen to find yourself on a photographic journey during these travels, The Sun’s Christopher T. Assaf and Robert K. Hamilton have some tips for capturing those lit-up signs at night without it looking like one big blur.

Assaf: The best time to photograph signs is at dusk right as the sun goes down. There is still some ambient light mixed with the artificial, which means more detail in some of the shadows. This mix also creates a cool, blue look to the photograph as a whole, making the sign colors pop even more. Then, as the light diminishes, the photographer can continue to shoot with more light options to play with.

Hamilton: Each particular sign will present its own particular challenges. Circumstances will vary from location to location. That being said, there are some basic steps you can take to try and maximize your results. First determine what you are looking to achieve with the picture. If all you care about is the sign, then you can get the picture when it’s lit and concentrate on what time of day would give you the best results. For example, if it’s a neon sign and all you care about is photographing the sign itself, you may want to shoot it at night when there is nothing to distract from the colors of the neon. However, if you want to photograph the sign and put it in context with its environment, you may want to shoot it just after dusk when there is enough detail to show the surroundings. In other words, you’re going to need to plan your pictures and come up with the best strategy for your approach.

Assaf: Also, exposure is tricky, as under- and over-exposure can happen easily. There is not a “perfect” exposure for signs, but getting detail in the surroundings is vital to a successful photograph. Be prepared to bracket exposures, because balancing the artificial and ambient light can be tricky. It is no fun to have the entire image too dark except for the sign itself because of underexposure, or the sign washed out because of overexposure. If the sign is considerably large in the frame and bright, it is easy to underexpose as the camera will compensate for the brightness. If the sign is smaller or surrounded by a lot of dark area, the camera will try to expose for the darkness and overexpose the sign.

Hamilton: Use a tripod. This will ensure your camera is steady and removes one more variable that could ruin your picture. Experiment with the exposures — especially when shooting neon. Neon lights have unique color temperatures so there isn’t one setting that will guarantee success. You will need to try different settings on your camera. If you are concentrating on the signs, make sure they are prominent in the picture. The viewer’s eye should go to that sign when he looks at the image.

Assaf: A tripod is very beneficial, as it will allow for longer exposures and smaller apertures that can make for sharper images. Also, lower ISO settings allow for improved overall image quality and better contrast. The more pictures you make, the more chances for success.

Hamilton: And, last, have fun!

Also see: Baltimore’s skyline through the years | Baltimore City landmarks | Neighborhoods of Baltimore