On November 6, 1869 Princeton played Rutgers in the first intercollegiate football game. That fall the teams created a season by playing each other twice, each winning at home through improvised rules, and each declaring themselves the national champion. In the 150 years since football has grown in ways those two schools could never have originally imagined. Princeton and Rutgers continue to play football but just not against each other. They haven’t met on the gridiron since 1980 when their programs went their separate ways.
Despite that change Princeton and Rutgers came together symbolically this fall to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first football game with a ceremonial illumination of the Empire State Building on November 6th and with recognitions during a Princeton – Dartmouth commemorative match in Yankee Stadium on November 9th.
On the evening of the 6th, 150 years later to the day, the east and west sides of the Empire State Building were lit Princeton orange and the north and south sides Rutgers red.
I was commissioned by Princeton University’s Department of Athletics to capture the illumination in three formats: photography, video, and time-lapse.
Chance favors the prepared, as the saying goes, and I’ll add that some local knowledge doesn’t hurt either.
The original plan was to photograph/film the Empire State Building (ESB) from Washington Square Park in New York City. There is a great view of it looking north up Fifth Avenue and that angle places the ESB within the city without it being overshadowed by neighboring buildings. All good… that is until the news comes down the day before that only the east and west sides of the ESB would be lit orange. With Princeton as my client, favoring an orange side was the only option. Washington Square Park would not work as our staging area.
In addition to getting an orange side, there were requests for an above ground level vantage point and to get as unobstructed a view of the ESB as possible. With less than 24 hours before the shoot scouting and arranging a view east or west of the ESB within Manhattan was not in the cards. Shooting from the Queens side of the East River was also not possible. ESB views from there are heavily obstructed and there isn’t a simple way to get a higher vantage point.
Luckily, I remembered a personal project I had shot in Hamilton Park in Weehawken, NJ, across the Hudson River from Manhattan. It had great views of the ESB and its location on a cliff well above the river would give the above ground perspective we needed (relative to the ESB).
My assistant and I arrived at Hamilton Park about two-and-a-half hours prior to sunset on the 6th, allowing for time to setup three cameras and to also leave a window should anything unforeseen cause us to need to find a new location. Fortunately, the park and the view were intact.
All went well and “chance” did favor us with the one factor we could not control. The weather. It was an absolutely stunning evening and we were well prepared to take advantage of it.
First we commandeered our own small lookout within the park. It jutted out to the edge of the cliff and it provided a barrier should others show up and want in on the action (which did happen).
We setup three cameras: a C300 Mark II to film 4K footage, an EOS R to take 30MP photos with, and a second EOS R to capture 4K time-lapse footage. While that may seem like a lot to juggle, it is actually quite manageable. The time-lapse camera can run on its own with infrequent stop/starts to adjust the exposure. The other two cameras don’t need to be photographing or filming constantly. So, bouncing between them allows for just enough time to pass to make all of the captures different enough to be worthwhile.
We shot from about ninety minutes before sunset until about 75 minutes after. Well into dark and the complete loss of natural light.
With the shoot complete, some processing was in order. It had been prearranged that I would get a few still images to my client so that they could release them onto social media. In a situation like this, if you are in the Apple eco-system, AirDrop is a godsend. Process the images on a laptop, AirDrop them to your phone and send them off! Super easy and no modem, wifi, or hotspot needed for the laptop to tie into.
With that done, on a whim I decided to do a quick edit of the time-lapse clips, melding them together to smooth out the exposure changes that occur naturally when the light drops at the end of the day. To backup a bit, I shot the time-lapse on full manual settings. Manual focus and manual exposure. You want the former to avoid and potential focus shift issues and you want the latter to have consistency in the look of the time-lapse. Ideally, you keep the aperture locked and the shutter speed consistent as long as possible.
To accommodate the ambient light change from late afternoon through to post-twilight darkness I used the Vari-ND and the Clear filters made for Canon’s Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter for the EOS R. This adapter mounts a Canon EF lens to the EOS R’s RF mount and it has a built-in filter slot which can accommodate a 1.5-9 stop variable ND filter, a clear filter, or a circular polarizing filter. Moving from the Vari-ND filter to the Clear filter allowed me to ramp the amount of ND down to zero as the light fell.
With the edit complete, still on site in Hamilton Park, I exported the video out of Final Cut Pro, AirDropped it from my laptop to my iPhone, and sent the video off to my client. We had started to pack up when we got the news that they were thrilled and it was all going online immediately.
By the time we hit a diner for dinner on our way back from the shoot, about 45 minutes later, the photos and the video had gone viral. A large part of that was due to Princeton’s extensive and active alumni network. But it didn’t stop there, the viralness continued throughout the week with ever expanding social media reach, with the video airing on ESPN’s November 9th College GameDay broadcast, with one of the photos being shown on the Yankee Stadium Jumbotron during the commemorative game, and with the image a part of the game’s national telecast.
Wow! So much fun to be a part of this and very rewarding to get so much feedback so quickly.
The project was produced by RoemerFilm for the Princeton University Department of Athletics. Video music credit: The Princeton Cannon Song, Princeton University Marching Band.
Thanks to the Princeton University Department of Athletics, Princeton University Advancement, Jauhien Sasnou, and Elijah Ellis.