Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike

Shutter: 1/400, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 100, Lens: 70-200mm

Since it’s almost Halloween, I wanted to share this creepy abandoned section of the PA Turnpike. My buddy Joe called me up and said there was a derelict tunnel and section of highway in Breezewood that was almost equi-distant between he (in Pittsburgh) and I (in DC). To be clear, it’s open to the public, and not trespassing. In fact it was used to film The Road. I was also anxious to try out my new Canon 6D complete with built-in GPS, and a 25,600 ISO. Woot!

Shutter: 1/100, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 8000, Lens: 15mm fisheye

This is pretty much what it looks like on the inside. A loooong dark tunnel with lots of graffiti on the walls. I brought an external flash, but I really wanted to see what I could pull off with only available light. And it gets freaking dark in the middle of the tunnel. You can always see the exit to the other side, but the very middle is pretty dark. All of the images I took are with only available light (maybe some flashlight ambiance here and there). It was fairly dark at this depth into the tunnel. I wanted to capture the shadows from the light behind us, but also test out what this ISO could do. I know how to get more with long exposures and a tripod, however I didn’t want to trek around a tripod on my first visit here. That being said, I needed to keep the shutter speed in a normal range to keep it crisp. So here is ISO 8000, and a shutter of 1/100. Not too bad. It’s a little grainy, but I’m not doing any fine art prints of this one.

Shutter: 1/80, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, ISO: 400, Lens: 18-35mm

As expected, there was a lot of graffiti. This photo represents some of the best of the graffiti. But I was pretty disappointed by two things. First, the “art” featured an overwhelming number of penises. Are pics of dicks funny because they’re vulgar? And that’s all they had to say? Literally I’m vulgar. Well, the wieners didn’t bother me as much as the cop out. You’ve got this great canvas where you can paint pretty much anything you want, uninterrupted, and you just spray painted a dick. One more to add to the pile. There were some scary looking vaginas (anatomy majors, these are not…) maybe that’s why… they stick to painting what they know. Secondly, not only are the graffiti artists unoriginal, they’re lazy too. All the vandalism was mostly concentrated by the two exits… there was plenty of blank canvas in the middle, where the vandals were too scared, or lazy, to venture to. I did get pics of all the amusing graffiti, but for now, I wasn’t planning on putting it up. Some of it was kinda funny, but for the most part, it was puerile. Maybe I’m spoiled. The graffiti in my abandoned NIKE Missile silo was a bit more existential (OK, that’s a stretch).

spray can
Shutter: 1/160, Aperture: ƒ/2.2, ISO: 25,600, Lens: 18-35mm

Speaking of graffiti, here is some evidence we found left behind. My biggest dilemma with shooting this tunnel was that, it’s a tunnel. You can only shoot a dark tube from so many angles. So I was constantly looking for unique angles, and some scene to focus on, other than just a big dark tube (covered with lame spray paint).

We found this spray can, and I thought I could figure out how to illuminate it without an external flash. I put my MiniMag flashlight behind it, to give it some rim light, but the maxed-out ISO is all I’m using to illuminate the front. We were fairly deep into the tube (and that’s the sunlight coming in the tunnel behind the can). There is obviously some light from the MiniMag light bouncing off of me and lighting the can, but otherwise, I’m pretty impressed with what ISO 25,600 can grab. The great aperture from that 18-35mm is also very helpful.

Shutter: 1/250, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, ISO: 25,600, Lens: 18-35mm

I love getting ultra close, ultra slim depth-of-field details of the ground. I feel like seeing the ground helps you connect with the subject matter, because that’s how you most commonly, physically connect with your environment. You’ll notice in dreams and film/television, you rarely see the ground unless it’s important. Photos of highway stripes are even more rare since you have to lay down in the middle of the road to get them, and then for what? I’m focusing on the texture and decay with this photo. I laid down on the ground and Joe positioned the flashlight until I got the spot I wanted. Again, the high ISO allowed me to limit the amount of light I was introducing to this scene, and I feel like it’s more interesting than just popping off a flash aimed at the ground.

Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 400, Lens: 18-35mm

Another thing I was on the look out for was interesting patterns. I want to attempt and show some beauty in the structure, not just the decay and overgrowth. I knocked it down to black and white to refocus on the forms, not the mold and dirt.

Shutter: 1/40, Aperture: ƒ/2.5, ISO: 25,600, Lens: 18-35mm

The tunnel offered a very unique lighting situation. As the sunlight shifted, it really distorted the shadows. Even at mid-day, the further in you got, the light was bent and tossed horizontally. This was taken with only ambient light, with the opening quite a few yards behind me. I liked the long shadows and dusty surface, it reminded me a bit of the lunar photos. I also waited until I had enough subject matter to put in this scene… we have the grate, several rocks, and tons of dust. Note, this image is still in color.

Shutter: 2/80, Aperture: ƒ/2.2, ISO: 100, Lens: 28-35mm

The Canon 6D comes with built-in GPS. All you do is turn on the internal GPS and it will automatically add the GPS coordinates to your EXIF data. Then if you upload your photos to a place like Flickr, it’ll put pins on their map automatically, showing where the photo was taken. You can click on the map for this photo and on Flickr, it’ll allow you to see other photos taken in the vicinity. When you’re exploring, this is a great means for documenting your travels. I was pretty paranoid about the GPS function draining the battery, so I kept switching it on for a photo and then turning it off for awhile. I also won’t use this function in my typical travels to venues and places I usually go. But the next time I travel abroad and want to document all the places I hit, this’ll be fantastic.

andy photo by joe
Shutter: 1/400, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, ISO: 100, Lens: 18-23mm, photo by Joe Fulton

I rarely get pics of me, but I wanted to show Joe how awesome this Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens really is. I actually really like this picture he got of me. I look about 25lbs lighter. What a wonderful lens. I used this lens the most when I was in the tunnel. It gave me both a wide focal length (18mm) as well as a wide-open aperture (f/1.8) to soak up the most available light. The only issue with this lens, is that it’s built for crop sensors, and today I was only playing with my full frame 6D. So when I zoom out all the way, there is a firm vignette around the frame. This doesn’t matter too much, for if you crop out that barreling, you’ll be left with an image the same size as if it had been taken on the crop sensor… but it’s something I have to keep in mind when I’m looking through the viewfinder.

Joe by the entrance
Shutter: 1/250, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 100, Lens: 15mm fisheye

While we’re talking about the full frame vs crop sensor, I do like the look that the fisheye has on the full-frame sensor. Here is a picture of Joe. I actually cropped this one a bit to remove some of the distortion around the edges, but I like how the circles are directing your eye right back to the subject.

Welcome weary traveler
Shutter: 1/1250, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, ISO: 100, Lens: 18-35mm

Before I got on the road back to DC, I spied what looked to be an abandoned motel. I was still in the exploration mode and wanted to check it out. It actually wasn’t abandoned, but in the middle of being renovated. I asked the young couple that was cleaning it up if I could bop around and get some pics. They couldn’t understand why I’d want to do that, but agreed. I think they should have left it the way it was (crumbling, 70s chic) and rented out the rooms as a haunted experience, at a premium price. Then used that extra money for luxury upgrades. Ah well.

I enjoyed exploring this tunnel and want to come back, perhaps with a model and a tripod for some cool variations. If you liked this type of thing, check out more of my Urban Decay posts. And see the rest of my Abandoned Turnpike gallery below.

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