Before I moved to Maine, one of my favorite places to visit was always the Old Port in Portland. The mix of old architecture, restaurants and boutiques made it a must whenever I traveled to Maine for business or pleasure. The centerpiece of the old port for over 100 years the United States Custom House, straddling the area between Fore Street and Commercial Street, right on the waterfront.
The Custom House was built between 1867 and 1872, designed by Alfred B. Mullet, who was the Supervising Architect of the Treasury from 1865 to 1874. There was a need for a new Custom House after the Great Fire of July 4, 1867. The fire had destroyed 1800 buildings in the center of Portland, including the Exchange Building, which had housed the customs office, post office, and several other federal offices.
While I had often admired the building from the street, I had never photographed it. I could never find the right angle, or find a time when the street wasn’t filled with cars parked at the curb. Just by chance, I was in the Old Port one day and happened to park in a parking garage and noticed that I had a clear line to the building with no wires overhead. The next step was picking the right time of day.
From the angle I had on the roof of the parking garage, the waters of Portland Harbor and the islands in Casco Bay were plainly visible. I also knew that the sunrise would be visible behind the building on a clear day, and I assumed the streets would be relatively clear early in the morning. I arrived just as the parking garage opened and made my way to the roof and set up. All I had to do was compose, and wait.
I decided a graduated neutral density filter would help balance the exposure between the sunrise in the sky and the darker foreground of the Custom House, so I used a a Benro 4-stop Hard Edge Graduated Neutral Density filter, and placed the transition exactly on the horizon in the background. This allowed me to open up the shadows on the face of the Custom House and still maintain the orange glow that was present in the sky, that the camera would have lost on its own without some help.
I had planned to also take some images from street level, but by the time I completed my work on the roof of the parking garage, a truck had parked itself in front of the building, making it impossible to get a clean shot, so I called it a successful morning and headed to find some breakfast!