The Haunted Prison – Eastern State Penitentiary

Dark Chambers – f/8, 30mm, ISO 100, 1/30 sec, 9-stitched pano HDR, 38 Mega Pixels

The Eastern State Penitentiary is a former American prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is located on 2027 Fairmount Avenue between Corinthian Avenue and North 22nd Street in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia and was operational from 1829 until 1971. The penitentiary refined the revolutionary system of separate incarceration first pioneered at the Walnut Street Jail which emphasized principles of reform rather than punishment. Notorious criminals such as bank robber Willie Sutton and Al Capone were held inside its unique wagon wheel design. When the building was erected it was the largest and most expensive public structure ever constructed, quickly becoming a model for more than 300 prisons worldwide.
The prison is currently a U.S. National Historic Landmark, which is open to the public as a museum for tours seven days a week, twelve months a year 10 am to 5 pm. – Wiki

I first heard about this place when I was reading Tony Sweet’s website that he was conducting an HDR workshop. Must be a special place for him to conduct workshops here. I shrugged the idea of coming over because what can I photograph in an old prison? And also I am not a big fan of HDR. I only use it when I need to depending on the lighting situation.
When I read about vanishing point effect in photography I got interested in this place again. The hallways and spooky environment and texture must be good for 180 degrees stitched panoramas. I researched for some photos in Flickr and decided to go.
The photo above was a result of 9-stitched vertical frames panorama in HDR. The place was very dark and when you meter at the center most part of the frame the side frames of the panorama become very dark. 9 frames at -2…0…+2 HDR equals 27 frames total taken. I used Photomatix 4.1 to batch bracket photos by three’s at base shutter of 1/30th second and saved as tiff-16 bit and exported them to Adobe Photoshop CS5 for stitching. The result was a 2GB file. I finally exported it to Adobe Lightroom 4.1 for for some adjustments, cropped it to 6 X 18, converted it to B & W and applied strong contrast. The B & W adds to the spookiness of the place in this particular scene.

The next photo is a 180 degrees panorama of a well lit hallway. I metered at the center of the frame and it turned out okay on the side frames. It really depends on your light source. I also set white balance to cloudy to make it warm.
The Vanishing Point – f/10, 15mm, ISO 100, 1 second, 13-stitched pano, 28 Mega Pixels

I like the texture of this part of the prison, I used a high ISO in this shot. The thing with high ISO is that you will get more noise and you lose sharpness. But with the texture like this you can never tell if it is a noisy photograph.
Textured Prison – f/8, 30mm, ISO 1250, 1/200 second, 12-stitched pano, 59 Mega Pixels

Al Capone’s cell VIP treatment.
Al Capone’s Cell – f/4, 15mm, ISO 1600, 1/80 second, 1 RAW HDR

Here is a 3 RAW HDR of a barber shop inside this prison.
Prison Barbershop – f/8, 15mm, ISO 1250, 1/4 second, 3 RAW HDR

We avoided the hospital and death chamber part of the prison, the missus did not like the idea. But I will be back to take more photos, it turned out to be a good place to shoot.

Hope you enjoy it!



50 thoughts on “The Haunted Prison – Eastern State Penitentiary

  1. These photos are absolutely amazing ! How I wish I had known about this workshop, I would have loved to have gone. This place is on my to-visit list sometime. Thank you so much for sharing your fantastic photos and tips.

  2. Abe – I was thinking that I wouldn’t like you shots, considering they were taken at an old historic prison, but was pleasantly surprised. Your photos are fantastic! I love both the B&W and color versions and your explanations, of how you were able to reach your end product. A lot of work. I have not used HDR yet. I guess I am still trying to master shooting regular images. Nicely presented. I hope that you do have the opportunity to go back, I bet it would be a real thrill. One question – was Al Capones cell made up that nice when he was there, or did the historic society embellish it for the tourists? Curious. Again well done.

    • A simple like would be enough but thanks to the kind words. Al Capone was a VIP that was really the set up of his cell. That I dont get why would a criminal be VIP? He was there just for a year.

  3. I attempted some panoramas since I started following you and so far they have been disasters 🙂 using 35mm on FF sensor is quite challenging as the distortion is significant! Nice photos 🙂

      • I did it all manually and it came out perfect (in terms of exposure). I did the San Diego skyline and some buildings were leaning left, while some were leaning right and some were straight! I think practice will make perfect… thanks for all the tips 🙂

      • Ah okay that is good if you nailed the exposure. One thing you need is a panoramic tripod head specially if it involves buildings. What I have is the cheapest and for small lenses up to 7 inch long. Check it out Nodal Ninja III Mark II, cheapest in the market.

  4. Returned more than once to appreciate the quality of your photos and story. Not the most pleasant sight or thought
    but certainly made more interesting through your efforts. Excellent photos and story!

  5. Fabulous shots Abe. Stitched pano’s take lots of extra time, careful exposures and much planning and clearly yore a master at them. Great work!

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