For the traveler in Kansas City or for the resident photographer dedicated to capturing the city in all its moods, the overlook of the Kansas City downtown skyline at the Liberty Memorial, 100 W. 26th Street, provides an accessible, panoramic view second to none.
The jewel of this urban vista, of course, is Union Station, the second-largest train station in the country at the time of its completion in 1914. Other landmarks visible in this scene are Bartle Hall with its Sky Stations atop the roof support pylons, The Kansas City Power and Light building, a classic 1931 Art Deco skyscraper, and the recently-completed Sprint Center. Becoming more visible with every passing day is the dramatic architecture of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, due to open Fall 2011.
As with all landscape photography, the principal variable here is the light. While interesting photographs can be made at any time of day, especially dramatic photographs can be made of this skyline at the “Magic Hour,” the time at dawn or dusk when light from the sky perfectly balances with the artificial light in the scene.
To make a “Magic Hour” photo, it is helpful, but not absolutely necessary to have a digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR) that will display over-and-under-exposure in the viewfinder. Whatever the camera, what is necessary is the ability to make a time exposure and that the camera be perfectly stationary during an exposure that may range from several seconds to a half-minute.
To make the actual exposures, compose the scene in your viewfinder and start making exposures when the light in the sky is one stop brighter than the general brightness of the foreground scene below the horizon. This may be determined with a hand-held exposure meter or simply by tilting the camera up (where only sky is visible) and down (where no sky is visible) and observing the change in exposure. You will notice that when the difference between the two brightnesses is about one stop, the sky will be quite dark. Much darker, in fact, than any time you may normally think about “taking pictures.” When that light balance (one-stop difference) is reached, begin making exposures, one after another, until the photos, as viewed on the LCD, show you that the sky is, in fact, dark. You will find that when you start making exposures, the sky will be very light in the photos but within only a few minutes the sky will begin darkening toward a deep blue and, finally, to black. Somewhere in that range of pictures, you will not only see, but you will feel the magic. Abracadabra!