Over the years, I’ve wanted to get an awesome, iconic photo of the waycool Jericho Drive-In marquee. But understand this. Photographing a movie theater marquee isn’t just “show up, shoot, leave.” Most often, the following happens:
- Either the marquee shows whatever movies were playing that night, immediately dating your photo;
- The theater has no movies on the marquee, but that often means that the theater is out of season or closed; or
- The theater’s in season, but you’re not getting that sweet neon look of a summer night at the drive-in.
Recently, the Jericho Drive-in reopened for business, and are currently showing double features under strict social distancing guidelines. And their opening has been a success.
Meanwhile, I’ve recovered from my broken ankle and I want to go take some pictures. I want a photo shoot. I want to photograph something that I didn’t pick up from a fallen tree branch on a walk around my block.
So I made a phone call to the proprietors of the Jericho Drive-In. We arranged that for one night only, instead of showing the upcoming films, it would show the titles “Double Feature” and “Family Friendly.” This way, the marquee could represent any time in the drive-in’s history, and not be tied to whatever films were playing that weekend. The sign would be lit for the night, including that sweet blue and red neon that remains one of the last pieces of Googie neon sign architecture in the Capital District (I mean, we did lose L-Ken’s and Bob & Ron’s Fish Fry, so, honestly, what’s really left?).
I arrived in plenty of time. Yep, there’s the marquee. “Double Feature” and “Family Friendly.” This will work.
Now for the camera gear. I’m using my Nikon Df camera for this photo shoot. Normally, I would try shooting this marquee in various formulae of expired film, but I’m not feeling a film vibe tonight. Tonight I want to create a “time-slice.” And the only way I can specifically guarantee that these images will come out as perfect as possible is if I take these photos digitally. I’ll save film for another day.
Now a time-slice photo involves showing the picture in day and in night. Several photos are taken, and then the photos are sliced up so that you can see a progression of light – from daylight, to dusk, to night.
Although I brought all three of my wide-angle lenses – my 19mm f/3.8 Vivitar, my 28mm f/2.8 Nikkor, and my 15mm f/2.4 Irix, I went with the Irix. It’s wide enough to capture the entire sign without my having to stand at an angle, and for an ultrawide camera, it has a decent rectilinear finish to its shots.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what that green cube is on top of the camera, that’s actually one of the Infinity Stones, I’m holding on to it until Thanos puts it in his glove … no, actually it’s a spirit level that I received as a gift in a reddit Secret Santa years ago. Totally forgot it was in my camera bag. Good time to remember it, eh?
I also wired up a manual shutter release to minimize any camera shake or vibration in the photo.
I took pictures at 5-minute intervals, as the sun slowly set behind the marquee. Now, somebody could kvetch about having the sun in the picture, but I can work with it. See?
Yeah, that looks sweet.
Rather than deal with shifting light exposures, I set the camera on the “A” setting (aperture priority), and let the camera expose for the time of day. And all I have to do is simply check my watch, and take a picture every five minutes.
Oh yeah, and in case you’re wondering … I do practice proper social distancing. I’m wearing a mask while I photograph the sign.
Yes, it’s called a selfie. And yes, that’s one of my photos on my mask. Oh, and by the way, you know what DOESN’T socially distance these days? Mosquitos. Those things stung me like I was made of sugar. Ah, life upstate…
Oh, and while I was photographing the sign, the Jericho’s Twist ice cream parlor was open. Patrons drove up, ordered their sundaes and ice creams (unsolicited plug – try the Jericho sundae, it is just as delicious as a Boston shake), and then drove away. Some of them, however, saw this masked man in front of the marquee and, sure enough, they had to ask questions.
“What movie’s playing this week?” one couple asked me.
“Oh, it’s supposed to be The Wretched and The Invisible Man. Bring the kids.”
“I’ve heard about The Invisible Man. Who stars in it?”
“John Cena,” I joked. I mean, it does make sense, right?
Okay, more photos.
Another car pulls up.
“Hey, man, are you doing a time-lapse photo?”
Close enough. “Sure,” I said.
“That’s cool, man. Hey, I never heard of that film Double Feature. Who stars in it? Anybody I know?”
“Yeah, Nicholas Cage and Tara Reid.”
“Oh, man, I love Nicholas Cage movies,” the guy smiled as he went to get his ice cream.
Hey, don’t get on my case, 3:1 odds says you were running to IMDB and trying to find out what films Nicholas Cage has been in lately.
At 8:15 p.m. … the neon kicked in.
And it just kept getting better as the sun set. By 9:00, it was pitch dark outside, but the neon sign and the generic marquee looked, shall we say, picture perfect.
I wrapped up my photo shoot at approximately 9:15 p.m., thanked Mike and Lisa – the owners of the Jericho Drive-In – and headed home.
I looked over the images. Any one of these images, by itself, would be Competition Season worthy. That’d be good enough.
But that wasn’t why I wanted to do this project. You know me. “Just good enough” is not part of my mantra.
I selected eight images – four with daylight, four with twilight. And I sliced them together.
It took a while … but this is what came out.
I like this. And if I want to make something more from this, I still have the raw files.
So there you have it. The Jericho sign in day and in night. This works.
My sincere thanks to Mike and Lisa, the owners of the Jericho Drive-In, for letting me put this project together. They’re good people and you definitely need to go see a film or seven this summer over at the drive-in. Practice good social distancing, mind you …
For more information on the Jericho Drive-In’s features, visit http://www.jerichodrive-in.com for films, showtimes, ticket and food purchases.