What I’ve Learned: Parking Garages

first of a series of future quips about things I’ve learned so far as a photographer. Some things you might already know, some things you might not.

This episode includes my love of parking garages

Why would I write about parking garages? So far, they have been a bit of a savior for me. Let me explain.

You ever want to get that fantastic shot from above, or a shot of something far away with lots of crap (unwanted materials) in front of your lens? Ever wish there were a way around it? I believe that parking garages might be an answer to your problems. Last night, I got the urge to write a blog about this because while I was standing on the rooftop of the parking garage at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, NH I had finally gotten a shot that I had been searching for. I arrived in Manchester around 4:45-5:00 and was searching for a good place to get a decent panoramic view of the mill buildings across the river. As most of you who have been to Manchester and driven on the 293 through the city have seen, it’s quite beautiful to see all the lined up reused mill buildings on the other side of the river. 293 is a serpentine that runs alongside the Merrimack River, but unfortunately has no obvious place to stop and take a photo. Surely you’re not going to stop on the highway, and even if you did, you’d still have massive amounts of trees and vegetation to get through to get a decent shot. No trails so far as I can find on the other side of 293, and if there were it’d be most likely that some enforcement agency would have a problem with you walking beside the highway since they have this feeling that they own it or something.

I stopped at the mill building on the opposite side of 293, where WGIR is broadcast from. Standing in the truck bed I was able to get some shots of the mills but had the pesky highway blocking some of my view. angrily, I kept driving using my GPS to locate an area or street that might provide a decent view of the mills and river without showing much of the highway. No luck, seems as if they built sound barrier walls along the entire corridor, blocking my views completely. Eventually I came to a football field, and got some nice shots, but nothing I’d say was spectacular. Twilight was becoming dusk and dusk was becoming night before I knew it. I was running out of time. Then I came upon the hospital, and the garage at the hospital. Bingo.

When entering a garage, make sure it’s a free one. Hospitals and municipal lots are good for this. Private parking garages will charge you an arm and a leg for using their services, even if for a few minutes. Skip that junk and park your car streetside, and go when the area isn’t going to be so busy. I like to do my shots early morning and at twilight when people are out of work and headed home. Most times, even private parking lots have accessible staircases that aren’t anywhere near where their security officers stand is. I suppose they don’t mind not seeing you enter the area, since you can’t get your car out without paying them anyways. Using these stairways in cities, be wary, they are sometimes shelter for the homeless and/or undesirable company. Many homeless people will let you be, but keep your gear stowed away in your pack until you get to where you want to shoot. I always carry some form of weapon to help to defend myself. Some robbers will threaten you until they see that you’re packing something that will hurt them. I’ve never yet been accosted except by police officers, who are most times more dangerous than your worst thief (since thieves go to jail when they beat you up and take your things).

At Catholic Medical Center they have parking lot security, which makes me feel good that I won’t run into problems, but still be wary of their intentions when it comes to you taking pictures. In these days after 9/11, everyone is unreasonably scared of anyone with a camera. If accosted, be polite and hold firm in answering questions with questions until you are to safety. On private property, you are at the will of another’s rules in a legitimate fashion. Calmly explain why you are there and that you’re only taking photographs of the city. On public property, you owe no one any explanation for taking photographs. Giving answers might make those that ask them feel like you’re obligated to answer them. Remind them, that you are on public property and not obligated to answer any questions without a lawyer present. Last night at the hospital, I was followed by a security guard who circled me a few times, after a wave he saw that I had good intentions (lesson to be learned: terrorists never wave).

Parking garages allow you to get higher than your subjects, give you another view of the city you’re in, and allow for you to be taller than garbage that might get into your shot. For example, I was able to be on the top level of the garage and easily see a view few can get to see of Manchester. After a bit of cropping, the photo is sure to be much better than those I took on ground level. Another example is in Laconia, New Hampshire; where I have not been able to find a decent area to take good city shots. There simply isn’t a good place to get a good shot of the city proper, downtown, except for the parking garage in downtown. Laconia’s parking garage also means you have a free place to stow your car so you can walk around the city. On the top level there are regularly Government vehicles parked there overnight. A great place to park would be right beside them. I’ve seen police routinely checking license plates in the garage, even getting out to shine lights inside of vehicles. They never seem to bother the cars parked next to government plated vehicles, almost like a professional courtesy. You figure, if they’re parked right beside the g-man vehicle, they must be related to the g-man vehicle. Thugs stick together.

The shots I got in Laconia were wonderful, you can see all of main street and also get great shots of the steeples in the background. Another good parking garage is the central parking garage downtown Concord, NH. This is a pay facility with lots of spaces but most of them are already reserved. Doesn’t do the aspiring parker much good. The top level has great shots of the police facility, church steeples, and the State House dome in all it’s gold clad glory. I’ve gotten wonderful shots here and have never been accosted by anyone. From this vantage point, I even saw the old police building that has turned into a Margarita’s Bar and Grill. Some things you can only tell from up high.

Remember, in this era everyone seems to think they’re John Q. Law, and they feel that anyone with a camera represents a national security threat. I’ve seen people writing my description down, been followed in and out of buildings by busybodies looking to make trouble. One word of advice is to remember not to go directly back to your vehicle if you believe you’re being followed. Make a roundabout and enter a building that you can exit through another door. If you have to hide, porterpoties are a great place to lay low for a few minutes. They don’t care if you’re just taking pictures, they’re hoping to get their face on the front page news for stopping terroristic activities. I never carry identification because I don’t need identification to walk, and if someone asks you to see your ID (if you have it or not) you are not required to show anyone anything (not even police).

Be mindful of private property, and if you see signage that asks you not to trespass, follow their rules. You can always stop by the guard shack and ask them if you can go to the top level to take some skyline photos for 5 minutes. In my experience I’ve not only gotten the permission I needed, but also some other great hotspots around the city. Trespassing only allows the guards to call in police, and they will hassle you for performing your artwork no matter who you are. Best to avoid dangerous people at all times.

Remember, you’re just doing your job, and you don’t owe anyone a thing especially any of your valuable time.

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