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A Night In Mexico City After The Rains

Hello, everyone. I’m back!! Well, I actually got back Friday, but was real slow to work up a few images to share, so I took off Friday and Saturday.

I had a great time down there and got to see a few friends that I hadn’t in a while. Although I was not able to make it to the Villahermosa area as originally planned, I made the most of my time in Mexico City and had a number of very productive meetings. And, as promised, I took the camera along for the ride and got to head out a few times to capture some images. Tonight’s show and tell takes place after a quick torrential downpour that happened shortly after 5pm on the last evening I was there. Luckily, I had made it back to the hotel and was trying to set up last-minute dinner plans. They fell through, so I decided to hang out for the night and make it a pizza night.

Why on earth would I have pizza night in Mexico City, you ask? First of all, they deliver!! Then, after having mexican food all week, I needed a break. Not to mention that there are pizza restaurants on almost every corner. Yuuup!! You can get Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Little Caesar’s and a few other lesser known spots to deliver just about anywhere.

While living in Baltimore, I had pizza night with Papa John’s for a long time, and that stopped when I moved out here to the San Francisco area. For the longest time, we didn’t have a Papa John’s anywhere within a deliverable distance, but luckily we got one put in over by SFSU. Of course, we usually forget about it, so my easiest shot at getting my Papa John’s “The Works” fix is when I go to Mexico City. And, since I can’t even fathom eating a whole pie by myself, I usually get a medium and end up split it with the night staff at the hotel. It earns me plenty of brownie points with them, which usually pays dividends on “extras” such as free room upgrades, free night’s stay vouchers on future reservations and stellar treatment during my stay there.

Luckily, the rain subsided shortly before 8PM after dropping a substantial amount of rain on the city. This leads me to tonight’s tip on night photography. Most places will look great in photographs after a good rainfall, especially at night. This tip works well in the daytime as well, but at night you have the added reflections off the wet surfaces that end of translating into great reflective and refractive images. Streets always look better after its rained. This is a technique employed by the advertising agencies that film car commercials all the time. Next time you see a car commercial where you see the vehicle driving on any kind of street  and look at the condition of the roadway. 9 times out of 10, they would have wet down the pavement to enhance the visual.

After calling a cab, I had an idea of the quick route I wanted to take through the city. I didn’t want to go too far, and I usually stay in the Zona Rosa (translates to Pink Zone) near to all the major monuments in the city. I first instructed the cabbie to head over to the Torre Mayor (translates to Major Tower) to visit the observatory. Unfortunately, the building hasn’t had a public observatory in over 5 years, according to the security guard that gave me a puzzled look when I asked about the observatory. You would figure that the tallest building in the city would have a working observatory, but I guess better use was found for that space a few years back. Luckily, the cabbie hadn’t gone far, so he was back to pick me up in a heartbeat.

We then headed over to the Angel de Independencia, which is the Angel of Independence that celebrates Mexico’s independence as a free and sovereign state. This monument sits on Paseo de la Reforma (translates to Reform Walk), which is a main arterial roadway in Mexico City where all the major monuments sit in roundabouts all linked together. There is rarely an hour of the day that the Angel isn’t visited by tourists and locals alike. Standing atop a tall pedestal, the Angel stands tall in gold leaf plate extending a laurel crown while holding a broken chain in her left hand, symbolizing freedom. The Corinthian style column actually has a tightly spun spiral staircase that leads to a small observatory at the base just a few feet short of the statues feet.

The monument is open for all the public to visit around the clock, but the stairway to the observatory is only open until 1pm daily. Weekends are especially crowded, so I would suggest to try to make it during the week. One thing you need to know before attempting such a feat is that the staircase is rather steep and offers no resting spot between the ground floor and the top deck. Please be considerate of others if you know that you will want to take your time and offer to be one of the last in the group to go up. There is only enough space for a group of 12 at most to travel up or down the staircase at any given time, so please be patient. Once your group is allowed access to go up, you will be given approximately 15 minutes at the top-level, which will give you a spectacular view of the surrounding areas. When times up, you will be asked to come back down. A few pesos handy will usually buy you a few more minutes, but you didn’t hear it from me… 🙂

For this shot, I wanted to capture some of the surrounding buildings along with the traffic rushing by using a slow shutter speed to capture the streaks of light. I had my handy Canon 1D mark II N along with a Canon 24-105mm f/4.0 IS L series lens that I rented from for the week. Although the lens had image stabilization, I found it difficult to capture a perfectly still image while trying to shoot with the longer exposures. This one was probably the best of the bunch. There were some quick-moving clouds overhead that were lit up perfectly by the big moon you see in the background. I would have been much happier had I had a tripod to take these with, but I still have a tripod that sucks. So, until I have something else, I’ll be winging it hand-held.

The Angel de Indepencia on Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City

Next up on the list was the Diana Cazadora, which translates to Diana de Huntress. This is a beautiful and rather large fountain that celebrates the woman, the wonder of the nude figure and freedom. The Diana sits just north of the Angel of Independence along Paseo de la Reforma at the next intersection and points her arrow north. She is very hard to miss and a beautiful site to see, more so at night than daytime. Why? Well, let’s just say that the water that is circulated in the fountain isn’t the cleanest water you would want to see, and even though the water is pumped through it at a rather fast speed, you can still make out the murky and brown water. At least at night, there are bright spotlights that shine bright and give that dirty water a bright appearance.

A few years ago, in protest of the increasing rate of crime and murders amongst the narco trafficking gangs, someone dumped red dye into the fountain to symbolize blood. To much surprise, it was well received with the public, as the dye gave the water a bright red appearance, which was an improvement to the brown water they were used to seeing. Of course, the mayor of the city would not stand for it and had the fountain drained, cleaned and refilled with the dirty brown water that can be had plentiful in Mexico City’s non-potable water system.

Another fiasco that involved the Diana was recently when it was discovered that the Diana awoke with a bandana that was covering half of her face from the nose down, reminiscent of the drug cartel that parade around the cities with like garb to avoid identification. The bandana was removed immediately.

Going with the theme of handheld shots featuring long exposures, this one is probably the best one of the bunch. Unlike the Angel, where pedestrian traffic is allowed on the center median, there is nowhere to admire this fountain if not from one of four surrounding corners. In my opinion, this is the best view which also includes a glimpse of the Torre Mayor in the background on the left. Shouldn’t those cars stopped waiting to turn left be on the opposite side of the fountain? Why, yes, mi amigo, but in Mexico City the only traffic law is that there aren’t any traffic laws. I have seen the wildest shit happen while in the back seat of a cab, but I just go with it and pray that it goes off without a hitch. Just plain crazy!!

The beautiful Diana La Cazadora on Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City

Hey, doesn’t the street look real pretty??? Yuuup, it’s wet!!

The last stop of the night was to the Palacio de las Bellas Artes, which translates to the Palace of Fine Arts. For a moment there, it looked like I was going to have to bypass visiting it since there was rumors of possible protests in the nearby area. We waited out a few minutes only to see traffic pick back up, so we headed over there. Yeah, it wasn’t easy getting over there, but it was totally worth it. The Palace of the Fine Arts is home to murals by Siquieros and Rivera along with an extensive art collection and the Mexico City Orchestra.

With its blend of Art Deco and Art Nouveau styling, the Palace should definitely be on your list of sites to stop at during your stay in Mexico City. I haven’t quite figured out when it’s open, but I can tell you that you will find it closed anytime after 5pm and always on a Monday. Monday’s happen to be the day that I usually have time to run around, so I still haven’t gotten to see the interior in all its splendor. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for next time…

For this first image, I wanted to get up close and personal with the building to make the beautifully lit top the main focus point of the image. I had to crop the image as high up as I did simply because just below were some bright lights coming from the underside of the porch that was overexposing the image.

Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City


In this final image that I took, I was disappointed with the resulting images over and over again, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I didn’t like about them. I did see that there were some clouds hovering overhead that I wanted to include, but I couldn’t get an exposure quick enough to keep the image sharp, even with the image stabilization. So, I decided to turn on the auto bracket exposure feature of my camera and set the exposures at +/- 2 stops. This means that my camera took three images in rapid succession. The first was at -2 stops, the second at 0 exposure and the last at +2 stops, to give me a selection of exposure settings to choose from. I found that I liked the +2 stop exposure, which is the one I am including here. To tweak this just right, I brought up the “structure” in Photoshop and dropped down the brightness a little. It almost gives a HDR (high dynamic range) appearance, but I didn’t go that route.

I did experiment a little with the Photoshop CS5 Merge to HDR Pro feature, but I was unhappy with all the options and didn’t want to spend too much time correcting something that I didn’t like to begin with. So, that’s that… Look how pretty the sidewalk looks all wet after the rains. Badass!!!

Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City after a little rain…

So that’s what I have for you tonight folks. I will have more of Mexico City for you tomorrow, including a few shots of the Monument to the Revolution and a quick trip to Panteon Dolores, which is one of the oldest cemeteries in Mexico City. have a great night and happy picture-taking to all!!!




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