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  • Writer's pictureDave Pidgeon

Photographing the Phipps glass palace in Pittsburgh

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

A black-and-white image of the glass facade of the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh
The glass facade of the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, Pa.

LOCATION: Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh, Pa.

EQUIPMENT: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

THE STORY: Sometimes, the hard work happens in photo editing instead of photo taking.

Not always. But sometimes.

My family and I vacationed in Pittsburgh at the end of December. Yes, you read that right -- vacation, end of December, Pittsburgh.

My wife and I each have a deep personal history here.

My wife graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and cherishes the memory of her time there as much as any other.

As for me, I spent a lot of time in the 'Burgh during a formidible chapter of my life when I identified as a spokesman for one of the largest transportation companies in the nation.

Those days are far behind both of us, but we still love this city of rivers. So we brought our three young children here to experience what yinz know to be special about this place.

Our first stop was to the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, an elaborate Victorian-age glass palace that's an icon of the city.

Let's note something that I've found to be a universal truth. It seems when it comes to photography, the first day of travel is consistently the worst.

Rarely do I find the images I make on the first day in a new place to be keepers.

Our time at Phipps is a great example. Whether it was the managing three kids in a crowded indoor garden or ... well, yeah, that was it ... most of the images I made during our two hours at Phipps were meh.

The above shot in color is really nothing to brag about. Gray sky reflected in gray glass.

That's when the fun can begin, however.

While in Lightroom on my iPad, I thought I'd experiment. At first, I tried adding a bluish hue to the image, but that just made it flat and blue instead of flat and gray.

When I switched to black-and-white, an idea came to mind, something I've seen others do. I used a feature called a radial mask, which creates an oval over a spot you select in the image.

Instead of editing the section within the oval, I reversed it so I edited in the area around the oval, reducing the exposure and making it appear a ray of sunshine broke through the cloud cover.

It draws your eye to the high point of the glass palace while also creating a mysterious allure in the shadow.

You simply cannot get this effect in the color version. But in black-and-white, it looks like it belongs naturally.

The art of photography is more than just controlling this tool in our hands we call a camera.

It's also how you edit. Editing, in fact, can have as much if not more of an influence on your photographic style than anything else.

More on that in another post. And more Pittsburgh images to come.

Dave Pidgeon is a seasoned writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa. You can reach him at

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