Behind the Image: Hungarian Parliament at Night


I don't remember how many trips my wife, Alison, and I made to the famous Fisherman's Bastion. It was a long walk from Pest across the Chain Bridge and up winding streets. The temperature was around 90 degrees each day. Living in Canada, I'm not accustomed to that type of heat and humidity anymore (thank goodness our apartment had AC). I was determined to get a particular shot. I had photographed the Hungarian Parliament several times from several different locations over the course of the week, but I had been unable to capture the Parliament from Fisherman's Bastion in an effective way.

On the final evening of our trip I was determined to get something good out of the Fisherman's Bastion experience. It's a popular spot for tourists- one of the major sights in Budapest. I wasn't that impressed. It looks like an awkward sandcastle. There's a architecturally underwhelming Marriott and Starbucks next to it. No matter what time of day we visited the area, morning or night, it was packed with tourists. Serious landscape photography was very difficult. If I return to Budapest, I'm going during a shoulder season for sure. 

a trick up my sleeve

The best thing about Fisherman's Bastion is the panoramic views of Pest, the Danube, and the Parliament building. I wanted a particular image. I wanted the columns and arched windows of Fisherman's Bastion in the foreground, framing the dramatic Parliament all lit up at twilight. In the early evening I set up my tripod and waited. I used a Nikon 24-120mm f4 VR lens. The Parliament is pretty far across the Danube from Fisherman's Bastion.  In order to fill the frame with the Hungarian Parliament (and make it look much closer and larger), I had to employ a simple trick that most photographers visiting Fisherman's Bastion don't use. Instead of using a wide angle and getting close to the columns like most do, I set up about 20-25 feet back and zoomed in with my lens. A wide-angle makes distant objects smaller and farther away, but a telephoto focal length compresses the elements within the frame. In this case, the Hungarian Parliament looks much closer to Fisherman's Bastion than it actually is. That's the only trick to this composition. There is no stacking. This is one frame. 

Hungarian Parliament at night from Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary (Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-120 f4 VR, tripod, 120mm, f14, 3 sec, ISO 250).

Hungarian Parliament at night from Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary (Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-120 f4 VR, tripod, 120mm, f14, 3 sec, ISO 250).

A little help

The big challenge wasn't getting the right composition, or even the light. Once the sun set and the city lights came on, all I had to do was click the shutter. Simple right? Wrong. There were dozens of selfie-hungry tourists blocking my shot. People were crowding the very window I was trying to shoot through. I waited for the crowd to open up, but it thickened. I realize that I have no more reason to be there than they do. It's an awesome view. I already knew getting the shot in the late evening would be a stretch (should have showed up at 4AM...shame on me). Nonetheless I was getting discouraged and was about to call it a day when a friendly face in a Red Socks hat popped up out of the crowd. 

"You guys American?" He said. Small talk ensued. His name is Cam Woodsum, a nomad travel-blogger. He'd been in Budapest for a few weeks. He said he had a score to settle between himself and Budapest and wanted to help me out. He asked if I'd like him to do some crowd control and clear the way long enough for me to take my shot. I thought he was at least half joking, so I said yes. With the help of Alison, Cam parted the sea of selfie-zombies just long enough for me to get my image. I'm very grateful to Cam for his help. This is easily my favorite shot from our Budapest experience.