A location close to where I live fulfilled all of these criteria and has been a favorite location of mine for experimenting with photography - Max-Weber Platz Underground station. When this station was built, tunnels were not dug, rather a large hole was created into which a 5 or 6 story building was inserted that contains the underground station. The resulting station is almost cathedral like in its open space, with diagonal sloping stairways cutting through the inner structure.
At first glance a subway station has many functions, selling tickets, providing refreshment/toilet facilities for travelers, supplying infrastructure to the trains, and enabling easy access for people from the platform to the train. However, the key function to my eyes is to move large numbers of people from 20-30m underground to the surface and vice-versa safely and quickly. My goal for this photograph was to explore the function of the underground station and how people can quickly move through the station. The goal would be to create a photo that connects the people to the infrastructure. A simple shot of an escalator full of people would not work, unless it also conveyed very clearly that this was also a station. I also wanted to get across the sheer size and depth of the station.
Technically this was not an easy assignment to accomplish, but also not too difficult. I wanted to photograph during the evening rush hour to ensure plenty of people could be in the shots. This meant that using a tripod was out of the question for safety reasons. I would be working with artificial fluorescent light and so light levels would not be too great. For this shoot pin sharpness was not an issue and in fact using a slow shutter speed with moving people or trains would add movement to the shots. However, I still wanted the architectural elements in the shots to be well defined. The answer is a medium to wide angle zoom with image stabilization, my 24-105mm f/4 IS Zoom. I supplemented this with a non image stabilized 17-40mm to try and capture the immense size of the open space in the station. Maintaining shutter speed would require upping the ISO, I used 800 with the IS lens and 1600 with the non-IS wide angle zoom.
I will present my one image at the end of this discussion, but first I have a number of shots that provide background to the station and explain how I approached the single image that represents the function of Max-Weber-Platz U-Bahn Station.
Above ground there is little to see, just the entrance in the foreground and the odd shaped building in the middle ground:
This building is simply a cover for the main steps/escalators going into and out of the station. This station is a busy interchange and is a key link between the underground system and the above ground transit, such as buses and trams, hence the large access:
Once underground the first level is a series of passages leading to the entrance to the station proper:
Here another function of the station comes into play that of making money by selling tickets or food & drink:
From here it is also possible to access the platforms by lift as well as the main staircases:
One of the aspects to this station that I find very attractive as a photographer is the very deliberate use of vertical and horizontal lines added as decoration. The texture of the left hand wall in the above shot is simply part of the motif of the subway station. Many of Munich's stations have been given very distinct identities, I will return to this in later posts.
However, my goal for this shoot was to describe the function of the station as a machine for moving people to and from the trains. This is the entrance to the stairway complex at the heart of the stations structure
As you start to descend it becomes clear that you can see all the way to the bottom of the station
The people at the bottom are waiting on the platform, however, this image still does not say that this is a station (the tracks are barely visible at the top of the frame). The next images show a little more of the tracks, but still enables 3 levels of the station to be seen in the photo.
The image below has a more geometrical arrangement, showing in a very flattened 2D image the structure of the staircases as they descend to the platform. I like the way the repeating form of the angled staircase carries through the image forming three separate layers.
To really drive home the idea that this is a station a train needs to form part of the image. The following two shots strongly emphasize the train, but at the price of losing the functional aspect of moving passengers from the surface to the trains
These images both emphasize the train and the dynamic of movement, first of the train, the second the man descending while the passengers endure the boring trip home from work waiting at a station.
Combining the train with the stairs and people moving was clearly the way that I wanted the final shot to look. Following are two images that captured a train moving through the station, but framed to include the structure of the station
The first image lacks enough people. The second is close to how I want the final image to look, the dramatic perspective is good, but the staircase is not prominent enough.
I also experimented with waiting until a train arrived and disgorged a large number of passengers onto the platform:
This is a busy dynamic image, the movement of the people conveys strongly the sense of a busy urban railway station.
The Photograph that I feel conveys the function of the station best is the next one. I have moved to a point from which multiple levels of the station are visible, waited until a train is in the station and composed with a diagonal dynamic:
This image has people in three levels if the station and shows the depth of the platforms as well as the height of the building. Combining the two staircases shows the path to and from the platform.