Photographing St. Petersburg by Night, Rostral Column

One of two Rostral Columns built to guide ships up the Neva River, during the long, dark winter nights, in St. Petersburg, Russia

Photographing the Rostral Columns, named after the Latin word Rostrum for a ship’s beak, on Vasilievsky Island in St. Petersburg was a fun and challenging experience. I’d already been out and about for several hours photographing after sunset when I found myself in front of these quite striking landmarks.

Built in 1811 as navigation beacons for shipping the 32 meter (i.e., 105 foot) high columns were topped with 7 meter (i.e., 23 foot) high oil lamps which, in turn, were replaced with gas lamps. 

The warm street lighting which, incidentally, turned the column’s dark red stucco towards a yellow orange hue was ideal given the predominantly blue color of the night sky.

I remember walking around the monument to investigate photographing it from a variety of different angles. At the foot of each column are pairs of marble sculptures that depict mythical gods used to represent four major Russian rivers: the Neva, Dnieper, Volga and Volkhov.

Exploring Dualities

While I did photograph the column from different angles and in detail as well as from a distance, I think that standing back across the street provided, perhaps, the best view. What’s more it allowed me to depict the column in relation to its most immediately surroundings, which included a long row of portaloos.

”Sacrilege” you say. ”Nay, perfect” I reply. Just think about the dualities (i.e., contrasts) that can now be explored. Here’s some that spring to mind:

  • traditional and contemporary
  • stone and plastic
  • lasting and temporary
  • divine and oh very, very earthly concerns
  • warm and cool
  • large and small

Of course things get even more interesting when you consider not just the differences, but the similarities between this particular Rostral Column (actually, they are two of them) and the portaloos. There are similar contrasting colors existing within the line of portals, just as there are between the column and sky. That ties the blue sky and blue portals together, just as it does the stone support at the bottom of the column with the similarly colored loos below.

Painting with Light

The streaking lights across the bottom of the photo, which also include the same orange and yellow colors present in the column, are a result of car lights being recorded as they passed my camera during the long exposure required to record the scene. It’s just another example illustrating that the nature of photography is, literally, to paint with light.

I often run one-to-one private photography classes. Some folks like to use the opportunity for some night photography in the City of Melbourne. Feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss options for a private photography session.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru