The east side of Center City has scored three stunning outdoor art exhibits on view this fall — all of them free. Besides the Ghost Ship haunting the Ben Franklin Bridge, there’s a fleet of floating wonders near the Independence Seaport Museum and a fountain in Franklin Square that dances to the Rocky theme song. Here’s a quick guide to the eye-catching installations — and tips on how to snap a standout smartphone photo while you’re there.
The phantasmal white sails of this three-dimensional 18th-century ship rise toward the belly of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. The wraith ship, powered by jets of shooting water illuminated with lights, was designed by Estonia-based artist collective Biangle Studio to draw awareness to the Delaware River’s history. The water blows gently in the wind to make the ship appear as if it’s moving.
Biangle’s Ghost Ship pops up every night Wednesday through Sunday, rain or shine. A self-guided audio tour tells maritime stories from before colonization and up through the present. Local artists, historians, and archaeologists weigh in on the river’s importance to Philadelphia, and dive into the history of the free and forced migration. Connect to the audio tour at delawareriverwaterfront.com/events/ghost-ship.
Use gridlines: An unintentionally crooked subject like a billowing sail can ruin a photo or video. Most cameras have a gridlines feature to help you balance. (For an iPhone, go to “Settings,” and choose “Camera,” and switch “Grid” on. For a Samsung Galaxy, launch the camera app, go to “Settings,” scroll down and switch the “grid lines” to “on.”) Using a 9-block grid, center the middle of the ship’s three masts in the grid square. Use the bottom ledge of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge as a point of reference to square up the rest of the frame. Align the ledge so that it’s parallel to the horizontal lines on your camera grid.
Try a time-lapse: If you want your photo to stand out from the dozens of look-alike images, experiment with the time-lapse feature. Available on most smartphones, time-lapse mode captures video that your phone speeds up into a bite-sized clip. Keep your hands steady, with your elbows in against your body for support, and record for at least 60 seconds. You should end up with a moving photo that makes the ship appear as if it’s sailing in the frame.
If you go: Through Nov. 3, 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, adjacent to Race Street Pier, 121 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd., free, delawareriverwaterfront.com
FLOW floats at Independence Seaport Museum
A series of floating sculptures have taken over the Delaware River near the Independence Seaport Museum as part of the museum’s new outdoor FLOW. The temporary exhibit includes 10 installations, by 14 artists from the United States and Canada, designed to examine how people, nature, and waterways are interconnected.
Each work of art addresses the theme in its own way. A floating igloo made of plastic jugs speaks overtly to climate change. A mystical scene of fantasy animals cavorting on an island is more enigmatic.
Many of the installations use recycled and/or natural materials, some of it rescued from the banks of the Delaware. One is made of plastic cutlery. Come at night to catch a few of the displays illuminating the water around them.
Focus on one subject: Rather than trying to capture all 10 installations, choose your favorite. This gives you a point of focus, and makes it easier to test different vantage points.
Experiment with angles: Capture your subject straight on, and then compare it to a photo taken from a different perspective. Crouch down and shoot from below so the blue sky becomes a blank-canvas background. Some of the installations lie flat on the water, which creates an opportunity to shoot down onto them from above. Even during daytime, the inky water will make the subject pop. To get the shot, hold your phone over your head and flip it to face downward.
Play with reflections: Note how the water reflects an installation, and try to include those glimmering mirror images in the frame.
Proximity is important: The high-rise buildings that line this section of the Delaware River are better left out of the frame — too distracting. To eliminate them, situate yourself close to your subject. You may need to walk along Penn’s Landing or out onto one of the floating docks in the museum’s boat basin.
If you go: Open daily through Dec. 7 along the Delaware River in the boat basin adjacent to the Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Columbus Blvd., free, philaflow.org
Franklin Square Fountain Show
The nation’s oldest public fountain now dances to tunes by Boyz II Men, Katy Perry, Louis Armstrong, and more thanks to a $2 million renovation that debuted this summer and continues through the end of October. (It returns next spring.)
New water jets shoot into the air as high as 50 feet during choreographed shows that repeat every half-hour between noon and 2 p.m., then again in the evening, when the jets are illuminated by color-changing LED lights.
Go at night: As the sun goes down, the theatrics of the lights will help your pictures really pop. The water itself is also easier to capture against a dark sky.
Experiment with a Boomerang or time-lapse: Static photos of the fountain are beautiful, but its playfulness comes across best in motion. The Boomerang app shoots a burst of 10 photos with one click and automatically turns them into a fun mini-video. To capture a longer segment of the show, try the time-lapse tips for Ghost Ship.
Consider your background: You can stand anywhere around the perimeter of the circular fountain to watch the show. Consider situating yourself across from the Franklin Square carousel so you can include it in the background.
Use gridlines: Now that you’re an expert from the Ghost Ship, turn on the gridlines of your smartphone camera to help balance the fountain in the frame. Use the fence that encircles the fountain as a reference point, aligning its top edge with one of the grid’s horizontal lines. Then, do your best to align the grid’s vertical lines so that the fountain appears straight up and down. Aim to align the center of the fountain with the middle square of the grid.
If you go: Through Oct. 31, noon to 2 p.m. daily and 6 to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday (every 30 minutes until closing), Franklin Square, 200 N. Sixth St., free, historicphiladelphia.org