Photography at Lukens Steel

The Photography Workshop advertised an unique photo session at Lukens Steel factory.  I wanted to attend this session, but I already had plans to visit Maryland and attempt to complete the Maryland Lighthouse Challenge in the same weekend.  Ugh, again! – there’s not enough time (or money) for all of the stuff I want to do.  But since this was a rare opportunity, I determined to try and accomplish both.

Madness. My normal state of being.  😉


Providers of event

Allow me to plug the provider of this experience: Photography Workshop and Lukens Steel museum site.

Mark conducted a photography session at the Lukens’ “abandoned” factory. He carefully prepares all guests with awareness of what is required for attending the training session and will email you release forms you can pre-fill and bring with you. Or, if you are like me, you receive this informative email and ignored it completely. I arrived with a smile and my camera – oblivious of the paperwork he needed for access to the site. But Mark was prepared (probably from tons of hands-on experience with people like me!), and had forms ready for us to fill out right there. Thanks, Mark!


Lukens is a massive complex of buildings and structures from Pennsylvania’s iron and steel history. Lukens’ unique history was to have the world’s largest plate mill, with massive rolling / press equipment.  Our photography session allowed us access to one of the largest buildings on site.

The factory is no longer in use and was partially dismantled when it closed.  The great structure now sits – not quite abandoned – but not available for guest visitation. It is a controlled abandoned site, waiting for funds to be raised for a future museum space.

The museum on site isn’t found in the great factory space, but one one of the beautiful office buildings nearby:  The National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum (   If you are interesting in Pennsylvania’s 300 years of iron and steel history and industrial might, put this location on your travel list.

If you can’t visit soon, please consider a small monetary donation to help them raise the funds to open up the factory space as an actual museum – minus the dirt and grime I so wanted to photograph!

Hard hats and dust

Our appointment was early in the morning, which I was appreciative of since I was trying to do two difficult tasks in one day.  We met in the parking lot while the Coatesville Vintage Car Grand Prix was roaring in the streets nearby. Luckily the day was bright and clear – which made our photography session more ideal.

I now know that Mark, our session leader, planned the event early in the hopes that early morning sunlight would beam through the factory’s high windows and create dramatic lighting affects in the dark space inside.  And boy, did this perfect day provide streaming sunlight!



We donned our hard hats, observed the safety rules, and then entered the giant structure. This was my first visit, so everything was new and interesting. I saw that the one side of the factory was blasted with bright morning sunshine. Sunlight sliced through the factor’s windows and lit up the green plastic roof skylights.

The dim, dark interior was painted with light in a novel way. I was reminded of a stained glass window in a large church. The light was brilliant, colors painted the dark interior. Unlike churches, however, the sunlight could be textured with disturbed dust as fellow photographers stirred up tiny whirls of dust when they walked.


Industrial Decay

Dust and dirt cover everything. The atmosphere is perfect for those who love industrial images, abandoned spaces photography, and decay images.  This is a good opportunity for controlled ‘abandoned’ photography sessions.  

\"LukensDespite the grim grey of the interior, it was easy to find spots of color and contrast that showed the beauty of the place.  I’m drawn to color. I can’t help but see the bright blue of paint from the train engine, or the yellow guard rails, or the green skylight plastic covering – these colors become more pronounced when hidden in the deep dark of this massive building and covered with dust.

Museum items, Trains and Twin Towers


I was stunned to find large trains parked on site. The scale of this place is difficult to convey, but perhaps knowing that several train engines and cars are stored under one roof may help.

Also, the structure houses several steel beams from the Twin Towers that were attacked on 9/11.  These are also part of the future-museum collection. This space is large enough to house and store massive structures – including several giant metal support beams from the Twin Towers.

Several items were marked “museum” – indicating they were here for display in the future museum space.  I enjoyed guessing what the items used to be or do.

These\"Lukens two hooks are both marked with “museum” on tape.  It was impossible to capture their size without having someone in the picture – so here is a photo of these two giant hooks next to a fellow photographer.

Second Building

The second building – who’s name and purpose I’ve forgotten – was also opened to us. This was a tall, narrow building with large industrial equipment still available on the ground floor.  There were giant collections of equipment I couldn’t fully explain: I could discern electrical connections, seismographs, switches, and various controls. But what these did – that remains something of a mystery.


The building was beautiful, however. It was lined with shiny yellow tiles, which brightened the interior and created an echo as I moved through the structure.  When I was entering the building, someone told me to keep an eye out for vultures who apparently nest in the high ceilings – but I never saw any birds in the building. I confess I was disappointed that there were no vultures. I was promised vultures!

\"LukensWe may never see equipment and gear like this again. Our digital age has changed everything, and history is slipping into the past faster than ever.

The next time I attend a workshop, I’ll be sure to get more photographic advice and leave time to settle back and study the process.  Instead, after a few hours of exploring the location and taking somewhat OK photos – I hopped in Nimbus, ate a packed lunch and drove straight to Baltimore to start the Lighthouse Challenge.