Fighting Light

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/22, 6 seconds

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/22, 6 seconds

Week 34 (3/24/2014 -3/30/2014): Lincoln Tunnel, NJ Exit

Picture taken on 3/28/2014 at 4:44 PM

Photography description:

Long exposure photography has been a passion of mine since day one of purchasing my Nikon DSLR.  Most recently, my favorite subject for long exposures have been tunnels.  The effects that result from shooting with slow shutter speeds while driving in a tunnel are truly amazing.  My interest in tunnel/driving long exposures started after seeing a stunning picture posted on Instagram.  Some photographer wedged his DSLR in the back of his car and triggered it remotely.  The final image looked like something out of Star Wars.  All of the lights streaked, giving the feeling of motion to the viewer.  The concept captured my attention not only because it was visually beautiful, but because I like the idea of portraying a feeling through photography.  After seeing the picture on Instagram I knew that I had to try my hand at that type of picture.

Over the past couple of months I’ve had a couple opportunities to try out a tunnel long exposure.  Thus far I’ve only experimented in the Lincoln and Battery tunnels, but both have provided great images.  I haven’t strapped my camera to the back of the car yet, instead I came up with my own method.  I sit in the passenger seat and use a mini tripod to stabilize my camera on the dashboard.

Prior to this week, most of my tunnel pictures were shot using aperture priority, with an exposure time of under one second.  As I’ve mentioned over the past few weeks one of my new goals is to shoot in manual more often, so this weeks tunnel picture was shot in manual.  I’ll talk more about why I chose specific settings in the photography concepts section.

This week’s capture was the last picture I took before exiting the Lincoln tunnel during my Friday commute home.  I previously shot a picture that I really liked at the exit of the Battery tunnel, so my goal was to shoot something similar inn the Lincoln.  The contrasting or “fighting light” (dark/bright) that exists at a tunnels exit presents the perfect scenario for an interesting photograph.

Battery Tunnel Long Exposure

Battery Tunnel Long Exposure

Photography concepts:

As the end of the tunnel approached, it felt like a race to get my camera’s settings right for my photograph.  The stress and potential for a mistake that exists while shooting is the main negative about being in manual mode, but the risk is worth the reward.  Shooting in manual was the key to this week’s picture because I didn’t want to lose control of my shutter speed.  In order to get the picture looking as I imagined, I needed a slow shutter and for it to close right as I exited the tunnel.  Had my shutter stayed open too long after exiting, my entire image would have been blown out.  The aperture I selected (f/22) was more of an experiment than something I knew would work.  Previously I shot most of my tunnel pictures with a wide aperture, the smallest being about f/7.  Post picture, I’m happy with the look that f/22 generated.  Although mostly everything is blurred, the texture of the road at the tunnel exit is still visible, and that’s due to shooting at f/22.  Shooting at such a small aperture also enabled me to hit a slower shutter while maintaining the exposure that I wanted.  In my mind I wanted the exit of the tunnel to be completely blown out (white) so I purposely overexposed my image.  The result of all these things turned out to be almost exactly what I was looking for.

This week was the first time that my post production led me to doing photoshop manipulation.  I’m not a fan of “editing” an image in the way of changing what you originally shot.  I don’t mind editing the raw images attributes (contrast, clarity, hue, ect.) to modify an image, but I usually feel changing the structure of an image in photoshop is cheating.  In my opinion once you start changing your image, you move out of the photography world, and more into the art realm of painting and or drawing.  This week however I made an exception to my rule.  As a result of my longer shutter speed, some of the light blur in my image became choppy.  The choppiness was due to the car’s vibrations which usually aren’t as obvious with quicker shutters ( < 1 second).  What I decided to do was use the smudge and blur tools in photoshop to smoothing things out.  The result of my photoshop manipulations left my image looking more like a painting than an actual photograph.  As I said I’m usually not a big fan of doing this, but I’m really happy with the way this image came out this week.  I’m not planning on making a habit of manipulating my photo’s like this, but it’s nice knowing that I can with some sort of success.

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The right spot

Picture Info: ISO 640, 38mm, f/22, 1/400sec

Picture Info: ISO 640, 38mm, f/22, 1/400sec

Week 33 (3/17/2014-3/23/2014): Hoboken NJ

Picture taken on 3/22/2014 at 6:08 PM

Photography description:

Late again, but just with the post.  I got this picture over the weekend which was within my self imposed weekly deadline.  Usually missing my deadline (or any deadline) would drive me absolutely nuts, but I decided that I wouldn’t beat myself up about it this time.  Lately I’m trying to be more relaxed and not stress myself out over little things.  Although my stress free mentality was partially  why I missed my posting deadline, the main reason for the latent post was because last week was one hell of a week.  It was my turn again to provide support coverage for work, and let’s just say the luck of the Irish was not on my side.  Every time I tried to venture out to get a picture my phone buzzed.  The constant interruption, or threat of one, didn’t allow me to get more than a few blocks from my apartment.  Although my localized limitation still would have permitted me to visit the Hoboken waterfront, I didn’t want to feature another skyline picture this week.  There are a lot of techniques that I’m still exploring and to do so I need to find something beyond the skyline to experiment on.

After walking around for about an hour I got a couple good pictures which I thought would potentially work as a featured photo but nothing made me too excited.  On my way back to my apartment I stumbled upon a church with this beautiful stone front exterior.  The masonry was looking exceptionally nice because of the way it was catching the fading light of twilight.  I reached back into my bag pulled out my camera and began the result is what you see here.

Photography concepts:

Last week I threw out a challenge to try and shoot more pictures in “manual” mode.  Unfortunately this week’s photograph was not shot in manual, but it was a step in the right direction.  After spotting how the light was getting captured along the church’s jagged stone edges, I knew that I couldn’t let my camera make the exposure decision.  As good as my camera is, the human eye is better at judging exposure.

When I pulled out my camera it was in aperture priority with spot metering turned on, so I stuck with that setting.  In case you didn’t know, spot metering mode allows you to set (or “meter”) the exposure of your image from a specific point.  Usually if you leave your camera on the default mode, which for my Nikon is “matrix metering” (the name varies by camera brand), the camera will inspect what’s in frame and choose what it thinks is the best overall exposure.  The important part of that statement is the word “overall.”  What I’ve noticed is that when a picture has lots of variance in shading sometimes the camera will try to compensate for the darker areas such as shadows and overexpose the image.  The image won’t be overexposed to the level that there is damage done, but it doesn’t look like what you see with the naked eye.  One way to prevent your camera’s miscalculation is to shoot in manual, which as I said I did not do this time.  The other is to use a more manual metering method, which is what I did with spot metering.  For this picture I metered my exposure off of the top of the image.  The top had the most amount of light so I wanted to make sure that stayed exposed just right, with the rest of the image fading into shadow.  The difference in lighting a little more obvious in a zoomed out version of my picture.

Picture Info: ISO 640, 17mm, f/22, 1/400sec

Picture Info: ISO 640, 17mm, f/22, 1/400sec

As you can see spot metering allows you to get a very natural look with the shadows.  This is a mode that I’ve been experimenting a lot with lately, the hardest part is having the time to select the exposure point and recompose.  In the coming weeks I’ll continue to work spot metering into my photography and try to point it out whenever I do.

White Site

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/2.2, 1/5 sec, -.6 ND filter

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/2.2, 1/5 sec, -.6 ND filter

Week 32 (3/10/2014 -3/16/2014): World Trade Center PATH station

Picture taken on 3/13/2014 at 12:33 PM

Picture Description:

Architecture has been an interest of mine for almost as far back as I can remember.  As a kid I dreamt of becoming an architect, but life had other plans.  Why and how I didn’t fulfill my childhood dream is a story for another time.  I don’t regret not becoming an architect, I’m very happy with where I’m at professionally, but there are days I find myself daydreaming about a good blueprint or 3D model.  Since I don’t practice architecture professionally I can only seek out nice locations to appreciate the work of others.

This past Thursday was one of those days where I decided to set out to see some local modern architecture.  My destination was the new World Trade Center (WTC) PATH station. I’ve been admiring the WTC PATH station via online posts (mainly instagram) for a while, so it was nice to finally see it in person.  Of course beyond just admiring the architecture, I wanted to photograph the location.  As I said, I’ve seen lots of posts online of the station and sadly all of them seemed almost identical.  Prior to arriving I planned out some shots in my head that might provide a more unique view.

Usual eye level shot (taken at 18mm)

Usual eye level shot (taken at 18mm)

As the train pulled into the station I was nearly blinded by all the bright white marble that made up the platform.  Getting off the train felt like walking into a dream or train station from the future.  I spent the next 20-30 minutes touring the area and eventually met up with my younger brother.  After linking up, my brother and I went to the main hallway that everyone has been photographing.  Most of the pictures that I’ve seen were taken at eye level, so naturally one way to get a more unique view was to shoot from low to the ground.  My plan was to set my camera up few inches off the ground using my mini tripod.  One advantage about using my mini tripod in a public location is most people don’t realize I’m taking a picture.  From a distance it could almost look like I’m tying my shoe.  While at WTC this ‘stealthy’ feature proved to be a big advantage because once one of the staff members realized I wasn’t playing with my shoe strings he told me “no tripods are allowed.”  The staff member then said my alternative was to put my camera on the ground.  This really made no sense considering shooting with my camera on the ground or with the little tripod takes up the same amount of space.  Although I didn’t agree with the rule, I had already gotten my shot so I saw no reason in arguing and took that as my cue to leave.

Photography Concepts:

There were two main lessons that I took away from shooting this week’s picture.  The first lesson was that with so much white my camera tried to underexpose the image.  In order to get the image the way I wanted, I had to override my camera’s judgement and overexpose the image via exposure compensation.  I could have shot in manual which would have given me more control over exposure, but I was trying to shoot quick before I got told to move (which did eventually happen).  Lately I’ve been finding that I am hardly ever using the even exposure my camera calculates.  Thus far I’ve mainly used exposure compensation (+/- 3 stops) to adjust my image, but I think it’s time for me to just start shooting in manual.  It’s a big step shooting all manual but when it comes to shooting an image such as this week’s, it’s the better way to go.

The second lesson learned was the ideal shutter speed to shoot to give a slight blur to people walking.  My original idea was to shoot with a long shutter (10+ seconds) to get ghost like blurs of people walking.  Unfortunately since there weren’t many people in the hall, when I shot a 15 second exposure there was hardly a hint of people, except one guy that was standing still.  From that point I began winding my camera’s dial to increase my shutter speed, eventually settling at 1/5 of a second.  I didn’t know at the time, but I had luckily stumbled upon the ideal shutter speed for blurring people walking.  Below is a link to a guide I found after Thursday which provides the ideal shutter speeds for capturing certain effects.  

15 second exposure

15 second exposure

The last thing I want to mention is something I learned from watching Lightroom Tutorial video.  There is a feature in lightroom that allows you to correct perspective.  Let me tell you, this is absolutely awesome.  For me it’s always difficult to get my camera’s lens oriented correctly to capture perfectly straight vertical or horizontal lines.  Lightroom’s perspective correction is something I always knew I needed but never knew existed.  Watch the video (link below) and you will understand the features capabilities better.

In the coming weeks when I’m not forced to shoot under a time restraint I’m going to try to shoot in manual mode.  My guess is this will open a whole new world of opportunities and image quality for me.  Only time will tell…

Links:

Shutter Speed Cheat Sheet

http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2012/06/26/best-shutter-speeds-for-every-situation/

Lightroom Perspective Correction:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bU_r5hS4fpE&list=PLmXfFxjdp3CH8D2p_Rm5RKtOUmGGzpnFj

Sounds like home

Picture info: ISO 3200, 36mm, f/4.5, 1/320 seconds

Picture info: ISO 3200, 36mm, f/4.5, 1/320 seconds

Week 31 (3/3/2014 -3/9/2014): Wood-Ridge NJ

Picture taken on 3/6/2014 at 6:59 PM

Photography description:

It all started about 26 years ago on one seemingly regular afternoon.  I was too young to remember but I’ve been told the story hundreds of times.  My mother left me (then a baby) with my dad as she went out to run some errands.  A few hours later my mom returned to a house filled with the sound of music.  Figuring I was asleep in my room she went to check on me, to her surprise I was not in my crib!?  She scrambled around looking for me and immediately ran towards my father who was still playing the piano.  “Louis! Where is Anthony?!” my mother said, as my father turned around from the piano to answer she saw that I was sound asleep strapped to my father’s stomach.  I believe that in that moment my love for music was born.  From that day on music has been a source of comfort for me and always reminds me of home.  

As the years passed my father continued playing the piano and my love for listening never faded.  Though I’ll admit there were times where I didn’t agree with the music selection which usually led to a clash between my father and I.  Overall the amount of times I enjoyed listening to my father play far outnumbered the times I wanted to hit the mute button.

Fast forward to this past Wednesday, I was taken back to my childhood through the sound of the piano.  Visiting my parents is always nice but this time was especially great.  As my mother prepared a delicious meal, my father treated us to some musical entertainment.  Talk about sensory overload.  Between the sounds of the piano and the smell from the kitchen it was hard to not soak up the feeling of being home.  Luckily I had my camera on hand to capture a moment that I’ll always remember.

Photography concepts:

Light and how it fills a room is something that I always try to focus on in my pictures.  During my father’s mini concert all of the lights were off, with the exception of the one piano light.  The single light source enabled me to focus in on my father with everything else faded to black.  

Initially I set my camera to manual (M) to give me full control over the exposure.  The picture that I had in mind was one where my father was surrounded by darkness with only him and the piano softly illuminated.   While in manual I had two options for how to expose my picture.  One option was the shutter speed, the other option was my aperture.  The hardest part was finding the perfect equilibrium between the both the shutter speed and aperture.  If I shot with a wide open aperture it was hard to keep everything in focus (small plan of focus).  Meanwhile if I shot with a small aperture and a slow shutter my fathers hands began to blur.  Although the motion blurred hands looked interesting, it wasn’t exactly what I was going for plus it was hard to keep everything else from blurring too.  If I had my tripod I may have set that up and tried to get a nice motion blur image.  Unfortunately I left my tripod at my apartment so long exposures were out of the question.

Alternate view

Alternate view

Eventually I flipped my camera into aperture priority (A on Nikon) and used the exposure compensation feature to adjust my image’s exposure.  In order for me to get the picture to look the way I wanted, I had to underexpose the image by -2.3 stops.  After finding the right exposure it was all about finding the best composition to capture the moment.

Keeping the rule of thirds in mind as a guide, I moved around firing off shots from different angles.  I tried everything, directly behind my father, from the side, low angle, eye level, up close on his hands but nothing seemed to fit.  Then I remembered one of the handy features of my D5200, the rotating screen.  I flipped out my screen tilted it down and held my camera high above my head to line up my shot.  Finally I found the right angle which captures everything, the piano, my father and the sheet music.  This week I shot my picture pretty close to what I wanted in Camera so there wasn’t too much editing required.  I’ve talked about editing a lot over the past few weeks so this week I’ll skip it.   It makes me happy to say that thanks to the skills I’ve learned over the past 31 weeks,  I was able to create the image that I originally had in mind.

Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds

Time Flies

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/4000 sec

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/4000 sec

Week 30 (2/24/2014 -3/2/2014): Hoboken Waterfront

Picture taken on 3/2/2014 at 12:14 PM

Photograph description

Wow week 30 and I can’t believe how fast time has flown since I started this project.  Doing this photoblog is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  I have learned so much, made some new friends and have become even more hooked on photography.  That being said, I’m excited to see what the next 22 weeks will bring!

I was a little off my game this week when it came to taking pictures.  Usually I get out about 1-2 times per week, this way once Sunday hits I have some options for my post.  I’d like to say my lack of photo time was because it was hard to find time, but it was mainly hard to find the motivation to get out and fight the cold.  Waking up Sunday I felt the pressure to find a good picture to feature and lucky for me it wasn’t too cold.  As I have so often this winter, I went out along the Hoboken waterfront to see what I could find.

To get in the mood I threw on some headphones and lost myself in the hypnotic beats of Armin Vann Burren on SiriusXM’s electronic area.  Oddly enough electronic music has the ability to both get me amped and sooth me, sometimes simultaneously.  This time around Armin’s mix had more of a relaxing effect as I strolled around in the cloudy day.  After looping around the newly opened walkway that encircles the 4th street field, I came upon a surprisingly brave seagull.  No matter how quickly I moved towards him the seagull would only fly out a few feet then perch right back on the railing.  This seagull’s challenging attitude provided me with a unique opportunity to adjust my camera settings to find the ideal exposure and composition.

Photography concepts:

Shooting fast, shooting often and anticipating movement are the keys to photographing birds and most animals.  Shooting fast and often seems pretty obvious but the trick is knowing how to set up your camera to do so.  Ideally you want to use your camera’s fastest shutter speed.  The easiest way to get a fast shutter speed is to shoot with a large aperture.  The aperture will vary based on available light, but in most cases your safest bet is to shoot wide open at your lenses largest aperture.  My lenses widest aperture is f/1.8.  Shooting at my lenses maximum aperture allowed me to achieve a super fast shutter of 1/4000 of a second.  You may have noticed that even with shooting as fast as I did, the seagulls wings are still a just a little blurry.  It’s possible the blur is due to a little lag in focus but I’m pretty happy with my camera’s ability to focus quickly so it’s more likely due to a small plane of focus.

Now how to shoot often? My camera and most other DSLR’s have different shooting modes which allow for faster frames per second.  The fastest my camera will shoot is 5 frames per second.  This allowed me to hold down my shutter release button and let my camera fire off lots of consecutive bursts to capture all the action.

Now even with a fast shutter and my camera firing off almost continuous bursts, all would have been lost had I not positioned myself correctly.  Birds and other animals usually give away their next move by the way they orient their body or with their body language.  In the case of this seagull when he was about to fly he usually dipped his head and obviously started ruffling his wings.  I took his flight cues and  body orientation as my cue for where to lead my camera and when to start shooting.

One  last point worth noting, although I shot at f/1.8 I could have shot with a smaller aperture by increasing my ISO.  The reason that I shot at f/1.8 was to get the background totally blurred.  If you don’t want the background blurred raise your ISO and shoot with a smaller aperture.  Shooting with a smaller aperture will also give you a bigger margin of error in terms your plane of focus.  Don’t take my word for it, play around with your settings to find the look that you like.  Just remember you might only get one shot at the picture so practice and know what your settings are before you approach your subject.