The Next Chapter

Picture info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/13, 1/60 second

Picture info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/13, 1/60 second

Week 52 (7/28/2014 -8/3/2014): Central Park, New York City

Picture taken on 8/2/2014 at 3:26PM

Photograph description:

A year ago when I decided to commit to doing this photoblog my goals were simple, shoot a picture each week, and learn photography.  It makes me proud to confidently say that I accomplished both goals, and in doing so accomplished so much more.  Hunting down my weekly pictures took me all over New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and countless more places in between.  Not only did this photoblog take me to new locations, it also helped introduce me to so many new people.  This week was no different, and perhaps it was one of my best experiences yet.

A few week’s ago my brother Ryan mentioned to me that one of his college buddies was looking to propose to his girlfriend.  Ryan had shown his friend some of my pictures, as a result, he asked Ryan if I’d be interested in photographing his proposal.  Initially I was hesitant to say yes, mainly because I don’t have much experience photographing people and I didn’t want to screw up such a special occasion.  After giving it some thought I decided what the heck, I’ll give it a shot.

This week Ryan’s friend reached out to let me know Saturday was the big day, and his location of choice was Central Park.  Coincidentally, Central Park was were I hatched the idea for this photoblog so it seemed fitting to get my last picture where it all started.

We all met this past Thursday to discuss the logistics for pulling off our covert mission.  Ryan’s friend was a military officer for 5 years so of course he showed up to the meeting with a map in hand and a plan for concealing our identity from his girlfriend.  We came up with a solid plan in a matter of minutes, the only thing left was for us to execute!

Our basic plan was to link up with my brother’s friend at the Southeast corner of the park, then follow him and his girlfriend North to the Bethesda Fountain.  Once at the fountain, the two would flip some coins into the fountain and make a wish.  They would both then walk towards the Bethesda Terrace, and just as they crossed under the inner arches Ryan’s friend would drop to a knee and tell his girlfriend what he wished for, that she would marry him.

52from52-wk52(2)

Bethesda Fountain

Saturday played out like a movie, we linked up with the couple and trailed them undetected while watching the plan play out.  Once it came time for Ryan’s friend to pop the question, I moved in for the shot.  As I crouched down to take the picture something new happened, my adrenaline pumped?  It was part nerves, part excitement but absolutely a new experience for me while taking pictures.  After taking the pictures my brother and I congratulated the newly engaged couple, took some more posed picture, then were on our way.

Bethesda Terrace

Bethesda Terrace: Proposal Location

As Ryan and I worked our way south towards Columbus circle we came across some large rocks that jutted out of the ground.  Ryan decided to climb on top of one of the rocks to get a better vantage point.  Once Ryan was at the top of the rocks I directed him to look out towards the city skyline so I could take a picture.  As Ryan turned towards the skyline, I saw it, the perfect shot, the perfect picture to close out my 52 week series.

You’re probably asking, why was the picture so perfect and what did I see?  It all happened so fast that it’s hard to describe, but as I took the picture I realized Ryan was inadvertently acting out how I was feeling.  Ryan climbing the rock represented me accomplishing my goal of completing my 52 week series.  Ryan turning around towards the city represented the idea that although I just accomplished my goal, in doing so it revealed a much bigger world full of new challenges just ahead. My unique experience while taking the proposal pictures, along with the previous 52 weeks made me realize that this is not the end of my photography journey.  Simply put, this was chapter one, and now it’s time for the next chapter.

Photography Concepts:

If someone asked me, “what do you think are the most valuable lessons that you learned of the past 52 weeks”, my answer would have to be my understanding of exposure and composition.  Understanding exposure enables you to take pictures that capture scenes as you see them.  Highlights, shadows, blacks and whites are the building blocks of a good exposure, they’re also what makes up a histogram.  Without explaining the histogram, I’ll show you how taping into the power of these attributes unlocks endless creative freedom.  If however you want to learn about the histogram, check out the link below.

Using this week’s picture as my example, in camera I wasn’t able to capture the full spectrum of highlights and shadows.  What I’ve learned to do in this situation is to take an evenly exposed picture in camera, then rework the highlights and shadows in lightroom.  Below is a split screen before and after of my picture.  In order to bring back the blue and detail of the clouds I had to almost completely drop the highlights to -90.  To compensate for dropping the highlights I raised my whites, this made sure I didn’t totally darken my image.  Next I lowered my shadows and blacks to make the trees and rocks darker, and emphasise the contrast between the city and the view inside the park.  Knowing the effect of highlights, shadows, blacks and whites is what gave me the knowledge to mold the image into exactly what I wanted.

Before and After Lightroom Edit

Before and After Lightroom Edit

Just like with exposure, understanding composition enables you to capture a scene and pass on what you see to a viewer.  As I talked about in the photograph description, the site of Ryan up on the rock was very symbolic to me.  Much of what created the symbolism was the composition of the picture.  Ryan’s position in the image, and orientation of his body were the two keys to creating the powerful image.  As I’ve talked about countless times over the past 52 weeks, the rule of thirds is what guides most of my composition decisions.  I’ve practiced the rule of thirds so much that I lined Ryan up on intersection point between the right and middle thirds basically without even thinking.  Next, when I told Ryan to turn and face the buildings, I shot my picture before he completely turned and presented me with his whole back.  To me , this half turned orientation gives the feeling that he just got to the top and is just looking out for the first time.  As a comparison, I took a picture of Ryan with his back completely turned to me, and for me that seemed like the body language of someone that was deep in thought.  He might have been standing on that rock for minutes, hours or even days?  His body orientation doesn’t show motion so it seemed boring.  These are just a few examples of things to think about when you’re lining up your subjects.

Rule of Thirds Applied

Rule of Thirds Applied

Now that I explained some of the ways that I use exposure and composition to get creative, it’s your turn. I’ve spent the past 52 weeks showing you my perspective, perhaps it’s time you get out there and show me yours.  Start a blog, post more actively on Instagram, shoot YouTube videos explaining how and why you take pictures.  Do whatever it takes to share your creativity and I guarantee, you won’t regret it, I know that I don’t.

Alternate view: Ryan's back turned

Alternate view: Ryan’s back turned

Links: 

Histogram Article – Click here

 

Advertisements

Candid

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/2.8, 1/125sec

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/2.8, 1/125sec

Week 50 (7/14/2014 -7/20/2014): Parent’s Kitchen

Picture taken on 7/19/2014 6:01PM

Photography description:

This past week my brother Ryan asked me to take a headshot for his school ID.   Headshot photography isn’t my forte, mainly because of limited experience, but for family and friends I’ll always happily make an attempt.

Going into the mini shoot, using a picture of my brother for this week’s picture was never my intention.  In fact this week’s picture was more of a test shot taken while Ryan was fixing his shirt.  After I loaded everything into Lightroom for editing this picture just jumped out at me.  The texture of Ryan’s hair and shirt, along with the contrast between his white shirt and dark hair is what caught my eye.  After getting Ryan’s approval I decided this would be the perfect feature for this week’s picture.

Photography Concepts:

The natural texture and contrast of the original picture was what caught my eye, but focused editing to enhance the two attributes is what brought both to the reality of my imagination.

Original vs Edit

Original vs Edit

The first step was to add to the naturally toned contrast in the picture by changing the background from blue to grey.  In Lightroom uniformed color changes are a breeze, you simply select the color and change the hue or saturation level.  The only limiting factor is the colors you can shift to.  For example, the original blue background could have only been changed to something close to the blue spectrum (e.g. shades of blue or purple), or grey.  Luckily grey was the color I wanted, and grey was within the range I could shift to.  I turned the background grey by dropping both the blue and aqua colors saturation and luminance to zero, as seen below.

Color Edit

Color Edit

The second round of editing focused on the texture of my picture.  My brother’s hair had a lot of natural texture, but increasing the clarity and contrast brought it out even more.  Next I enhanced his shirt’s texture by dropping the highlights and white tones to reveal all of the wrinkles.  I did both of these focused edits at the full picture level (seen below) and at a more focused level using circular radial gradual filters on his head and shirt.

Lightroom edit settings

Lightroom edit settings

 

A growing family

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/3.2, 1/250 second

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/3.2, 1/250 second

Week 35 (3/31/2014 -4/6/2014): Treasure Island Beach, FL

Picture taken on 4/6/2014 at 8:03 PM

Picture description

This past weekend brought me to Florida to celebrate my cousin Danielle’s wedding.  It was a beautiful venue filled with my beautiful family.  Originally I planned to use a picture from the wedding for this post, but due to mobile limitations I decided to hold off on posting any wedding pictures until I returned and had time to properly sort through them all.  My back-up plan was to hit the beach at sunset sometime during my trip, preferably in the area of a pier.  My goal was to shoot either a long exposure and or some kind of sunset picture.  Since getting my DSLR I’ve taken two other trips to Florida, but neither visit brought me to the beach during sunset with my Nikon.  This time around I was determined to get to the beach for magic hour.

When I pitched the beach sunset idea to my family, they were all on board and even helped research locations.  After picking a location, we quickly ate dinner and set out for  “The Long Pier” at Redington Beach.  Redington Beach was a little far which had us worried about arriving late and missing the sunset.  As we drove up the coast we decided to call an audible and stop at the location of our last family reunion, Treasure Island Beach.

After arriving my cousin Courtney and I moved ahead of everyone else and headed towards the beach.  We moved as quickly as possible, taking into account my cousin is pregnant, but that didn’t seem to slow her down at all.  Once we reached the shoreline, Courtney and I both started assessing the sunset for the best shot.  Like me, Courtney is a photography enthusiast, and recently purchased a DSLR of her own.  We both shuffled around taking pictures until the rest of the family arrived.  When Courtney’s husband Ray arrived and stood next to her my eyes were immediately drawn to how their silhouettes contrasted against the sunsetting sky.  Their silhouettes were particularly meaningful because of Courtney’s little baby bump.  I took a couple steps back, told them to pose and three shots later had my picture.  Although I got plenty of great pictures that night, none seemed as meaningful as the one of Courtney and Ray.  To me this picture perfectly captured the essence of my trip, Florida, beaches, love and our growing family, both through marriage and pregnancy.

Photography concepts:

While in Florida I made it a point to shoot almost completely in manual.  The more I shoot in manual, the more I’m seeing how much it trumps my old technique of exposure compensation.  Yes I can fix my exposure in post (editing), but getting it right in camera feels more authentic and is definitely more gratifying.  Had I not shot this week’s picture in manual, my best option would have been to spot meter off the sunset background.  Spot metering should have done the trick for underexposing and therefore silhouetting my cousins, but I didn’t have time to test in order to prove my theory.

What made this picture was a combination of decisions involving, aperture, focus points, and composition.  First, I decided to shoot with a somewhat wide aperture (f/3.2).  The reason behind using a wide aperture was to isolate my subjects from the background.  A bonus was that I didn’t have to slow my shutter down too much, resulting in crisp edges in details such as strands of hair that were blowing in the wind.  Second, in order for me to get my cousins in focus and separate them from the background as I planned, I had to set my focus point on them.  Focusing on dark figures is difficult because your camera looks for contrasting colors to focus on.  Therefore I didn’t line my focus point up with either of their center masses, instead I hit the edges around their mouths.  The tricky part about using edges is knowing if you actually hit them or the background, it’s a very fine line.  I recommend zooming into your image after shooting and looking for some kind of detail such as hair to determine if you were successful.  The third and last point I want to mention is my composition.  I used the rule of thirds to determine both where I lined up my cousins, and the horizon.  I split my cousins between the left and middle thirds of the picture putting their kissing heads on the border line.  The reason I put them off center was because the background wasn’t symmetrical.  Had the the background been symmetrical, I think it would have looked better if they were symmetrically lined up too.  As for the horizon, the sky was more interesting than the water, so I gave the sky two thirds of the background space.

All of the decisions I just outlined are becoming very quick, almost instinctive decisions for me now.  I’m learning that the more you shoot, the more you fall back on the habits you developed in the early stages of learning your DSLR.  If you’re new to shooting with a DSLR, or you’re just applying these concepts to taking pictures with a point and shoot or camera phone, I encourage you to spend time thinking about what makes a good picture.  Before you shoot think about what you want to emphasize in the picture, then using the triangle of photography decide what settings are best.  Then determine your composition and start shooting.  The more time you spend on these decisions now, the less you’ll have to spend as you get more experience.  If you’re not new to taking pictures but never applied these concepts just slow yourself down and think.  The thing I always remind myself to do is take a picture less to “document” what’s going on and more to pass along the way I see things.  How do you see something?  Putting your creative spin on things is what makes it an art, that’s photography and that’s what people like to see.

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