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.

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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

 

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Circling Back

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/20, 20 Second

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/20, 20 Second

Week 43 (5/26/2014 -6/1/2014): Uptown Hoboken

Picture taken on 5/30/2014 at 9:49 PM

Photograph description:

Hoboken is a great place to live if you enjoy running.  Hoboken has countless running routes to choose from, most of which are accompanied by an amazing view.  Since moving to Hoboken over a year ago I’ve mapped out a few of my own running routes.  Each route presents a different physical challenge along with the constant mental challenge of fighting the urge to stop and take pictures every few steps.  Out of all the routes I run, my favorite is what I refer to as my “uptown route.”  My uptown route starts at Maxwell Park and hugs the water line all the way into Weehawken.  Eventually I circle back to Hoboken the same way I came, with my finish line being the path featured in this picture.  The reason this route is my favorite is because typically there aren’t many other joggers to get in my way and of course having this view as my finish line is a nice perk.

I run a few times per week so I’ve seen this view countless times and countless times I’ve said to myself that would make for a great picture.  Not only is this a beautiful site, it also reminds me to always finish what I start.  Each time I get to this point of my run I’m usually tired and ready to stop, but instead of slowing down I usually kick up the intensity for this last straight away. Typically I wait until some other runner makes it about halfway then I chase them down and try to finish ahead of them.  I believe that the more you train yourself to push through hard situations, the more it becomes second nature and the stronger you’ll be both physically and mentally.  This is the code that I live by and this picture reminds me to practice this each and every day.  Always finish and always finish strong!

Photography concepts:

One of the reasons this view always draws me in is because of the natural “Leading Lines” composition.  The lights and trees that line the path converge and take your eyes straight towards the Empire State Building.  Year round this is a powerful view but the conditions never seemed right for me to get a good picture.  Additionally the street lights always presented glare issues that took away from the picture.  Recently I figured out the right camera settings and editing techniques to eliminate the glare issues so I finally decided to give this picture a shot.

The camera setting that has helped the most with photographing strong light sources (e.g. the sun, street lights, ect.) has been a small aperture.  The smaller the aperture the less bleeding light and the cleaner it looks.  For night photography f/18 and above is a great aperture to use.  If you’re using this small of an aperture at night it’s more than likely that you’ll be hitting some slow shutter speeds so don’t forget your tripod.

When it came time to edit this picture there were two adjustments that were key.  First, to bring out the detail in the Empire State Building I dropped the highlights of the area surrounding the building.  I’ve found that dropping the highlights of buildings at night makes them look very crisp.  The second adjustment was to lower the saturation all colors in the image except green.  What this did was eliminate any of the lens glare that showed up as random colors, and it made the leading lines composition of the trees even more of a focal point.  As a result the not only does the composition of the image take you down the path but the isolation of the green color also acts as a guide for your eyes too.

The last aspect of this picture that helped enhance the composition was the size of the Empire State Building.  If you’re a Hoboken local and you’ve taken this picture before chances are the Empire State Building was much smaller than in this picture.  Why is that? It’s because of my focal length 36mm x 1.5 = 54mm.  Most phones shoot at around 30mm and since focal length essentially equates to zoom so when I use ~54mm the building is larger.  The thing that’s interesting about zoom is if you stand further back your foreground will be scaled regular, but whatever is in the background (e.g. the Empire State Building) will appear larger than usual.  You see this technique a lot when people photograph the moon and get that insanely large moon backdrop.  Although I shot with a greater zoom then people do with phones, my image resembles how this path looks like to the naked eye.  Had I stood further back and zoomed in with 80mm+ the Empire State Building would have looked massive.  I’m limited to the 35mm range for this blog but I encourage you to try zoomed focal lengths to scale up your backdrop subjects.  Experiment with your camera’s settings and new focal lengths, it’s the only way you’ll learn!

A Year Down the Road

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/22, 5.0 seconds

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/22, 5.0 seconds

Week 42 (5/19/2014 -5/25/2014): “The Farm” PA

Picture taken on 5/25/2014 at 9:00PM

Photography Description:

Progress, it’s something that is noticeable but not always easy to measure.  Some progress is tangible while other progress is more metaphysical.  When it comes to metaphysical progress, the question is how can you measure the progress of something that doesn’t have a scale of measure.  Take for example a picture, how can you scale a picture’s quality?  Is a picture measured by the number of “likes”, the price tag someone can sell it for, or is it the satisfaction the photographer get’s after taking it?  The concept of measuring my own progress in the world of photography is one that I’ve been dwelling on recently.  I feel like I’m getting better, but how can I truly measure my progress?

This past week presented the perfect opportunity for me to try and measure my progress in the world of photography.  For me, one of the key metrics in progress is difference over time.  In terms of photography this means you need to take the same picture or shoot the same subject at two intervals of time.  How does this relate to last week? Well last week marked the one year anniversary of purchasing my camera.  I couldn’t think of a better way to gauge my progress than comparing pictures I took in the first week of owning my camera, to ones I took one year later.

During the week I went out and tried to recreate some of my first attempted “night photography” pictures.  After successfully recreating one of the pictures I took on the first night of owning my camera, the progress was pretty clear.  However, after looking at my recreation I realized one nuance in my recreation idea.  I couldn’t limit myself to taking the “exact” picture, I needed to place myself at the same location but then shoot freely choosing whatever composition I liked.  Since composition is such a large component of photography, it seemed silly to force myself into recomposing images that might have been better from another perspective.

On Friday, I set out for my traditional Memorial Day weekend trip to “The Farm,” which is my friend Bob’s PA house.  While in route I was excited knowing “The Farm’s” rural landscape would act as the perfect testing ground for my progress.

Recreation of a shot from 2013

Recreation of a shot from 2013

Without getting into the technical aspect of my progress (I’ll cover that in the next section), let me just say WOW, I saw a whole new side to the Farm.  It’s worth noting that I’ve been going to the Farm for 11 years, so something new totally blew my mind!  Take this week’s picture for example.  Never before have I thought to walk down this road during sunset.  It wasn’t until this year that it dawned on me, this road, sunset and mountain background would make for the perfect leading line composition.  The new perspectives didn’t stop at this road.  The entire weekend I was shown how photography has unlocked a whole new world for me visually.  That’s progress, and although it’s not entirely measurable it’s certainly noticeable to me and hopefully everyone else. Seeing the progress that I’ve made in a year makes me excited to think about where I’ll be another year down the road.  Only time will tell…

The last night's sunset

The last night’s sunset

Photography Concepts:

There are three major differences between the way I shoot now, versus how I shot a year ago.  First and probably the most important is the picture format that I shoot in.  Last year I had no clue about RAW vs. JPEG, so I shot in JPEG to give myself more pictures per SD card.  Had I shot this week’s picture in JPEG, I never would have been able to edit it the way I did.  This week’s picture was shot in Nikon’s RAW “.NEF” format.  While shooting, I purposely underexposed my image by a few stops knowing that it would better retain the detail in the sky, and I would be able to recover the lost detail in the foreground.  Simply put, last year I was unaware of the RAW power of shooting in .NEF…pun intended.

The second major difference between last year and now, is that I now mainly shoot in manual mode instead of aperture priority.  Manual mode is what enabled me to under expose my image to my desired level.  I made the jump to shooting more in manual a few weeks ago and I can tell you it’s been paying off in almost every one of my pictures.  Not only do I have more control, but I’m getting quicker at determining what settings are best for specific lighting or subject scenarios. Using this picture as an example, I instantly knew I wanted almost everything in focus so I shot at f/22.  Initially I didn’t have my tripod when I show this picture.  Last year I might have opened my aperture to f/2.8 so I could shoot with a fast enough shutter.  This year I knew f/2.8 wouldn’t let me capture the image I wanted, so I ran back to the house grabbed my tripod and tapped into the power of f/22’s large plane of focus.

Last but definitely not least is what I touched on in the previous section, composition.  Before taking the trip to the Farm this year I reviewed some of my pictures to see how I shot things.  What I noticed was that I wasn’t composing my pictures to take advantage of the full scene.  This year I focused more on lining things up or positioning myself at a location that gave me the best angle.  As often as you can, while out shooting mentally take a step back and think to yourself where is the best angle?  On top of that don’t fall in love with one location, move around!  Last year I was one of the biggest offenders of getting concrete shoes.  I picked a spot and took countless pictures.  This year I took 5-10 pictures ranging in aperture from a location, then moved to the next spot.  When you get home the last thing you want to see is 200 of the same picture.  Variety is good so don’t forget to move.

That about wraps up my review of the differences between this year and last year.  There were other things that I noticed, such as how I edit now, but it’s far too much to fit into one post.  As I get closer to the end of this blog you can expect more then and now comparisons.  Until then, I’m gone for now…

 

A shot I never saw before

Leading Lines Pt2

Reflecting on Goals

Picture info: ISO 100, 34mm, f/2.8, 1/500sec

Picture info: ISO 100, 34mm, f/2.8, 1/500sec

Week 37 (4/14/2014 -4/20/2014): 8th Street, Hoboken

Picture taken on 4/19/2014 at 7:33 PM

Picture description:

What do I want to accomplish? This is a question that often keeps me awake at night.  I’m all about setting goals and  doing whatever it takes to complete them.  Step one of having a goal oriented mindset is obvious, set some kind of goal.  If you don’t know what you want to accomplish, how can you achieve it?  This “goal oriented process” is the concept I applied after purchasing my camera, my goal was to learn photography.  After setting my goal, step two was figuring out a way to achieve my goal, which led me to create this photoblog.  With the end of this photoblog quickly approaching, I’ve been spending time thinking about what will be my next step in achieving my overall goal of learning photography.   Learning photography is hard to measure though, one can argue that you can never fully learn photography.  There will always be  some new camera, some new technique or just something new to learn.  Knowing that I’ll never be able to measure my original goal has made me think, perhaps it’s time I expand my goal and decide what I’d like to do with my newly found photography knowledge?  I’m now asking myself, what do I want to use my photography to accomplish?  Is my passion for photography just a hobby, or do I want to take it further?

This past weekend I set aside some time to think about the questions I’ve raised about my next steps.  While kicking around ideas I decided to throw on a YouTube video from one of my favorite photography resources, “CamerRec Toby.”  Toby is a photography pro out in Vermont with his own YouTube channel devoted to reviews and tips about photography gear and techniques .  I’ve cited Toby’s videos before but this week one of his videos really caught my attention.  In the video (link below) Toby and his co-host Christina discussed an article “7 Reasons why most Photographers and Videographers don’t Reach their Goals” (link below).  The article was so relevant to what I was currently thinking about it almost seemed like it was targeted directly at me.  In the article the author talks about photographers setting too general of goals  (e.g. Learning photography), and how it’s important to have measurable goals. The article helped put things in perspective and made me realize it’s time for me to set some measurable goals.  The article and Toby’s video also motivated me to push forward on one of the smaller goals that I’ve been toying with.  As of this past weekend, I’ve decided that I’m going to participate in the next Hoboken Art & Music festival in September.  My main goal isn’t to make money (though that’s always a bonus), my main goal is to meet lots of people and seeing who and what might help me decide where to take my photography next.

With a new goal (participate in the Art & Music Festival) set, step two was to figure out a way to accomplish it.  There are many things that will go into preparing for the festival, but one of the most basic things is having plenty of pictures.  As a result, this weekend I also decided to start a new project called “Hoboken Streets.”  Since the festival is held in Hoboken, it seems logical to think many of the attendees will be Hoboken residents.  Having a geographically targeted audience means I should have geographically targeted pictures, hence my “Hoboken Street” idea.

If you’re still with me, you’re probably asking, “how in the world does all this related to this week’s picture?”  Well, even before officially deciding on the idea of doing a “Hoboken Streets” project, I wanted to explore more of Hoboken.  Over the past few weeks I’ve changed up my nightly running route and began zig zagging around town looking for pictures.  This past week one of my runs led me up 8th street towards Stevens around sunset, where I found this location.  It might come as a surprise but I don’t run with my camera, so a few days later I circled back with my Nikon and got the shot.

Photography concepts:

I wrote a little too much in the previous section, and the article I referenced could somewhat fall into this section so this week I’ll keep this section short.  Two keys to this picture were composition and editing.  In terms of composition, I wanted to have an equal balance between the sky/silhouette and the solar panels which were reflecting the sky/silhouettes.  Instead of following the usual rule of thirds guidelines I split my image in two halves horizontally (top/bottom).  The bottom half was focused on the reflection which was meant to lead your eyes down the path to the top half, which was meant to feature the sky and silhouettes.

Editing was key for this image because I wanted to emphasize the contrast between the dark silhouettes and light from the sunset.  In order to do create a nice contrast, I dropped the overall vibrancy of the image while boosting the saturation of specific colors.  After my color adjustments, I was left with the contrasting image that I was looking for.  Of course there were some other adjustments (e.g spot adjustments, highlights, clarity, ect.) but nothing more than I’ve talked about in previous weeks.  If you haven’t already, circle back and read some of my earlier weeks posts to get some more in depth tips on editing and composition.

Article:

http://theslantedlens.com/2014/7-reasons-photographers-videographers-dont-reach-goals/

CameraRec Toby Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhGUyD2g7Eo

 

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.

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.

Halfway there

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/22, 4seconds, -2.1 ND filter, -.7 exposure

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/22, 4 seconds, -2.1 ND filter, -.7 exposure

Week 26 (1/27/2014 – 2/2/2014) : Hoboken Uptown Pier

Picture taken on 2/1/2014 at 3:30 PM

Picture description:

This week marks the halfway point of my fifty two week photoblog series.  Throughout the week I jumped back and forth a lot trying to decide what picture/subject to shoot for my twenty sixth post.  In the end I decided where better to shoot than where I started twenty six weeks ago?  That’s right, I returned to my favorite spot in Hoboken along the uptown waterfront.  After I finally submitted to the idea I grabbed a coffee from bwè kafe and sat on “my bench” to think out how I could put a new twist on a picture I’ve taken so many times.  As I mentally flipped through the various pictures that I’ve taken at the location I paused on one picture taken with a triple exposure.  In the picture a runner zoomed through the frame and gave off a ghost like image.  As I sat at my bench dwelling on the ghost image it hit me, what if I used myself to create another “ghost like” image and thus was literally halfway in the picture, or “halfway there.”  This seemed like a cleverly fun idea and I’m glad that I was able to pull it off.

Photography concepts:

To pull off the “halfway there” image idea I had two options.  My first option was to shoot the picture like the original “ghost like” image using a double or triple exposure.  A multiple exposure picture would have been easy, so I decided to go with a more challenging option that utilized more of the skills/knowledge I’ve learned over the past twenty six weeks.  What I decided was to shoot my picture using a long exposure and wireless trigger.  This sounds straight forward enough too but the challenge was to do this during the day.  In daylight long exposures are hard to execute, luckily this is something I’ve done in the past in a few of my posts.  With the use of my handy neutral density filters, and a super small aperture of f/22, I was able to hit a shutter speed of four seconds.  Four seconds was the perfect amount of time to create a “halfway there’ image.  I stayed in the frame for 2 seconds then quickly jumped out of frame for the remaining 2.  It took me a couple of attempts but eventually I nailed it!

Challenge number two of this week was how to edit an otherwise boring skyline.  When shooting the skyline from Hoboken I typically wait for a day with interesting clouds, or wake up really early to shoot at sunrise.  This time I had already missed my sunrise option for the day, and literally had too many clouds to work with.  When I shot this picture it was a cloudy overcast day with a slight tint of blue showing up in the clouds.  Here is where being able to edit an image in an artistic manner pays off.  For this week I went with a dull look with some slight color tints.  The way I achieved my final look was by first applying some of my usual edits such as lowering highlights, increasing contrast, clarity and color saturation, along with applying some sharpening.  After getting my picture prepped I then applied a VSCO preset filter “Polaroid 669” which gives the image a film look.  I also applied some presets to boost the blues and saturation even more in the image.  The finishing touch was to add a slight vignette around the edges.  As you can see from the before and after comparison, the right editing makes all the difference.

Before and After

Before and After