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.

“Snowboken”

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/11, 1/80sec

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/11, 1/80sec

Week 27 (2/3/2014 -2/9/2014): Hoboken, Maxwell Park

Picture taken on 2/3/2014 at 1:09 PM

Picture description

It’s said that the day after the Superbowl is one of the highest call out of work days of the year.  This year I was smart and decided to preemptively schedule myself for a day off on the dreaded Monday after the big game.  As it turned out I couldn’t have chosen a better day to take off, not because of a big game hangover, but because of a huge snowstorm that hit our area.  While most people were fighting both their hangovers and the weather I was relaxing comfortably in my apartment.  Even though I could spend the day sheltered from the storm, I decided it would be fun to head out into the snow with my Nikon in hand.  The only problem I faced was how to protect my camera from the wintery elements.  The solution that I came up with was simple, rubberband a ziplock bag around my camera and I was good to go, or so I thought.

Once out in the storm my ziplock plan seemed to work in terms of protecting my camera, but it made taking photos extremely difficult.  I was able to make the best of the situation by shielding my camera within my coat until I spotted a potential picture.  Knowing that I couldn’t preserve my camera’s dryness for long, I decided to hit two nearby Hoboken locations.  First I went to my usual spot, the uptown pier at Maxwell Park.  To my surprise I spotted a family of geese trying to take refuge in the cove of the pier’s “beach area.”  They were surrounded by ice and almost seemed to be frozen themselves.  I moved around trying to shoot the geese from the best angle possible without falling into the water myself.  Next I moved to the pier on Sinatra drive by the skatepark.  Since the snow was creating a nice white out I wanted to take a picture of the gazebo on the water with nothing but a white background.  Usually the New York City skyline is the backdrop so I thought this would make for a unique picture of the area.

gazebo picture

Gazebo picture

After getting the gazebo picture I decided to head back in for the day.  I had been outside for about an hour and it seemed that my ziplock bag was close to losing it’s ability to protect my camera.  As I fought my way through the snow back to my apartment,  I said to myself next time I’ll be better prepared for the elements.

Photography concepts:

The first time out in the snow with my Nikon taught me some valuable lessons.  The first and most obvious is that you need to keep your camera dry.  Although the ziplock bag was able to protect my camera for the hour that I was out, it would have been a stretch to sustain it’s usefulness for any longer period of time.  As a result my first purchase after Monday’s snow storm was a rain cover or “rain sleeve” for my camera (link below).  They essentially work just like the ziplock bag but they’re longer and hug my arm so shooting with them is a lot less clumsy.  I was hoping for another snow storm this weekend so I could test the sleeves, but of course you never get the weather you wish for.  Expect a follow up review of the rain sleeves usefulness in a future post.   

The second lesson I learned is that you absolutely need something dry to wipe off your lens.  This seems pretty obvious as well, yet I totally forgot to bring a cloth while I was out in the snow.  I had to use some of my inner layers to wipe off my lense.  Luckily I always keep a UV filter on my camera’s lens so there was no chance of damaging the actual lens.  Using a UV filter is nothing new for me but absolutely essential when you’re out in the elements.  It’s much smarter to scratch a $10 filter than the lens of your hundred plus dollar lens.

The last lesson that’s worth noting is what I learned in post (editing).  While reviewing my pictures I noticed that I didn’t take advantage of a key feature my DSLR.  Most DSLR’s, including my Nikon, give you the ability to shoot with very fast shutter speeds.  This is a great tool to have when it’s snowing (or raining) because it allows to you seemingly freeze time and capture snow flakes or rain drops midair.  I unfortunately didn’t shoot many pictures with fast shutter speeds.   From the pictures that I so happened to have a fast shutter,  it seemed that 1/1000 – 1/2000 seconds was the ideal speed to freeze the  snowflakes.  My guess is the best lens speed probably varies depending on the wind and size of the snowflakes.  Lesson learned, my shutter speed will absolutely be on the forefront of my mind next time I go out in the snow or rain.

Taken with shutter speed 1/1000 sec

Taken with shutter speed 1/1000 sec

Rain sleeve option 1

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/469774-REG/OP_TECH_USA_9001132_18_Rainsleeve_Set_of.html

Rain sleeve option 2

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/891383-REG/ruggard_rc_p18_18_plastic_rain_cover.html

Stone Cold

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/5.6, 1/50sec

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/5.6, 1/50sec

Week 22 (12/30/2013 – 1/5/2014): Prospect Park, Brooklyn NY

Picture taken on 1/4/2014 at 12:30 PM

Picture description:

This week as we rolled into 2014 and January, so rolled in the extremely cold weather.  On New Year’s day we were hit with a blizzard dubbed “Hercules,” which dumped a good amount of snow all over the east coast.  The news of the blizzard got me really excited to get out and shoot my first set of snow pictures with my Nikon.  Going into the weekend the plan was to explore Greenwood Cemetery with one of my friends that was out with me last week.  After receiving written permission to walk around the Cemetery, everything was a go, that is until the snow.  After the large snowstorm we were unsure how it would affect our plans, good or bad.  The night before our shoot we could do nothing more than hope we wouldn’t run into any issues and plan on ways to survive the cold.

The next day when we finally arrived at Greenwood we were greeted with a sign that said “gates closed due to inclement weather.”  Although we saw the sign we decided to try our luck by driving through the open gate.  Upon driving through the gate we were immediately stopped by a security guard that informed us the cemetery was closed until after 12PM.  Since we were working under some time restraints that wasn’t good news, so unfortunately we’d have to call an audible.

Luckily as it turns out prospect park was only about 5 minutes away from Greenwood, so we decided to give the park a go.  Even though we were two days removed from the storm, the streets were still covered with mounds of snow and it seemed nearly impossible to find parking.  When we were just about to give up, BINGO, we got a spot!  And so our snow picture quest began.

We entered the park at the South/West entrance which is guarded by two towering statues of men on horses.  Surrounding the gates were some interesting pine trees which were draped with loosely packed snow.  As we tried to take pictures under the trees we had to dodge random mini avalanches of snow falling from the trees.  Even though the trees offered plenty of good picture opportunities we decided to work our way into the park and double back later.

Pines at the gates

Pines at the gates

For about the next hour we worked our way East along the Southern perimeter of the park.  One of the most interesting parts of the trek was combing along the shore line of Prospect Park Lake.  The Lake was iced over and presented some temptation to venture out.  The temptation was cured after seeing “rescue ladders” which meant many have tried and failed.  I decided to steer clear yet at one point still almost managed to fall in.  As we reached the South/East corner of the park we spotted a gazebo built from logs that was nestled along the shore of the lake.  We stopped there for a while before working our way back to the main gates to end our trip.  Just as we were exiting the park I spotted this lion’s head that was built into the gates.  I shouted to my friend and said I had to get a picture of this.  As you may have guessed this is where I got this week’s picture and to date it might be my favorite picture from this blog.

Gazebo on the lake

Gazebo on the lake

Photography concepts:

Throughout this week I’ve been experimenting with black and white pictures and the different editing techniques for them.  After watching some YouTube tutorials and doing my best to duplicate the editing in Lightroom, I’ve quickly realized how much fun black and white photography can be. After taking this week’s picture, although it looked perfectly good in color, I decided to flip it to black and white and see what happened.

Photo Credit; Roger Del Russo: www.delrusso.net

Photo Credit; Roger Del Russo: http://www.delrusso.net

I’m still very new to editing in black and white, but what I can already see as being the key are the different color sliders.  The color sliders allow you to focus in on colors such as Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Aqua, Blue, Purple, and Magenta, and make adjustments.  Now you’re probably saying “wait isn’t this a black and white picture? Why would you adjust colors?”  Well, although it’s black and white the original picture’s colors are still part of the attributes and editable.  As you adjust the sliders you’re adjusting the levels of their representation in black and white.  In the case of this week’s picture I was able to blow out all the colors to make the lions face appear to be white/silver, or flip it to black.  In the end I decided to settle right in the middle and set the lion’s face to a grayish slate.  Focusing in on the colors is great because it allowed me to change the tint without losing the attributes of other colors such as the white.  I really like the contrast these sliders allowed me to create and I can’t wait to experiment with this more in the coming weeks.

wk22-lion-combo

If you’re new to this blog circle back and read some of my older posts.  In my earlier posts I’ve touched on subjects such as the rule of thirds, the triangle of photography and the different effects each point of the triangle (ISO/Aperture/Shutter speed) have on a photo.  As I’ve been progressing in my photography journey these are becoming more second nature and I’m beginning to focus more on editing techniques and changing the content that I shoot (people, close-ups, non-landscape).  I’m laying out some projects for 2014 so stay tuned and see what happens.

Center of Attention

Picture Info: ISO 200, 35mm, f/8, 1/320sec

Picture Info: ISO 200, 35mm, f/8, 1/320sec

Week 16 (11/18/2013 – 11/24/2013): Wagner Park, New York City
Picture taken on 11/23/2013 at 5:04 PM

Picture description:

Back in September I discovered the beautiful location that is Wagner Park.  After getting the picture for my week 5 post, Never Forget, at the Freedom Tower, I had dinner with my wonderful mother for her birthday at a place that had long been on my “To Try” Yelp list.  The restaurant I’m talking about is Gigino at Wagner Park and let me tell you put it on your to do list.   Gigino has outdoor seating (weather permitting) which provided us with one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen while we ate a delicious dinner.  After dinner I knew that I’d have to make a return trip in the near future, if not for a date, I’d absolutely have to take my camera to capture the scenic views at Wagner Park.

Since September I haven’t made it back to Gigino, mainly because it’s gotten far too cold to take anyone on a date there.  That being said I can handle the cold on my own so this past Saturday I decided to take a trip to Wagner Park around sunset to see what kind of pictures I could get.  Luckily as it turned out I chose a great night that provided a really interesting and vivid sunset.  Out of all the sunset pictures there was one picture that really caught my attention during editing.  It’s pretty obvious which picture I’m talking about, look up, but let me give you the quick story behind it.

After arriving at Wagner Park I noticed that I wasn’t the only one that decided today was a good day to hang out in the park.  No I’m not talking about a person, although they were there too, I’m talking about a brace of ducks.  Yes, a group of ducks is called a “brace” look it up, I did.  As I walked around the park trying to figure out where would be the best place to get my sunset shot I kept glancing over to the ducks.  Eventually I decided why not see if I can creep up on the group and snap a birds eye view?  Since the sun was so strongly beaming down from the horizon I couldn’t use the viewfinder (I’ll explain this more later) I blindly lined up my shot and fired away.  With each picture I adjusted my shot based off the last picture’s preview.  After a couple shots I finally “walked in” my picture’s composition to something that I liked, and here you have it.

Photography concepts:

As I mentioned in the description section this picture was shot basically blind and through a series of picture to picture adjustments.  The reason I did this is first because I could not use the viewfinder.  It might seem obvious but when you’re taking a picture directly into the sun you can’t look through the viewfinder.  Why? Well the sun is dangerous enough to look at with the naked eye, forget about through essentially a magnifying glass.  Since I value my eyesight I won’t even risk getting flashed with the sun’s blinding light.   For shot’s into the sun this leaves the live-view option which is the back screen.  Although I could have used the live-view I don’t like how it focuses, it’s not fast enough for moving objects.  With the ducks moving around I wanted to be able to fire quick shots and thus did not use the live view.

A concept I tend to mention in almost every post is the rule of thirds.  This time though I want to highlight how I didn’t exactly follow the rules.  In this picture I had three things that I considered the focus of my shot, or my main subjects.  One was the sun, two was the light post and the third the ducks, more specifically the one duck that was closest to me in the foreground.  When it came time to align my shot rather than put the sun on one of the left or right third lines like I usually do I centered it.  I also centered the main duck and the light poll, which only further highlighted the sun.  Aligning the sun with the light post gave off the effect that the light post is the reason the sky is so illuminated.    The reason I said I did’t exactly follow the rule was because I did follow it for some other parts of the picture.  For example, I did not put the horizon in the absolute center of my picture.  I gave more weight to the ducks/grass rather than the sky to further emphasize them in the picture. Another way I loosely followed the rule of thirds was putting some of my  secondary subjects close to the cross points of the upper thirds line on the left and right.  I’m talking about the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Although this falls under the rule, it was more of an accident but I’m glad everything lined up with such great symmetry.

Center Vs. Rule of Thirds

Center Vs. Rule of Thirds

The last thing I want to mention real quick is how I edited the sky.  In the unedited photo the sky was really blown out from the sun.  As I’ve mentioned before since I shoot in a RAW format I’m able to recover some of the detail even when images get over or under exposed.  Below is a comparison of how the image originally looked and how it did after I dropped the exposure for just the sky by about 2 steps.  One way I might have been able to avoid doing this is shooting in HDR mode or creating one via bracketing and photo merging.  I haven’t talked a lot (if at all) about HDR but it’s something I plan to in some future posts.  Right now I’m still in the experimental stages with my Nikon as far as HDR but it’s one of my favorite effects with my iPhone 5s.  More to come on this subject soon!

Edited (via Lightroom) vs Unedited

Edited (via Lightroom) vs Unedited

Need for Speed

Picture Specs: ISO 200, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/4000sec

Picture Specs: ISO 200, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/4000sec

Week 15 (11/11/2013 – 11/17/2013): Palisades interstate park
Picture taken on 11/16/2013 at 5:20 PM

Picture description:

This week’s photo was captured at the Palisades Interstate Park, a place that I haven’t been to since I was a kid.  If you’ve never gone I highly recommend spending the day exploring all that the park has to offer.  The park is nestled on the palisades cliffs which are both beautiful and dangerous so mind the paths.  Jutting out from the cliffs is none other than the iconic George Washington Bridge which is always a sight for sore eyes, granted you’re not stuck in traffic on it.  To add to the parks beauty when you’re north of the bridge you have a sprawling view of the Manhattan island coastline aka New York City.

Helicopter Vs Seagull Joust

Helicopter Vs Seagull Joust

While walking around the park there were two things buzzing around the sky that kept grabbing my attention.  One was a pair of helicopters which were doing fly bys of the bridge, my guess is they were filming for either a TV show or movie.  The second airborne thing that I couldn’t help but notice was all of the seagulls flying around.  At one point I was able to creep up within inches of one seagull that seemed to like the lime light of my camera.  Unfortunately my Dr. Doolittle moment was spoiled when a couple of rude people crashed my photoshoot, naturally scaring away the Zoolander of seagulls.  Luckily this forced me to move locations which is where I stumbled upon a big flock of birds that kept doing take off runs towards the bridge.  While one bird launch from the cliffs he seemingly locked into an aerial joust with one of the helicopters.  It might be a little hard to see at your first glance but if you look at this week’s picture close enough you’ll see the helicopter’s silhouette in the top left.  At the time of the picture I wasn’t sure if I actually caught this freeze frame but I was pleasantly surprised when I found it during editing.  Capturing this moment was a good cap off to an amazing day!

Zoolander the Seagull

Zoolander the Seagull

Photography concepts:

If I had to sum up the key element to this week’s photo in one word it would be speed!  As you can imagine when trying to capture not just one but two moving targets you have to shoot fast.  There were two setting which enabled me to get this picture, a quick shutter and autofocus.  I shot this picture at the fastest my camera can take a picture which is 1/4000 of a second.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts my Nikon has 39 auto-focus points which was great for getting the bird, bridge and helicopter all at once.  I got a little lucky at the time of this picture though because I kept switching between auto-focus and selective focusing but was thankfully on auto-focus when the “jousting” moment occurred.

When it came to editing this picture I thought that turning my subjects (Bird, Helicopter, Bridge) into silhouettes would give an interesting affect. Lightroom really is an amazing tool and is what gave me the freedom to easily transform this picture.  As a result of dropping the exposure and other settings such as highlights, shadows, whites, blacks (which I needed to do to get silhouettes) lots of the detail that was in the clouds were revealed.  The last step was to adjust my vibrance and I was left with a picture that looks like it was painted to perfection.

Lightroom editing

Lightroom editing