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.

Sh-HOOT-ing with friends

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/1250 sec

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/1250 sec

Week 21 (12/23/2013 – 12/29/2013): DUMBO, Brooklyn

Picture taken on 12/28/2013 at 11AM

Picture Description:

Being an admitted cornball, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work “hoot” into this week’s title.  This Saturday marked the first time that I participated in what is often referred to as a “photowalk” in the photography world.  The idea was hatched by two of my friends, one a photography enthusiast like myself, and the other a professional photographer.  We kicked around some location ideas and eventually settled on DUMBO since it’s one of the more interesting and subject rich locations in the New York area.  DUMBO, located in Brooklyn, stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  Before Saturday I had never been to DUMBO so it was nice to finally cross it off my location bucket list. The area can get touristy not only because of the beautiful views but also because it’s home to the famous “Grimaldi’s Pizza”. Though not the original, there is a Grimaldi’s located in Hoboken so standing in line for pizza was not part of Saturday’s agenda.

DUMBO Classic Picture

Classic DUMBO Picture

Shortly after arriving on location I spotted what I consider to be the classic DUMBO picture.  Although I didn’t want to use this as my featured picture, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take the shot.  We spent the morning walking around discussing different techniques, equipment and comparing pictures.  After walking around the east river’s shore line we decided to head into the streets to see if we could find some lunch and perhaps some graffiti.  Post lunch we stumbling upon the brick wall that contained this weeks picture.  All three of us worked the wall individually to find what we thought would be the best way to photograph it.  It was interesting seeing how other photographers approached shooting the same subject and how each of us had our own unique view.  After a few minutes of working on our own we compared pictures and tried our hand at duplicating each others shots. We continued doing this for a little while then eventually decided to call it a day.  While driving back to New York City we came to the conclusion that this shouldn’t be our first and only photowalk.  In the coming week’s expect more posts chronicling different “photowalks” and if you’re interested in participating in one shoot me an email.

Bokeh Owl Version

Bokeh Owl Version

Photography Concepts:

This week I learned less from my own shooting and more from the discussions and tips that were traded during the photowalk.  One of the biggest takeaways, which might come as a surprise to anyone familiar with photography, was the concept of spot metering.  Prior to this weekend I heard the term before but never really understood what it meant or where it would be applicable.  In a nutshell spot metering allows you to lock in the exposure you want then recompose and shoot your picture.  I didn’t get any good photo example  for spot metering this weekend but you can bet I’ll be experimenting more with this in the future and do a post on it.

Another subject that came up worth noting was white balance and the importance of doing it in camera.  I always thought that I could do white balancing during editing and there was minimal to no trade offs.  This however was not entirely true.  Essentially although you can fix white balance after shooting, by getting the correct white balance in camera I’ll have more flexibility in editing later.  I mainly shoot landscape and outdoors pictures, so luckily white balance hasn’t come into play that much for me thus far.  In 2014 my goal is to take more pictures of people so expect more posts on white balancing now that the subject is a lot less murky.

Springing into Winter

Picture info: ISO 250, 35mm, f/8, 1/1250 sec

Picture info: ISO 250, 35mm, f/8, 1/1250 sec, – 1 exposure stop

Week 20 (12/16/2013 – 12/22/2013): Central Park, Sheep Meadow

Picture taken on 12/21/2013 at 3:00 PM

Picture Description:

With Christmas less than a week away, New York City is buzzing with holiday festivities.  This week I decided to check out the Columbus Circle Holiday Market located at the south west corner of Central Park.  As the weekend approached, the weather forecast was calling for a warmer than usual day for December, so I decided to add a visit to Central Park to my agenda.  While visiting the Central Park website I noticed that on their map page you’re able to select specific destinations of interest within the park.  For weeks I’ve seen lots of great pictures taken of various arches and bridges in the park, which gave me an idea.  My idea was to use the map and plot out an “Arch and Bridge Tour” which would bring me to all of the southern arches and bridges, starting with the Gapstow bridge (South/East corner) which is adjacent to the ice rink.  With my plan set, all that was left was setting out on my weekend adventure.

Planned Arch/Bridge Tour

Planned Arch/Bridge Tour

My trip started with about an hour of fighting traffic and subway crowds prior to finally popping out of the 59th/5th subway tunnel.  Upon emerging from the subway  tunnel I was oddly greeted with the smell of spring.  If the streets weren’t packed with holiday decorations I would have swore to you that I had traveled back in time to April.  Even though I appreciated the nice weather I was a little disappointed, I really wanted to get some pictures of Central Park in the snow.  Later on my disappointment was cured by the much appreciated feeling in my fingers and toes I enjoyed throughout the day.

After visiting the first couple of bridges and arches, Gapstow included, I was running into issues with getting good compositions with my D5200.  The sky was getting washed out because it was earlier in the day than I usually shoot.  I also wasn’t able to fit enough of the landscapes that I was photographing into my 35mm lens frame.  Since the bridges weren’t cooperating I decided to cut my tour short and work my way to a part of the park called Sheep Meadow.  The large 15 acre “meadow” is special to me because it’s actually where I finally decided to due this blog.  Back in July I toured the park and ended up at the Meadow which I photographed and realized how fun it was to set out on photo adventures.  July’s trip cemented my idea and I moved forward with this blog, and I haven’t looked back since.

As I got closer to the Meadow I noticed that there were no visitors on the beautifully lush green lawn.  When I finally arrived at the fence surrounding the meadow I realized why it was so empty, it was closed for the winter.  Although I was disappointed this provided me with an opportunity to photograph the meadow without any visitors crashing my picture. I worked my way around the fenced perimeter shooting pictures above and through the fence. At the end of my trip around the meadow I spotted this week’s picture.  The way the rock picked up the sun with the contrasting green meadow really caught my eye.  Although the day didn’t turn out as planned, I was very pleased with this picture and really enjoyed my day in Central Park.

Sheep Meadow Closed!

Sheep Meadow Closed!

Photography concepts:

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been experimenting with different editing techniques and applications.  I use Lightroom for all of my blog photographs but for Instagram, Facebook and Twitter I use Snapseed and VSCOCAM.  The advantage of Snapseed and VSCOCAM is that I’m able to give my pictures a little more “pop” with just a few clicks.  The disadvantage of both applications is that they don’t maintain the quality of the original picture, therefore they’re not suitable for editing pictures for this blog or any kind of high quality sharing.  All that being said, there is no reason why I can’t create the same type of vibrant images with Lightroom, it just takes a little more work.

Edited Location comparison

Edited Location comparison

This week I put a lot more effort into editing specific details of my photograph, with the goal of creating a more vibrant picture.  I shot my picture straight into the sun which in turn caused a lot of shadows and dulled out the many of the colors in frame.  The way I corrected both issues was via Lightroom’s spot correction tool.  This tool allows you to do exactly what it sounds like, select certain area’s of your picture and adjust things such as color, exposure, contrast and so on.  I usually do these kind of adjustments globally (to the entire picture) or through the use of gradual filters.  In the past the issue I’ve run into is gradual filters aren’t good when you have to apply different settings to lots of different small areas.  This is where spot editing comes in handy.  The challenge that spot editing presents is keeping your picture looking a natural by manually blending your edits seamlessly into the picture.  You want to avoid creating obvious edit lines and look for natural breaks in your picture to tie your edits together.  Above and below are examples of before and after, along with a representation of the areas I focused in on with the spot edit tool.

Different colors represent different spot edits/localized adjustments

Different colors represent different spot edits/localized adjustments

Prior to editing the picture I obviously had to shoot one that was crisp and provided me with flexibility for editing.  To do this I underexposed my original picture and made sure I shot with a small aperture to keep more things in focus.  The last aspect of this picture I’ll briefly touch on is how lined it up. As I talked about in my week 16 post, framing a picture that’s shot into the sun can be tricky because you’re basically forced to use the live view.  I really don’t like taking pictures in the live view so what I do is line up my shot via live view, then switch the camera back to through the lens and fire away.  Once I get my first picture I adjust the composition via slight tilt and shift adjustments until I get the picture I want.  I used this method to get this picture and I think it worked well.

Step forward by stepping back

52from52 - Week 19

Picture info: ISO 3200, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/200sec, -1 Exposure step

Week 19 (12/9/2013 – 12/15/2013): Top of the Rock Observation Deck

Picture taken on 12/12/2013 at 5:15 PM

Picture description:

This week I finally got the chance to make a return visit to Top of the Rock.  My first visit was six months ago and was only two weeks after I purchased my Nikon.  Since my last visit I’ve often looked back at the pictures I took and thought about the many things that I could have done better.  I’ve learned many lessons over the past six months, in part because of this blog but also because I’ve immersed myself in photography.  Articles, YouTube tutorials and experimenting with different  techniques have been my main sources for learning.  One other source of learning that might surprise you is instagram.  I often flip through different hashtags looking for ideas of what to shoot or to see how people photograph certain subjects or places.  Instagram has photographers of every level ranging from the professional to amateur, and or dare I say serial selfie taker.  Before and after my trip I looked through the hashtag #topoftherock to see the kind of pictures people took during their visit.  Besides the selfies and couple pictures I noticed that nearly all of the pictures looked identical with the exception of changes to the sky or filter the person used on the picture.  After seeing how people have been over-sharing the same picture I knew that I had to find some way to differentiate mine from the rest.

During my visit even though my goal was to take an original picture, I couldn’t help myself from taking the classic Top of the Rock picture.  I found myself taking the same kind of picture over and over again partially to make sure I got a good one, but also because in person it’s just that hypnotizing of a view.  After about an hour of scanning the horizon for a unique view I came to the conclusion that from my vantage point there really was none.  It didn’t matter where I aligned the buildings, I had already seen that picture, or one very similar, shared countless times.  At that moment I decided to take a step back from my coveted position to see what new perspectives I could find.  Within a matter of seconds I was rewarded for my decision.  After stepping back I saw that all the people taking pictures were casting silhouettes in front of the very same view I was just photographing.  I spent the next couple of minutes wading in and out of the crowd to try and get the a picture that met my satisfaction.  Eventually the 20 degree weather got the best of me and I decided to call it a night.  On my way home while thinking about my night, I realized the valuable lesson that I just learned.  It’s very easy to get drawn into taking the obvious picture. The only way my photography is going to continue to improve or “move forward” is if I regularly remind myself to take a “step back” and find a new perspective on what’s right in front of me.

Photography Concepts:

Although I used the previous section to talk about avoiding the obvious shot, it doesn’t mean the classic Top of the Rock pictures aren’t good ones.  For the purpose of this blog I wanted to challenge myself to get something unique but it leaves the question, how do you take a good picture at Top of the Rock?  As I mentioned earlier I often look back at the pictures I took during my first visit and dwell on what I could have done better.  Let me share with you some of the lessons I learned between my two visits in terms of taking pictures at Top of the Rock.

Example of the classic Top of the Rock Pic

Example of the classic Top of the Rock Pic

The first thing you have to ask yourself is what kind of picture are you looking to take?  Do you want take pictures of only the buildings or are you planning on featuring yourself or friends in the picture with the buildings in the background?  Knowing your subject is important to so you can determine the time you’re going to go and where you should set up shop once you’re there. Let’s start with talking about taking pictures of people.  If you’re taking pictures that will feature yourself or your friends the location is less critical but the time that you arrive is important.  In this case you’ll want to go about an hour before sunset this way you have time to take nice pictures in softer light and without flash.  In my opinion flash is the worst when taking pictures at Top of the Rock.  Unless you’re an absolute pro and know how to compensate correctly flash tends to wash out the city backdrop, which is one of the main reasons you’re at Top of the Rock right?  In order to feature the cityscape behind you, don’t use flash, especially if you’re taking pictures on the 68-69th floor behind the glass.  Once you find a nice location play around, take pictures of you subjects looking out towards the buildings or doing some forced perspectives (google it).  If you want to get more original, take pictures of your subjects from a distance.  Perhaps have your subject stand looking out towards the city and snap your picture focusing on them through the busy crowd? As was the theme of this blog, once you take a step back you’ll be surprised what new perspectives you’ll see.

Example of a unique Top of the Rock Picture

Example of a unique Top of the Rock Picture

What about the settings to use or not use when taking pictures of people, other than flash?  One option is to use the smallest aperture your camera will allow which will give you nice background blur and permit you to use a low ISO.  The negatives of this is the exposure of your cityscape background might be overexposed.  The solution, shoot your picture in such a way that you’ll be able to only edit the background later to correct the overexposure (don’t forget to shoot in RAW to enable this).  Option two in terms of aperture would be to use a small aperture which if you took my advice and came close to sunset, is going to force you to use a high ISO.  The negatives, you’ll have a grainer photo but the positive is you will have a more detailed cityscape background.  If you’re only looking to share this picture on something like instagram a high ISO image is fine.  Even with the wide aperture you still might have an issue with overexposure for the background so compose your picture accordingly.  The last setting I mention is try to use a focal length of 50mm+, I won’t go into detail about why but if you want to know why check out the video below from one of my favorite YouTube sources.

Now let me talk about what to do if you’re looking to take pictures of the buildings.  First, I recommend going to the 70th floor and trying to lock down a position in the center area where you don’t have the bottom floors jutting into your picture.  Getting this prime location is even more important if you’re using a wide angle lens.  Just like shooting people, I think the best time to take pictures of buildings is right before and during sunset but you can go any time especially if there are nice mid-day clouds.  For now I’ll talk about what to do at sunset.  Going at sunset or at night really forces your hand in terms of camera settings.  Unlike taking pictures of people, when you use a small aperture there aren’t many positives.  Your plane of focus is going to be narrow even with the buildings being far away.  What’s going to happen is one building might appear in perfect focus while the others are a little blurry.  You can still take a good picture using small apertures but if your goal is to get a crisp image that you can blow up on perhaps a canvas,  I don’t recommend using small apertures.  What are your options then?  Option one, you can boost your ISO but this is going to still leave you with the problem of not having a crisp image for enlarging later.  Option two, bring a tripod and shoot with a small aperture and slow shutter speed.  This seems simple right? Well tripods are not allowed at Top of the Rock but there are ways around this rule.  As you can see in this week’s featured picture people bring tripods.  The key is to bring one small enough to fit in your bag, and one that has a small leg spread so it can sit on top of the cement pillars.  This is also why getting a good location is critical, there are a limited number of cement pillars and or locations that can facilitate the use of a tripod.  I’m not going to go into the all settings specific to tripods because if it’s pretty simple, small aperture, low ISO, slow shutter.  Two things I will recommend though  is use the multiple focus point setting which will grab more buildings in focus, and underexpose your image.  One thing not to do, which believe it or not I saw someone do, don’t use flash while you’re shooting buildings on a tripod.  Maybe I’m missing something and if I am please comment and correct me, but I don’t see any positive in using flash on a tripod when you’re not taking pictures of motion or people.

ISO 2500, 35mm, f/7.1, 1/40 sec, no tripod

ISO 2500, 35mm, f/7.1, 1/40 sec, no tripod

These are some of the lessons/tips I’ve learned from my two trips to Top of the Rock.  I still haven’t gotten what I would consider a great classic Top of the Rock picture, but that’s mainly because I haven’t brought a tripod or wide angle lens.  I think I’ll take at least one more trip in a few months and try my hand using more than just my 35mm lens and perhaps a tripod.  Until then I hope the lessons I’ve learned and shared so far help you shoot some great pictures at Top of the Rock, have fun and remember take a step back!

Big Head Focal Length by CameraRecToby:

‘Tis the Season

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

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

Week 18 (12/2/2013 – 12/8/2013): Bryant Park, New York City
Picture taken on 12/7/2013 at 4:46 PM

Picture description:

It’s hard to top New York City during the Holiday season.  Everywhere you turn there are festive window displays, giant Christmas trees and glowing lights filling the night sky.  If you’ve been reading my blog from the beginning you might remember my week 2 post, “A Day of Reflection” where I visited Bryant Park.   As I said in week 2, Bryant Park is one of my favorite locations in New York City.  One of the best things about Bryant Park is how it transforms throughout the year with each season.  During the winter months the center grass area turns into an ice skating rink with a beautiful panoramic view of midtown New York.  Surrounding the rink is a network of stores in in the form of tiny huts.  As you can imagine this winter wonderland attracts visitors from all over.  In case you didn’t guess by now Bryant Park is obviously where I got this week’s photo, but before I talk about my time in the park let me tell you how I ended up there.

In the beginning of the week I wasn’t sure what to photograph so I threw out a status on Facebook to get some ideas.  One of the suggestions I got was to capture the “hustle and bustle” of holiday shoppers, thanks Laura!  After getting this suggestion Bryant Park and its “Winter Village” instantly came to mind.  Since I pass the park during my commute to work I stopped in on the way home to scout for a good picture.  After briefly walking around I found what I thought would be a great angle for a long exposure.  The picture I had in mind would feature the Christmas tree centered between the store huts and shoppers in the foreground.  The reason I had a long exposure in mind was so I could get all of the shoppers in the foreground to blur as they moved around.  With my picture planned there were only two more questions I needed answered, could I use a tripod in the park, and could I fit everything in the frame of my 35mm lens?  I got one of my questions answered the next day after emailing the company that manages Bryant Park.  The tripod was permitted; I just couldn’t use it on the ice, too bad right?  The last question wouldn’t be answered until I got on location with my camera.

This brings me to the day of the picture.  Let me give you some advice, if you’re ever in New York City during December; don’t walk up 42nd street unless you want the full tourist experience.  I usually avoid 42nd street but for some reason I decided to take it after getting out of port authority, bad move!  I literally felt like I was an extra in the Walking Dead.  The streets were so packed that you couldn’t move any faster than at a zombie pace.  I fought through the crowd thinking it’s okay I’ll have space once I get to the park, wrong.   When I finally got to the park I was greeted with an even larger crowd than was on 42nd street.  I knew this might be a problem for my picture but I remained optimistic until I got to my spot.  Once I fought my way to my planned location it was time to answer my last question, will everything fit in frame…and the answer was no.  As you can imagine this was very disappointing, but I couldn’t give up so I starting thinking how I could still get this picture but from another angle?   I started walking around, and then while I was standing in front of the tree it hit me.  Just like in my last visit to Bryant Park, why not use a reflection to capture my subject?  Look closely at the Christmas ball and you’ll see the reverse angle of my original picture.   Now it’s your turn, try to capture a creative reflection shot!  When you do use the hashtag #52from52_wk18 and post it on Instagram.

Photography Concepts:

There wasn’t really anything tricky about capturing this picture from a photography technique standpoint.  This week’s picture was made mostly via creativity which is less of a concept and more of an attribute that each individual photographer possesses.  This is why I threw out the challenge for people to take their own reflection shots, I’d like to see them and see how your creativity is displayed.  All that being said even though this week’s picture wasn’t too technical I can still briefly talk about the picture I was originally going to take and some of the lessons I learned.

Original Picture Idea

Above is picture from the position I originally planned to take a this week’s photograph from.  As you can see it took a portrait composition to capture the tree and the crowd in one frame.  I could have taken two pictures and stitched them together via photoshop (definitely a future blog subject) but I didn’t know if that would work well with a long exposure.  I also could have tried to get my long exposure from this portrait composition but I wasn’t happy with the way the stores were getting cut off.  There was also one more issue with my long exposure idea that I didn’t learn until after the fact.  Dealing with a crowd of this density doesn’t really provide the look I was going for when using a long exposure.  Of the pictures I did take via long exposure, I learned that at 30 seconds the crowd disappeared and just blotched out the area they were standing in.  Even when I took shorter exposures (4-10 seconds) the crowd’s density still didn’t allow you to clearly see these were people I was photographing.  Below is an example of a 5 second exposure .  This concept of using long exposures to capture the movement of people is something I’m going to experiment with more in the future so stay tuned.

Picture specs: ISO 100, 35mm, f/4.5, 5 secs

Picture specs: ISO 100, 35mm, f/4.5, 5 secs

One shot

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/9, 30seconds, 0.6 neutral density filter, -2 exposure stops

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/9, 30sec, 0.6 neutral density filter, -2 exposure stops

Week 17 (11/25/2013 – 12/1/2013): Hoboken Light Rail Station
Picture taken on 11/30/2013 at 5:12 PM

Picture description:

Opportunities come and go, and sometimes you only have one shot to take advantage of them.  That was absolutely the case for my week 17 picture.   This week I picked up some neutral density filters (I’ll explain what these are in the concepts section) which I wanted to experiment with.  Coming into the week my goal was to venture into the city to get some kind of street shot/long exposure.   When it came time to go out and shoot on Saturday I was a bit demotivated due to two things. First it was really cold outside, and the second reason was because of the conflicting online posts about wether or not it’s okay to use a tripod in New York City. Since I wasn’t in the mood to argue my way out of a ticket I decided to play it safe and set out for an area in Hoboken that I have been meaning to photograph for a while.

The location I chose for this week’s shoot was a walkway between the Hoboken train station and Newport, Jersey City.  I’ve seen some really nice pictures on Flickr that were taken from this seemingly hidden location.  Many of the pictures featured old dock posts of a broken down pier with either the Jersey City or New York city skylines in the background.  With a couple clear pictures in mind I set up my tripod and started taking some long exposures.

After spending about 2 hours taking long exposures and chasing lots of seagulls I decided to call it a night.  As I started to pack up my gear I spotted a potential picture which would feature the light-rail train as it left the station.  I figured why not give it a shot?  I quickly set up my tripod on the edge of the tracks in preparation for the next train.  The trains were coming about every 30 minutes, so unless I wanted to wait out in the cold for the next one, I’d have only one shot at capturing a good picture.  From the distance I heard the bell sound announcing the train’s pending departure, I quickly clicked my camera’s shutter release, sat back and watched as the light-rail moved in and out of the frame.   After what seemed like an eternity, but really was only 30 seconds, my camera finished taking the picture and I eagerly awaited seeing what it captured.  Once the preview came up on the screen I immediately knew this was the picture I had to feature in this week’s post.

Photography concepts:

This is the second “long exposure” post that I’ve done, the first being my week 6 picture “Night Light.”  Since week 6 I’ve learned some new tricks for taking and editing long exposure pictures.  As I am becoming better from past lessons, I’m able to add more moving parts and that’s what spurred on this week’s experiment with neutral density filters.

Neutral density filters, commonly called ND filters are pieces of glass that come in many shapes and sizes but ultimately block light from hitting your camera’s sensor.  As I mentioned in this weeks description, my goal for the week was to get a long exposure but you don’t need an ND filter to do this.  Although ND filter’s are not required for all long exposures, they are if you want to take a long exposure during the day or anytime there are bright light sources.  With the use of ND filters you’re able to use settings that would usually not be feasible in certain conditions or due to other selected camera settings such as wide apertures. Usually when you use slow shutter speeds (20-30 second) you have to shrink your aperture to f/13-f/20 to limit the amount of light.  f/13 isn’t bad but once you start approaching f/20 pictures lose their crispness, this is where the ND filters come in handy.  Take the below picture for example.  The sun was setting behind the buildings and flooding my camera’s sensor with light.  Given the amount of light, and having already maxed out at the smallest aperture my lens can shoot with (f/20), I would usually only be able to use a fast shutter.  With the use of the ND filters I was able to shoot with a 4 second shutter speed.  For the below picture I used a combination of ND filters which totaled out at a 2.7  density rating,  which is equivalent to -9 exposure stops.

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/20, 4 seconds, 2.7 ND filter, -2 exposure stops

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/20, 4 sec, 2.7 ND filter, -2 exposure stops

Now you’re probably asking why would you want to do a long exposure for a picture such as this, and what are the effects? One reason/effect is the smooth and very reflective water.  Notice how the water has begun to almost look like ice in the above picture.  The smoothing effect is even more prevalent in the below picture where I used a 30 second exposure and a 0.6 ND filter.

picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/14, 30 seconds, 0.6 ND filter, -2 exposure stops

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/14, 30 sec, 0.6 ND filter, -2 exposure stops

All this being said, how did the ND filter help me with this week’s picture? In order for me to capture the train’s full movement from right to left I needed to use a 30 second shutter speed.  As mentioned in previous blogs, night pictures look better when under exposed but even with dropping the exposure down 2 stops I still wasn’t able to hit the 30 second shutter speed mark.  Add in the fact that once the train passed by my camera’s sensor was going to get a burst of light it was very important to somehow compensate.  I didn’t want to shoot with too small of an aperture so here is where the ND filter came in.  I used a 0.6 ND filter which is equivalent to -2 exposure stops, this allowed me to maintain a good night exposure, use an aperture of f/9 and hit my 30 second shutter speed.  The result of the 30 second exposure was the very vivid light trail that’s featured in this week’s picture.  This was my first time experimenting with the ND filters so expect some more pictures and feedback in some coming blogs.  For more info on ND filters check out the below link.

http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2012/07/05/how-and-when-to-use-nd-filters-and-what-the-numbers-mean/

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

Out of time

Picture Specs: ISO 400, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/800sec

Picture Specs: ISO 400, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/800sec

Week 14 (11/3/2013 – 11/9/2013): Hoboken Terminal
Picture taken on 11/9/2013 at 4:31 PM

Picture description:

As the days continue to grow shorter and colder it’s becoming harder to find time during the week to snap a picture.  Once winter hits I get the feeling that I’ll be taking more nighttime shots since the sun goes down so early.  Option two would be to take pictures on Saturday and cut it close to the self imposed weekly deadline I adhere to.  Having completed over one quarter of my 52 week blog I’ve come to notice when I’m taking most of my pictures and for that reason I’m going to adjust my weekly window.  Usually I run my week Sunday-Saturday which means I have a weekend day on either side of the week to get a picture.  What I’ve noticed is due to my schedule I hardly every (as in never) take pictures on Sunday but it would be the prime day to write a blog if I take a picture on Saturday. For that reason I’m going to change it up and move my weekly window to Monday-Sunday.  I guess it’s my own daylight savings adjustment.

Now that I’ve worked out my time issue let me talk about this week’s picture and how it had a role in my recent decision.  Going into this week my plan was to revisit Top of the Rock (went in June) after work to get a picture looking downtown at sunset.  Unfortunately due to my busy schedule and daylight savings moving sunset times to around 4:30/4:45 this was an impossible goal to accomplish.  This made me realize that if I wanted to continue to take advantage of shooting during the “golden hour” I’ll have to do more of my picture taking on the weekends.  Taking a picture and writing a blog all in one day, especially on Saturday, a day/night I usually go out, can prove difficult.  This is the exact scenario that transpired this week.  My window of opportunity to get the picture I wanted fell to Saturday and in the end I didn’t have the time to make it to Top of the Rock.  Thankfully getting an interesting picture in Hoboken is as easy as taking an afternoon stroll, no planning required.  After setting out to get my picture I began to work my way down the Hoboken waterfront.  As I got closer to downtown  my eye’s were drawn to the train station’s clock tower. With the idea of running out of time in the forefront of my mind a clock picture seemed fitting, all that was left was finding the right angle.

*Never noticed before taking this week’s picture, this clock is not set to the correct time. 

Photography concepts:

As I mentioned in this week’s description section I try to take most of my pictures during what’s referred to as the “golden hour” or “magic hour.”  It’s said that during the “golden hour” you have the best/softest light for taking more dramatic pictures.  Although it’s called the “golden hour” it’s really closer to four total hours a day, one before and one after the sunrise and sunset times.  At these times the sun is at a prime angles for soft light which is roughly 10 to -10 degrees in relation to the horizon.  Having softer light provides lots of advantages for getting a nicely exposed and vivid picture.  Below are two links to some articles which go into more detail about the “golden hour” in case you want to read more.  Back to this week’s picture, I set out to get my picture at the start of the “golden hour” which for Saturday was around 3:45.  I ended up getting my picture just before sunset (4:45) which was good because any later and I might have needed a tripod or  to boost my ISO.

If you’ve been reading my blog or if you’re familiar with photography you might be able to guess how I was able blur out most of the tree and focus on the clock/train station.  In case this is your first time reading this effect is done through the use of a wide aperture, this week’s was f/1.8.  I’ve talked about aperture and it’s affects on an image in many of previous blogs so if you’d like to learn more circle back and read some of my older posts.  The last concept I used which is one I’ve also already talked about during my week 5 post “never forget” is selective focus points.  Just to quickly rehash, on most nice cameras and absolutely every DSLR’s you can manually select one point to base your camera’s focus.  This is different from auto-focus points in that those will often pick up whatever is closest or largest.  I use selective focus points very frequently when shooting with both my DSLR and even my iPhone 5s.  Why leave things to chance, it’s always better to control your focus so this is a tool I highly recommend any photographer uses.

http://www.photographymad.com/pages/view/the-golden-hour-in-photography
http://photographyconcentrate.com/make-your-photos-magical/

On the run

Picture specs: ISO 640, 35mm, f/8, 1/15 sec

Picture specs: ISO 640, 35mm, f/8, 1/15 sec

Week 13 (10/27/2013 – 11/2/2013): Maxwell Place Park, Hoboken NJ
Picture taken on 11/1/2013 at 5:59 PM

Picture description:

One of the many benefits of living in Hoboken is having easy access to its waterfront parks and paths.  The waterfront provides a place to relax, socialize and or exercise in the midst of some beautiful views.  If I had to point out one negative aspect about exercising on the waterfront, it would be that while running you regularly have to fight the urge to stop and take pictures.  If you follow my Instagram you’ll probably notice most times this is a losing battle for me.  This week I decided to take my Nikon out during the time I usually run to see if I could capture something that depicts my daily struggle.

While moseying around Maxwell Park I noticed that many of the trees that were green just last week were now turning all different kinds of amazing colors.  There were two trees that really stood out to me so I began trying to find a good angle to photograph them.  As I shuffled around the trees I noticed that I wasn’t the only one that was giving them focused attention.  Runner after runner stopped to fire off a picture “on the run” then carried on their way.  Initially having runners photobomb my picture was very frustrating until it hit me, this is exactly what I do, so why not try to capture the moment?

Photography concepts:

This week’s photo included a wide range of colors most of which required different exposure settings to reveal their vividness.  The best tactic that I’ve found for recovering color when you can’t choose one exposure is via select post-production exposure adjustments.  Although it’s possible to recover many colors after the fact you still have to select an in camera exposure which isn’t going to make that impossible.  What I’ve found through experience and also read is that going with an underexposed picture allows for more recovery capabilities.  Despite my own observation regarding underexposing, this week I rolled the dice and didn’t drop the exposure of my picture.  To demonstrate what I’m talking about regarding exposure recovery I sliced up before and after sections of my picture to highlight the comparison.  The most noticeable area that benefited from the exposure adjustment was the sky and empire state building.  Without making the adjustments illustrated below the tree’s would have still had nice color but the entire sky would have been very washed out.

Half edited

Edited vs. Unedited example

In addition to having the right in camera exposure settings the other key setting which permits recovery capabilities is shooting in your camera’s RAW mode.  For Nikon the raw mode is NEF format and it retains 12-14 bit data versus in JPEG where it retains only 8 bits.  To read more about Nikon’s RAW format see the article linked below.  Although each camera brand has it’s own RAW mode it’s fair to say that each would follow similar attributes and recovery capabilities.  When I first started taking picture with my 5200 I went with just JPEG then after learning the value of RAW I did JPEG + RAW.  Now to save space I only shoot in RAW format which still takes up a lot of space.  So far the space limitation is one of the only negative that I’ve run into in regards to shooting in RAW mode.  My 32GB card can hold about 875 NAF images while I can shoot 2000+ JPEG (fine) images.  The other negative aspect of shooting in RAW is that there are some limitations on what you can use the edit the image.  I recently found out that you can edit RAW images via Google+ and Snapseed which is really great for on the go editing.  If you want to learn more about Google+ editing watch the below YouTube video from one of my favorite online photography resources “Camera Rec Toby”.  If you have time I highly recommend clicking through Toby’s YouTube page, he is very informative.

NIkon NEF Article