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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How I see it

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/22, 1/8sec

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/22, 1/8sec

Week 25 (1/20/14 – 1/26/2014):  Central Park, New York City

Picture taken on 1/26/2014 at 1:29 PM

Picture description:

It’s hard to believe how quickly the bitter winter cold has snuck up on us here in the Northeast.  The cold became more of a chilling reality during this week’s return visit to Central Park.  If you recall, roughly one month ago I took a trip to CP while the weather was uncharacteristically warm for the beginning of winter, hence the title of that week’s post “Spring into Winter.”  Fast forward one month from my last visit and CP is now painted white with snow.  Being from the Northeast I’m no stranger to the cold so the temperature was not enough to deter me from enjoying the snow covered park.  

This time around I had a couple of friends join me during my visit to the park.  If I had to choose the one thing that I enjoy the most about taking pictures with other people, it’s seeing how each person approaches a shot or what they choose to photograph.  Oddly enough during this trip we all seemed to unknowingly steal each others photo ideas.  The interesting wrinkle was that although we selected similar subjects we all seemed to shoot the pictures differently.  This aspect of creative interpretation has been one of my favorite parts about photography.  I enjoy having the opportunity to share with people how I see the world.  I’m not really the most open person, but in a way photography has given me a means to let people inside my head and thus helped me share a piece of me.  What’s been even more gratifying has been all of the great conversations that have sprouted up from some of my photographs.   When I decided to take on photography as a hobby I never would have guessed it would yield so much engagement.  As I approach the halfway point of this 52 week journey I’m looking forward to seeing where the next 6 months will take me and who it will lead me to meet.

Photography concepts:

As mentioned in this week’s picture description, to me one of the most enjoyable aspects of photography is sharing the way I see things.  The way I translate my “mental image” to reality is done through about fifty percent “in camera” work and fifty percent “post” editing.  Everyone has a favorite style in terms composition and editing techniques.  If I had to summarize my “in camera” or composition style I’d say that I usually play to symmetry, leading lines, and using reflections to make pictures feel larger.  As for my editing style, I tend to use contrast to emphasize the points of the pictures that I want people to focus on and I like to enhance light sources to reflect how I see them.  This week’s picture is a prime example of all my preferred styles.  

I think that knowing your style is important because it enables you to take pictures quicker and more efficiently.  In the beginning of this blog when I ventured out to get a featured picture I would take close to 1000 pictures.  Yes 1000 pictures!  Now that I’ve gotten a feel for my style I can set up quicker and only fire off about 250 pictures per trip.  The way I trimmed the number of pictures down is by knowing that the most important thing “in camera” is to maintain good exposure.  Keeping your histogram in range gives you more flexibility during editing and enables you to get the picture to be your style in post.  Editing is where you can really tap into your creative side and put a piece of yourself into a picture.  Don’t be afraid to get creative with your editing to create an image that is unique and shows people how you see the world.

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.