Hoboken is a great place to live if you enjoy running. Hoboken has countless running routes to choose from, most of which are accompanied by an amazing view. Since moving to Hoboken over a year ago I’ve mapped out a few of my own running routes. Each route presents a different physical challenge along with the constant mental challenge of fighting the urge to stop and take pictures every few steps. Out of all the routes I run, my favorite is what I refer to as my “uptown route.” My uptown route starts at Maxwell Park and hugs the water line all the way into Weehawken. Eventually I circle back to Hoboken the same way I came, with my finish line being the path featured in this picture. The reason this route is my favorite is because typically there aren’t many other joggers to get in my way and of course having this view as my finish line is a nice perk.
I run a few times per week so I’ve seen this view countless times and countless times I’ve said to myself that would make for a great picture. Not only is this a beautiful site, it also reminds me to always finish what I start. Each time I get to this point of my run I’m usually tired and ready to stop, but instead of slowing down I usually kick up the intensity for this last straight away. Typically I wait until some other runner makes it about halfway then I chase them down and try to finish ahead of them. I believe that the more you train yourself to push through hard situations, the more it becomes second nature and the stronger you’ll be both physically and mentally. This is the code that I live by and this picture reminds me to practice this each and every day. Always finish and always finish strong!
One of the reasons this view always draws me in is because of the natural “Leading Lines” composition. The lights and trees that line the path converge and take your eyes straight towards the Empire State Building. Year round this is a powerful view but the conditions never seemed right for me to get a good picture. Additionally the street lights always presented glare issues that took away from the picture. Recently I figured out the right camera settings and editing techniques to eliminate the glare issues so I finally decided to give this picture a shot.
The camera setting that has helped the most with photographing strong light sources (e.g. the sun, street lights, ect.) has been a small aperture. The smaller the aperture the less bleeding light and the cleaner it looks. For night photography f/18 and above is a great aperture to use. If you’re using this small of an aperture at night it’s more than likely that you’ll be hitting some slow shutter speeds so don’t forget your tripod.
When it came time to edit this picture there were two adjustments that were key. First, to bring out the detail in the Empire State Building I dropped the highlights of the area surrounding the building. I’ve found that dropping the highlights of buildings at night makes them look very crisp. The second adjustment was to lower the saturation all colors in the image except green. What this did was eliminate any of the lens glare that showed up as random colors, and it made the leading lines composition of the trees even more of a focal point. As a result the not only does the composition of the image take you down the path but the isolation of the green color also acts as a guide for your eyes too.
The last aspect of this picture that helped enhance the composition was the size of the Empire State Building. If you’re a Hoboken local and you’ve taken this picture before chances are the Empire State Building was much smaller than in this picture. Why is that? It’s because of my focal length 36mm x 1.5 = 54mm. Most phones shoot at around 30mm and since focal length essentially equates to zoom so when I use ~54mm the building is larger. The thing that’s interesting about zoom is if you stand further back your foreground will be scaled regular, but whatever is in the background (e.g. the Empire State Building) will appear larger than usual. You see this technique a lot when people photograph the moon and get that insanely large moon backdrop. Although I shot with a greater zoom then people do with phones, my image resembles how this path looks like to the naked eye. Had I stood further back and zoomed in with 80mm+ the Empire State Building would have looked massive. I’m limited to the 35mm range for this blog but I encourage you to try zoomed focal lengths to scale up your backdrop subjects. Experiment with your camera’s settings and new focal lengths, it’s the only way you’ll learn!
This week marks the halfway point of my fifty two week photoblog series. Throughout the week I jumped back and forth a lot trying to decide what picture/subject to shoot for my twenty sixth post. In the end I decided where better to shoot than where I started twenty six weeks ago? That’s right, I returned to my favorite spot in Hoboken along the uptown waterfront. After I finally submitted to the idea I grabbed a coffee from bwè kafe and sat on “my bench” to think out how I could put a new twist on a picture I’ve taken so many times. As I mentally flipped through the various pictures that I’ve taken at the location I paused on one picture taken with a triple exposure. In the picture a runner zoomed through the frame and gave off a ghost like image. As I sat at my bench dwelling on the ghost image it hit me, what if I used myself to create another “ghost like” image and thus was literally halfway in the picture, or “halfway there.” This seemed like a cleverly fun idea and I’m glad that I was able to pull it off.
To pull off the “halfway there” image idea I had two options. My first option was to shoot the picture like the original “ghost like” image using a double or triple exposure. A multiple exposure picture would have been easy, so I decided to go with a more challenging option that utilized more of the skills/knowledge I’ve learned over the past twenty six weeks. What I decided was to shoot my picture using a long exposure and wireless trigger. This sounds straight forward enough too but the challenge was to do this during the day. In daylight long exposures are hard to execute, luckily this is something I’ve done in the past in a few of my posts. With the use of my handy neutral density filters, and a super small aperture of f/22, I was able to hit a shutter speed of four seconds. Four seconds was the perfect amount of time to create a “halfway there’ image. I stayed in the frame for 2 seconds then quickly jumped out of frame for the remaining 2. It took me a couple of attempts but eventually I nailed it!
Challenge number two of this week was how to edit an otherwise boring skyline. When shooting the skyline from Hoboken I typically wait for a day with interesting clouds, or wake up really early to shoot at sunrise. This time I had already missed my sunrise option for the day, and literally had too many clouds to work with. When I shot this picture it was a cloudy overcast day with a slight tint of blue showing up in the clouds. Here is where being able to edit an image in an artistic manner pays off. For this week I went with a dull look with some slight color tints. The way I achieved my final look was by first applying some of my usual edits such as lowering highlights, increasing contrast, clarity and color saturation, along with applying some sharpening. After getting my picture prepped I then applied a VSCO preset filter “Polaroid 669” which gives the image a film look. I also applied some presets to boost the blues and saturation even more in the image. The finishing touch was to add a slight vignette around the edges. As you can see from the before and after comparison, the right editing makes all the difference.
A new year and a new perspective. One of the keys to making progress is the idea that only by searching for new ideas and perspectives will you truly grow. Therefore finding new perspectives in life and photography is my goal for 2014. This week I decided a good way to challenge myself would be to set out in Hoboken to find a new perspective on some of the locations I’ve so often photographed over the past year.
Starting out on 4th street I begin working my way towards Pier A park. When I arrived at the park I noticed that there were quite a few puddles still around even though it was a bright blue sunny day. I’m a big fan of puddle pictures, so I set my sights on one rather large puddle at the corner of Pier A. As I crouched down to get a good angle an old man tapped me on the shoulder and asked what I was photographing. I proudly hit my camera’s review button and showed him my most recent shot. He responded with a “Wow” and told me that reminded him of something he did when he was young. Intrigued, I asked him what it was that he did with puddles when he was young? He proceeded to stand over the puddle and intensely look down into the shallow pool of water. I initially thought he was checking himself out but then he explained what he was doing. He was standing at such an angle that he couldn’t see himself, just the reflection of the sky in the puddle. He said I’d stand here and look, look into the puddle, and if you do it long enough you can lose yourself in it’s reflection. Little did this man know he had just in part described my goal for the day. You see as this man stared into the puddle he wasn’t simply looking at the ground, no he was gazing into the deep blue sky but only from a new perspective. As the old man stood there for a few more seconds in silence I could see he was adrift in the skies reflection and found happiness from this new perspective. That’s what I want in 2014, I want to find happiness through the eyes of a new perspective.
The “Old Man”
After my nice interaction with the old man I continued on my quest for this week’s picture. I took pictures looking straight up trees, crouches at ground level, and I even fired off some no look shots while chasing some birds. Although I might have looked like a real oddball to anyone that may have been observing, after they saw my pictures they would understand. Eventually I worked my way back towards 4th street and the took one final detour at Pier C, or as I like to call it, Hoboken island. I’ve attempted to get a picture from the winding entrance of Pier C many times. This time I decided to drop to one knee and see what perspective that brought. What I saw was how the railing of the path was leading directly towards the city skyline. I snapped of a couple pictures until homing in my settings then leaned directly against the railing for what would be my final picture.
The focus of this week’s picture was finding a new perspective which essentially meant I needed to find a unique composition. In this week’s picture the look that I was going for was one of a focus to blur effect on the railing that led to the city skyline. To get this look I had to set my aperture not too small (f/22) nor too large (f/1.8). A logical approach was to split the two numbers and that’s exactly what I did. I shot my picture with an aperture of f/11 which usually puts mostly everything in focus but because I was so close (actually touching) the railing it gave a good blur to the city skyline. Below is an example of how the closeness of the railing and use of focus points got me the “blur” look I was going for. This picture is identical to my featured picture from a setting (ISO/aperture/shutter speed) standpoint but as you can see the skyline is a lot more in focus. This is the picture that I think most people would take at this low angle. I took this picture first, then to get a “new perspective” leaned into the pole to get a new spin on the view.
Picture Info: ISO 500, 35mm, f/11, 1/320 seco
As I edited the picture in Lightroom, I wanted to emphasize the metallic look of the railing along with the lights that were built into it. To do this I worked with the color sliders but unlike last week, I was actually adjusting the colors not black and white shading. As a result of tweaking the green in the railing you’ll notice all the green in my picture really pops. I wanted the green to stand out so it would first draw your eye to the railing then the green of the railing transitions into the green of the city skyline.
Overall lot of my “new perspective” shots involved getting lower to the ground or closer to my subjects than usual. I encourage you to do the same with some of your pictures this week. After you take a picture pause and ask yourself, without changing your subject how can you adjust your composition to get a new look?
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
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.
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
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
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
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!
Week 13 (10/27/2013 – 11/2/2013): Maxwell Place Park, Hoboken NJ
Picture taken on 11/1/2013 at 5:59 PM
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?
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.
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.