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

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

A Day of Reflection Pt 2

Picture Specs: ISO 200, 35mm, f/4, 1/640 sec

Picture Specs: ISO 200, 35mm, f/4, 1/640 sec

Week 11 (10/13/2013 – 10/19/2013): Chelsea 11 Ave/19th St
Picture taken on 10/14/2013 at 4:57 PM

Picture description:

Since taking the picture for my second blog “A Day of Reflection” I’ve been drawn to taking more and more reflections shots. After a crazy/good weekend and with a very busy week looming ahead of me I thought Monday would my only opportunity to get a picture this week and an ideal time for a second “Day of Reflection”. The title of this week’s blog is just as much a reference to a day of relaxing outdoors as it is to the kind of picture I took. When things get busy it’s even more important for me to set aside one day to clear my mind and of course get a picture for this blog. Walking around the city and enjoying the fall weather is one of my favorite ways to relax. Add a camera to the mix and it’s a hard afternoon to top.

Setting out the target destination for my afternoon was Chelsea, more specifically the area surrounding the Chelsea piers. Knowing there were a couple of parks, some interesting buildings and of course the waterfront/piers in the area Chelsea seemed like the perfect spot. After popping out of the subway on 14th street I began my short journey towards the water. While on my way to my picture’s destination I unknowingly passed the Chelsea Market and a bar called “The Tippler”. Not to get off topic but I circled back to both locations on Wednesday (not for pictures) and if you haven’t been to either I highly recommend checking out both, very cool!

After a walking around for a little I eventually arrived at the Chelsea Piers and immediately saw what would be the subject of this week’s blog. There are two buildings right across from the Chelsea piers which are architecturally awesome. One of the buildings is the main office for IAC which is an internet media company and the other is ‘trendy’ residential building called Nouvel. Both buildings are incredible so it was difficult to decide which building should be the focus of my picture, that’s why I decided a reflection shot was my best option…and so the challenge of getting this week’s shot began

IAC Building

IAC Building

Photography concepts:

As mentioned in the this week’s picture description my goal was to get two buildings in one shot. Capturing multiple buildings would have been a much easier task to accomplish if I was using a wide angel lens, or even a zoom lens from a distance. As you hopefully have come to know by now this blog revolves around me shooting with my 35mm lens, which due to my crop sensor provides around a 50-52mm perspective. Most people don’t know what these ‘mm’ measurements equate to so let me put it into perspective once more, a camera phone is around a 30-35mm perspective. When shooting with a camera phone I’m sure you’ve had limitations when it comes to fitting everything in the picture. Now imagine shrinking that window by about 40%. Yes maybe now you understand why capturing buildings or wide scenes is so challenging, here is where using reflections comes in. Through the use of reflections you can capture larger images in a smaller window.

An alternate reflection shot

An alternate reflection shot

The first challenge in capturing this week’s reflection picture was finding an angle that provided a clear reflection of the Nouvel building. Once I found the right angle the second challenge was determining what lines I should use to level off my picture. I decided to align my picture on the Nouvel building. Once I had my angle and point of reference to level my shot the third and last challenge was messing around with settings to find the best aperture for capturing a crisp image. I took the same picture in an array of apertures to make sure once it came time for editing I had options. While shooting with a DSLR taking the same picture using different settings is the surest way to insure you get a great picture. When you’re reviewing pictures in the LCD screen on the back of your camera it isn’t always easy to identify one that’s going to look good on a big screen. This concept is commonly referred to as “bracketing” and is one of the most important photography lesson’s I’ve learned thus far. The concept of bracketing is applied to almost any camera setting, it’s most often use is probably when it comes to exposure or light settings. Below are a couple articles on bracketing if you’d like to read more about how to apply this concept. In the future I’m going to attempt to use bracketing and merging pictures to capture a picture that contains high and low exposure areas so stay tuned!

Bracketing Articles

http://www.nikonusa.com/en/Learn-And-Explore/Article/gblbwrp6/exposure-bracketing-the-creative-insurance-policy.html

http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2012/11/13/bracketing-explained-what-you-need-to-know-about-maximising-detail-in-your-photos/

Nouvel’s Site

http://www.nouvelchelsea.com/

Getting Negative

Picture specs: ISO 500, 35mm, f/4.0, 1/4000 second

Picture specs: ISO 500, 35mm, f/4.0, 1/4000 second

Week 8 (9/22/2013 – 9/28/2013): Flatiron building, corner of  23rd/5th NYC
Picture Taken on 9/25/2013 at 4:58 PM

Picture Description:

No, don’t worry I’m not going on any kind of negative rant in this week’s post.  If you want to understand the “negative” reference in the title you’ll have to read the photography concepts!  Enough on that, time for the story behind the picture.

I was reminded about a very valuable lesson this week, that lesson being that you really can’t force things.  As usual I had a plan for this week but by Tuesday I realized my plan was pretty much a wash.  The plan was to get a picture of or around the United Nations building.  The reason I chose this week was because it’s the annual United Nations General Assembly.  Most people have no idea about when the General Assembly happens let alone the chaos that happens in the area surrounding the UN.  I work not too far from the UN so each year I get a front row seat to the insanity.  SWAT cars, Secret Service, hundreds of NYPD officers, and countless diplomats converge on my little east side nook.  What I wanted to do was get a picture that in some way captured the madness.  On Monday I scouted the surrounding area to see if there were any good pictures that caught my eye.  Due to all the added security I couldn’t get close to the UN building so I knew I’d have to get some kind of distant shot.  The only idea I could think of was a sunrise picture since the UN is right on the water.  Sunset shot easy right, yes…on any other week!

It wasn’t until Tuesday morning when I brought my camera into work with me that I realized the flaw in my plan.  With so many cops and security personnel around the second I took my camera out all eyes focused on me.  Why is he photographing the UN?  Why is he wearing a black coat?  Why is he walking down that street?  Why is he looking around in such an odd way?  These are all of the questions I could almost hear getting asked as I felt the burning stares.  After a few short minutes I decided to move locations to the waterfront on the East river, bad idea. Once I got to the waterfront I saw police boats circling which seemed to immediately fixate on me.  As one large boat headed in my direction, I quickly threw my camera into my bag and slowly walked away.  In my head I had this sudden fear that some kind of unmarked car was going to zoom up, grab me, and take me away for hours of questioning.  At this point I said you know what I really don’t want to get arrested this week, I’m going to get a bagel and call it a morning.

That afternoon as I thought about what unfolded in the morning I realized even though I really wanted the UN picture this week, now isn’t the best time, there is always next week.  Giving up on something like this is difficult for me.  Once I see something I want I go for it but as I said  earlier, this week I was reminded sometimes you can’t force things you just have to be patient and wait for the right time.

Once I came to terms with holding off on the UN idea I decided that I would take a trip to the flatiron building to see if I had better luck without all the piercing police eyes.  Prior to this week I had only seen the flatiron building from a distance or very briefly up-close while driving by.  The building is quite the scene in person and can make you a little dizzy when you’re standing right next to it looking straight up.  Luckily I was able to conquer the dizziness and get this week’s shot, hopefully you like it!

Photography Concepts:

Photography wise what I learned this week is “getting negative” isn’t a bad idea, let me explain.  As I continue to read about the concepts of photography one term that’s come up a lot when referencing a pictures composition is “negative space.”  Based on everything I’ve read negative space is the area surrounding your subject (which is positive space).  It seems logical enough right?  I’ve seen that in some photos people literally fill the negative space with well nothing.  What this does it it really emphasizes the subject.  In my case my subject was the flatiron building and my negative space was filled with the nice blue sky.  When I first started taking pictures if I took a picture where half of it was empty I’d probably think about cropping it down to eliminate that space.  What I’ve now learned is if used correctly the empty “negative” space is a nice tool to put in your composition toolbox.

An example of a picture where there is no negative space.

An example of a picture where the subject takes up most of the frame

One trick I learned this week while getting myself dizzy from looking up for too long was how to line up my pictures better.  In a lot of the pictures I’ve previously taken of buildings while looking straight up I noticed that the picture always seems tilted.  The way I lined the picture up or saw it in real life didn’t translate well to the composition of the photo once I reviewed it at home.  While I was shooting this week I tried to choose a line or lines in the building that would level things out when I looked at the picture later on.  It felt odd while I was taking the picture but my results were a lot better. For example in the below picture I chose the corner line between the two sides of the building to line up my shot.  It’s hard to give some kind of formula for choosing the right line, but it’s something I’m going to try and pay closer attention to in the future.

Blog_8(final)3

Night Light

ISO 100, 35mm, f/8.0, 4 sec

ISO 100, 35mm, f/8.0, 4 sec

Week 6 (9/8/2013 – 9/14/2013): Shipyard Marina, Hoboken NJ
Picture Taken on 9/9/2013 9:11PM

Picture Description

Going into this week my goal was to create a multiple exposure photograph or light trail night picture.  As a possible secondary option I bookmarked the possibility of photographing the freedom tower.  On Monday night I went out around 6ish to mess around with my new Nikon ML-L3 remote.  I was aiming for either a double/triple exposure of the Hoboken ferry or some kind of sunset shot.   After messing around for about an hour I went back to my apartment to eat some dinner, review my pictures, and wait until the sun was totally down so I could try for a night picture.  Unfortunately after reviewing the pictures on my computer none of them worked out as I planned so I was going to have to go back out for the night shot.

After dinner as I stepped outside of my apartment my eyes were instantly drawn to the distant southeastern skyline.   What I was looking at was simply amazing, the 9/11 memorial lights were getting trapped in some low thick clouds and forming this surreal spherical glow.  All of my other night picture plans went out the window at that point, I had to take a picture of this unique occurrence.

After taking the picture I thought it was good (not great) but didn’t want to use it as my picture for this week.  As I do with most unused pictures I posted it up on Facebook to share with my friends.  To my surprise this picture got more activity than any other one I’ve posted.  Coming up with a picture to top this one, at least this week would have been hard so in the end I decided to use this picture.

 Photography Concepts 

To get this picture I had to apply many of the tricks I’ve learned over the past couple of months. In some of my previous long exposure pictures I noticed a slight camera shake.  To prevent getting shaky images I’ve moved towards using either a 2 second delayed shutter release or in this case a remote.  Next I regularly use a UV filter on all my camera lens to prevent any wear and tear.  Over time I noticed that at night using a filter increases the amount of light distortion and bleed, so prior to this picture I removed the UV filter.  The last two keys to this photo, which I’ll talk about in a little more detail, are the exposure settings I used and editing in Lightroom.

The exposure I used was -2 (stops) which for anyone that doesn’t know, it’s an underexposure.  The reason I underexposed was because after taking other nighttime city shot I’ve noticed that with so many lights from all the buildings my pictures tend to get overexposed.  There are lots of negatives with overexposing, in terms of my city pictures the most noticeable is the change in the sky color.  After messing around with different exposures I’ve settled on -2 for my go to exposure setting.

Now it’s hard to describe all the different tweaking I did in Lightroom but one of the main fixes was the white balance setting.  I forgot my white balance cards when I went out to shoot this picture so I had to do it after the fact.  I also made some moderate adjustments to the Highlights, shadows, whites, blacks and clarity to get the picture to look like what I saw in person.  If you want to learn about Lightroom I highly recommend going on youtube and watching some tutorial videos.  There is so much information out there to support learning photography (and most other hobbies) it’s just about finding it.

Before and After Editing in Lightroom

Before and After Editing in Lightroom

Since I originally did not want to use this picture let me quickly explain why and what I could have done better.  For starters if I remembered my white balance cards I would not of had to do so much editing in Lightroom.  I rather get a good picture in camera rather than edit it especially for this photoblog. I also wasn’t happy about my composition, the green in the picture is really nice but I was made I cut off some of the left side of the peninsula that is shipyard park.  I wish that I would have stepped back another 30-50 ft to get more into the picture.  Last I wish I found something interesting to put into the foreground of the picture, it just makes for a more interesting picture.

Article about Exposure
http://bit.ly/1eOEzt8

Lightroom Video’s
http://bit.ly/140WqbT
http://bit.ly/1ddxPTS