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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Trophy Tradition

Picture info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/2.8, 1/400 sec

Picture info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/2.8, 1/400 sec

Week 51 (7/21/2014 -7/27/2014): PSU Nittnay Lion Statue

Picture taken on 7/27/2014 1:16PM

Photography description

Tradition is something that my friends and I take very serious.  Over the years I’ve remained close with many of my High School friends, in part because of our yearly traditions.  Among all of our yearly traditions there is one that stands above the rest, the BRAM.  The BRAM started 10 years ago by complete accident.  Our original plan was to simply have one last weekend getaway to play some golf before we all set out for our Freshman year of college.  By the end of the weekend we came up with the concept of the BRAM (standing for Bob, Rob, Anthony, Mike).  By the following year we had a trophy, the BRAM Cup, to go along with our tradition, and things have escalated ever since.

At the conclusion of each year’s BRAM, the winner of our 36 hole golf tournament is presented with the BRAM cup in front of the Nittany Lion,  which is featured in this week’s post.  Just like this statue, we’re confident our tradition will stand the tests of time.

Photography concepts:

Taking pictures of statues is pretty straight forward.  Statues don’t move, so the main two decisions you’ll face are how to handle lighting (exposure) and what aperture to shoot with.  When it comes to selecting your aperture ask yourself this simple question, do you want to separate the statue from its background? If yes, then shoot the statue with the widest aperture you have.  If the statue you’re shooting has a wide depth of field, shoot with a smaller aperture (e.g. f/3.2-f/4) to keep everything in focus.  You want to avoid selecting an aperture that will only focus on the front of the statue, unless that’s the look you’re going for.  I was able to shoot with f/2.8 and still keep the whole statue in focus.

Figuring out the lighting for my picture was simple, mainly because the Nittnay Lion statue was in the shade and thus had nice even lighting.   I didn’t have a lot of time while shooting, so I put my camera on aperture priority to make sure I capture an evenly exposed picture.  I knew having a well exposed picture would enable me to do whatever editing I wanted after the fact.  In Lightroom I decided to emphasize the shadows and bright light spots by dropping the shadows and highlights while boosting the contrast and clarity.  These adjustments didn’t create a drastic change, but it was just enough to create the image that I had in mind when taking the picture.

Before and After Edit

Before and After Edit

 

 

Candid

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/2.8, 1/125sec

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/2.8, 1/125sec

Week 50 (7/14/2014 -7/20/2014): Parent’s Kitchen

Picture taken on 7/19/2014 6:01PM

Photography description:

This past week my brother Ryan asked me to take a headshot for his school ID.   Headshot photography isn’t my forte, mainly because of limited experience, but for family and friends I’ll always happily make an attempt.

Going into the mini shoot, using a picture of my brother for this week’s picture was never my intention.  In fact this week’s picture was more of a test shot taken while Ryan was fixing his shirt.  After I loaded everything into Lightroom for editing this picture just jumped out at me.  The texture of Ryan’s hair and shirt, along with the contrast between his white shirt and dark hair is what caught my eye.  After getting Ryan’s approval I decided this would be the perfect feature for this week’s picture.

Photography Concepts:

The natural texture and contrast of the original picture was what caught my eye, but focused editing to enhance the two attributes is what brought both to the reality of my imagination.

Original vs Edit

Original vs Edit

The first step was to add to the naturally toned contrast in the picture by changing the background from blue to grey.  In Lightroom uniformed color changes are a breeze, you simply select the color and change the hue or saturation level.  The only limiting factor is the colors you can shift to.  For example, the original blue background could have only been changed to something close to the blue spectrum (e.g. shades of blue or purple), or grey.  Luckily grey was the color I wanted, and grey was within the range I could shift to.  I turned the background grey by dropping both the blue and aqua colors saturation and luminance to zero, as seen below.

Color Edit

Color Edit

The second round of editing focused on the texture of my picture.  My brother’s hair had a lot of natural texture, but increasing the clarity and contrast brought it out even more.  Next I enhanced his shirt’s texture by dropping the highlights and white tones to reveal all of the wrinkles.  I did both of these focused edits at the full picture level (seen below) and at a more focused level using circular radial gradual filters on his head and shirt.

Lightroom edit settings

Lightroom edit settings

 

Shoot for the Moon

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/16, 30sec

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/16, 30sec

Week 49 (7/7/2014 -7/13/2014): Pier A, Hoboken NJ

Picture taken on 7/13/2014 9:42PM

Picture description:

No matter how many times it happens, a full moon always seems to invoke a certain amount of awe after it emerges from the horizon.  This past Saturday I was out camping for paintball in Pennsylvania when I first spotted the orange full moon.  Although I was in a magnificent location to capture the moon in all it’s glory, I did not have my Nikon with me.  It was hard not being able to photograph the rare event but in a way I was glad.  Not having my camera forced me to sit back and just appreciate the moon in the raw, not through a lens, not on the back of a LCD screen, but through my own two eyes.  As I gazed upon what seemed like a giant orange in the sky, I couldn’t help but think how I would compose a  picture feature the moon once back home.  I spent the rest of the evening kicking back with friends reminiscing about our glory days in college, knowing that tomorrow I’d have my shot at the moon.

After getting home from my trip to PA, I quickly gathered my gear and set out for the waterfront to get in position to shoot for the moon.  It was cloudy on Sunday but I remained optimistic that the moon would find a way to peek through the clouds.  After arriving at Pier A, I scouted a few spots for my picture then patiently waited for the moon to rise from the Western horizon.  The predicted moonrise time came and went, and there was still no sign of the moon.  After about 15 minutes doubt started to creep into my mind and I began to think that perhaps the clouds were just too thick to see the moon.  Once 20 minutes hit I started to head back uptown feeling very defeated.  As I walked past Pier C I took a quick glance at the horizon and much to my surprise I saw an orange glow starting to burst through the clouds.  Could it be?!  Yes it was, it was the orange mood that I was eagerly waiting for.  I quickly ran back to my spot at Pier A, composed my picture and the rest is history.

Photography Concepts

When it comes to composing a picture featuring a full moon, or even the sun, one of the keys is knowing where your subject (the moon/sun) will be and when.  Although the moon popped out later than I originally expected, I still had a good idea about when it would rise and where I should look for it.  I’m sure there are plenty of options out there for figuring out the moon’s location but my information source is typically an iPhone application called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris.”  I’ve mentioned this application in the past, but it’s so valuable that it’s worth a second shout out.  Below is an example of how I planned the composition of my picture based on where the moon would be.

iPhone App Screen Shot

iPhone App Screen Shot

The reason I chose this location was because the trees lining Pier A created  a natural leading lines composition, drawing your eyes down the pier towards the moon.  I knew my focal length would leave the moon looking tiny, so I had to give the moon a boost a good composition to make it stand out.   Other than the trees, I also used the light reflections in the water to naturally point towards the moon.  In order for me to get the water looking as smooth as it did, I had to shoot a long exposure.  The trade off of shooting a long exposure was the moon wasn’t as in focus as I would have liked.  In hindsight I wish that I shot a few pictures using a quicker shutter to capture more detail in the moon.  The next full moon like this is on August 10th which leaves me plenty of time to plan out my next shot.  Mark it on your calendar, pick a location and shoot for the moon!

Redux

 

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/9, 1/40 sec

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/9, 1/40 sec

Week 48 (6/30/2014 -7/6/2014): Shipyard Park, Hoboken NJ

Picture taken on 7/6/2014 at 6:29 PM

Photograph description:

With the summer now in full swing, it’s become difficult to find the time to shoot new locations.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent plenty of time outside of Hoboken, but I’m not always in a position to take my camera.  The past few weekends have brought me to places like Atlantic City, to the beach aka “DTS” for you locals, Pennsylvania, and lots of places in between.  All of these places offered plenty of great photographic opportunities, but bringing my camera would have added a layer of complexity I wasn’t comfortable with.  One of the few negatives of having a nice camera, is that it’s a nice camera, and you don’t want to risk messing it up or getting it stolen.  Luckily not every trip I have planned for this summer falls into ‘danger’ category,  I have a few trips in August that I’ll be able to bring my Nikon on.  This 52 week photoblog might be coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop posting once I’ve completed the year commitment.  I’m still kicking around ideas for my next theme but you can bank on the fact that I’ll still be posting and sharing my photography long after this photoblog theme wraps up.

Since I haven’t had time to  get out and explore new places with my Nikon, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit the locations of my earlier posts.  If you’ve been with me since the beginning you might remember my week three post “unplanned destiny” where I photographed the same fountain as this week’s picture.  If you missed it here is your chance to go check it out!

Photography concepts:

In my week three post I talked about the settings I used in order to achieve my camera’s fastest shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second.  Previously I chose a fast shutter speed so that I could freeze the water droplets that were spraying from the fountain.  This time around I decided to go with the opposite strategy and slow my shutter down so I would catch more of the water’s motion.

Just like in my week three post I had a regret after shooting my picture.  This time around rather than wishing I used flash to freeze the water’s motion, I regretted not using my ND filter to help slow my camera’s shutter down and pick up even more of the water’s motion.  You might have noticed the aperture I chose (f/9) and said well if you wanted a slower shutter you could have shrunk your aperture down beyond f/9.  If that was your thought, you were right, however the reason I stuck with f/9 was so the sun’s flare would stay relatively blown out and soft.  If you remember back in my week 38 post “beaming” I talked about how the aperture you choose when shooting into the sun has a big effect on the way the sun’s flares look.  Check out “beaming” if you want to get a better understanding about why I didn’t choose a smaller aperture.

Besides my shutter speed, the other big change I made from my week three post was the composition of my picture.  This week I took about 20 steps back from my original spot, and placed my camera on the ground while shooting.  In part, I used the ground to help stabilize my camera since I was shooting with a slow shutter.  I also wanted to make sure the clearing between the trees which the sun was shining through was lined up directly behind the fountain to backlight everything.  I may have looked like a fool getting so low, but I was very happy with the end result.

 

Rethink

Picture info: ISO 3200, 36mm, f/2.8, 1/60 Sec

Picture info: ISO 3200, 36mm, f/2.8, 1/60 Sec

Week 46 (6/16/2014 -6/22/2014): Pier C, Hoboken NJ

Picture taken on 6/16/2014 at 9:05 PM

Photograph description:

If you took a step back and evaluated your life, what would you see?  One thing that I often notice about myself is that I have a tendency to fall into a routine.  I’ll make a decision that sets a precedent, then intentionally, or sometimes unintentionally, follow that precedent.  Routines can be good, but sometimes falling into a routine can limit the experiences or results that you get out of life.

Over the past few weeks as I’ve identified some of my different routines, I’ve intentionally set out to shake things up.  For example, every morning I pick up a hot coffee on my way to work.  To mix things up I started drinking iced coffee in the morning instead of my usual grande dark roast.  Another example, usually I go running in the evening, instead I’ve switched things up and have been going in the early AM.  These are just a few small examples which might seem trivial, but when you start to add up all the small changes, they make a big difference.  As with the saying “change begets change,” so the more routines that I’ve changed, the more I’ve rethought other aspects of my daily routine. As you’ve probably guessed, eventually this change made it’s way into my photography.

After analyzing my photography I noticed my tendency or “routine” was to shoot symmetrical photographs.  If my photograph had lines, they typically were level on a x/y axis.  The composition of my images was good, but as a whole my photographs were lacking some diversity.  The conclusion, rethink my usual composition style by, flipping, tilting, blurring and or anything that would bring a new composition look to my photographs.  The result, this week’s picture.

Photography concepts:

This week marked the first time I opened myself up for some image critiquing prior to posting.  Usually I commit to my image and don’t budge after selecting and editing my photograph.  As I said earlier, I’ve been mixing things up so after showing my brother-in-law (also Anthony) this week’s picture I reworked my photograph based on his critique.  After showing Anthony this week’s original image he pointed out how the railing was distracting and sort of made your eye stop look in confusion rather than continue down the path towards the blurry one world trade.  With Anthony’s comments in mind, I re-edited my photograph cutting some of the blurry railing out, while also darkening the rest so it was less distracting.  The next twist, literally, was I rotated the axis of my whole image so I no longer had a level shot.  The last major re-edit was to bring some subtle color back the image, this also helped the railing distraction by reducing the contrast of white on pure black.

Original Edit

Original Edit

After reworking my photograph I again sent it to Anthony for some critiquing.  He was in agreement that my re-edits were a good improvement to the image.  Anthony’s only remaining criticism was that the “in focus” portion of my image was a small portion of the railing, which was on the lower part of the image and not really featured in the image.  Although I saw the flaw that Anthony pointed out, the location of my focus was a necessary tradeoff to get the image I wanted.  While shooting this week’s photo my intention was to blur out the World Trade building enough so it had nice bokeh, but was still recognizable.  In order to get the bokeh I wanted, I needed to shoot with a wide aperture (my lenses widest f/2.8), which left me with a small plane of focus.  After selecting the appropriate aperture, I flipped my lens to manual focus and slowly twisted the focus ring until I got the right amount of bokeh.  Had I shot with a smaller aperture I would have gotten more of the railing in focus, but it would have been harder to get the same amount of bokeh.  As I hinted about earlier in the week, this week’s picture was all about the bokeh!

Afternoon Shading

 

Picture info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/13, 1/60 sec

Picture info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/13, 1/60 sec

Week 45 (6/92014 -6/15/2014): My Apartment

Picture taken on 6/15/2014 at 6:05 PM

Photograph description

A recent YouTube video gave me the idea about trying to photograph things in my everyday life.  The challenge with photographing everyday life is finding ways to creatively photograph your surroundings.  This past sunday, as I laid on my couch post Father’s day brunch thinking about what I could photograph, I realized my subject was literally right in front of me.  Right next to the couch in my room is a 6 foot high inset window that captures the most amazing afternoon light.  The time and angle of which the sun hits my window varies throughout the year, but during the summer it’s light starts around 5PM and lasts until about 630PM.  As the sun moves left to right across the sky it’s light bleeds through the cracks of room’s blinds creating different shades of light minute to minute.  Adding to the shading complexity is a tree that sits in my backyard.  Depending on the day’s wind, the tree’s leaves are typically swaying creating a constantly shifting wave of shaded patterns.  This daily afternoon dance of shade and light has captured my attention countless times and is ultimately why I chose to feature it as this week’s picture.

Photography concepts

Manual, manual, manual, that is how I was able to shoot this week’s image.  Shooting in manual over the past few months has unlocked a whole new world when it comes to photographing light.  It took a few times of shooting then adjusting to find the exposure that I thought best captured the moment.  The tricky part was not moving away from an aperture that captured the sun’s light appropriately.  In week’s past I’ve often spoken about what apertures are best for making the sun look a certain way.  This week I didn’t wanted the sun to softly peak form the blinds so kept my aperture in the range of f/11-f/15.  I’ve found that those apertures produce nice soft sun beams.  Anything larger (f/1.8-f/10) starts to make the sun look like one giant blob of light, and anything smaller (f/16+) make the sun’s beam have a sharpness to them.  I’ve taken a picture of the sun peaking through my blinds at f/22 and it didn’t create an image that’s true to the way I see it.

Old picture using f/22

Old picture using f/22

The second half of creating this week’s image was done in lightroom.  Raising the Highlights, Contrast, Whites, and Clarity while lowering Shadows, and Blacks is how I achieved this week’s image.  The more you play with these settings the better you will become with knowing what to raise or lower to achieve your look.  It can be intimidating the first time you use Lightroom when you see all of the adjustments at your fingertips, but trust me before you know it you’ll be flying through them and wish you had more ways to tweak your image.  Lightroom has become my greatest tool for fine tuning an image to be exactly what I want.  The only way you’ll learn is through practice, I’ve edited 1000’s of images since starting this blog and I’m still learning new tricks.  If you haven’t already I highly recommend purchasing lightroom and trying it out today!