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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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!

Circling Back

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/20, 20 Second

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/20, 20 Second

Week 43 (5/26/2014 -6/1/2014): Uptown Hoboken

Picture taken on 5/30/2014 at 9:49 PM

Photograph description:

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!

Photography concepts:

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!