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!

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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!

A growing family

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/3.2, 1/250 second

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/3.2, 1/250 second

Week 35 (3/31/2014 -4/6/2014): Treasure Island Beach, FL

Picture taken on 4/6/2014 at 8:03 PM

Picture description

This past weekend brought me to Florida to celebrate my cousin Danielle’s wedding.  It was a beautiful venue filled with my beautiful family.  Originally I planned to use a picture from the wedding for this post, but due to mobile limitations I decided to hold off on posting any wedding pictures until I returned and had time to properly sort through them all.  My back-up plan was to hit the beach at sunset sometime during my trip, preferably in the area of a pier.  My goal was to shoot either a long exposure and or some kind of sunset picture.  Since getting my DSLR I’ve taken two other trips to Florida, but neither visit brought me to the beach during sunset with my Nikon.  This time around I was determined to get to the beach for magic hour.

When I pitched the beach sunset idea to my family, they were all on board and even helped research locations.  After picking a location, we quickly ate dinner and set out for  “The Long Pier” at Redington Beach.  Redington Beach was a little far which had us worried about arriving late and missing the sunset.  As we drove up the coast we decided to call an audible and stop at the location of our last family reunion, Treasure Island Beach.

After arriving my cousin Courtney and I moved ahead of everyone else and headed towards the beach.  We moved as quickly as possible, taking into account my cousin is pregnant, but that didn’t seem to slow her down at all.  Once we reached the shoreline, Courtney and I both started assessing the sunset for the best shot.  Like me, Courtney is a photography enthusiast, and recently purchased a DSLR of her own.  We both shuffled around taking pictures until the rest of the family arrived.  When Courtney’s husband Ray arrived and stood next to her my eyes were immediately drawn to how their silhouettes contrasted against the sunsetting sky.  Their silhouettes were particularly meaningful because of Courtney’s little baby bump.  I took a couple steps back, told them to pose and three shots later had my picture.  Although I got plenty of great pictures that night, none seemed as meaningful as the one of Courtney and Ray.  To me this picture perfectly captured the essence of my trip, Florida, beaches, love and our growing family, both through marriage and pregnancy.

Photography concepts:

While in Florida I made it a point to shoot almost completely in manual.  The more I shoot in manual, the more I’m seeing how much it trumps my old technique of exposure compensation.  Yes I can fix my exposure in post (editing), but getting it right in camera feels more authentic and is definitely more gratifying.  Had I not shot this week’s picture in manual, my best option would have been to spot meter off the sunset background.  Spot metering should have done the trick for underexposing and therefore silhouetting my cousins, but I didn’t have time to test in order to prove my theory.

What made this picture was a combination of decisions involving, aperture, focus points, and composition.  First, I decided to shoot with a somewhat wide aperture (f/3.2).  The reason behind using a wide aperture was to isolate my subjects from the background.  A bonus was that I didn’t have to slow my shutter down too much, resulting in crisp edges in details such as strands of hair that were blowing in the wind.  Second, in order for me to get my cousins in focus and separate them from the background as I planned, I had to set my focus point on them.  Focusing on dark figures is difficult because your camera looks for contrasting colors to focus on.  Therefore I didn’t line my focus point up with either of their center masses, instead I hit the edges around their mouths.  The tricky part about using edges is knowing if you actually hit them or the background, it’s a very fine line.  I recommend zooming into your image after shooting and looking for some kind of detail such as hair to determine if you were successful.  The third and last point I want to mention is my composition.  I used the rule of thirds to determine both where I lined up my cousins, and the horizon.  I split my cousins between the left and middle thirds of the picture putting their kissing heads on the border line.  The reason I put them off center was because the background wasn’t symmetrical.  Had the the background been symmetrical, I think it would have looked better if they were symmetrically lined up too.  As for the horizon, the sky was more interesting than the water, so I gave the sky two thirds of the background space.

All of the decisions I just outlined are becoming very quick, almost instinctive decisions for me now.  I’m learning that the more you shoot, the more you fall back on the habits you developed in the early stages of learning your DSLR.  If you’re new to shooting with a DSLR, or you’re just applying these concepts to taking pictures with a point and shoot or camera phone, I encourage you to spend time thinking about what makes a good picture.  Before you shoot think about what you want to emphasize in the picture, then using the triangle of photography decide what settings are best.  Then determine your composition and start shooting.  The more time you spend on these decisions now, the less you’ll have to spend as you get more experience.  If you’re not new to taking pictures but never applied these concepts just slow yourself down and think.  The thing I always remind myself to do is take a picture less to “document” what’s going on and more to pass along the way I see things.  How do you see something?  Putting your creative spin on things is what makes it an art, that’s photography and that’s what people like to see.

“Snowboken”

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/11, 1/80sec

Picture info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/11, 1/80sec

Week 27 (2/3/2014 -2/9/2014): Hoboken, Maxwell Park

Picture taken on 2/3/2014 at 1:09 PM

Picture description

It’s said that the day after the Superbowl is one of the highest call out of work days of the year.  This year I was smart and decided to preemptively schedule myself for a day off on the dreaded Monday after the big game.  As it turned out I couldn’t have chosen a better day to take off, not because of a big game hangover, but because of a huge snowstorm that hit our area.  While most people were fighting both their hangovers and the weather I was relaxing comfortably in my apartment.  Even though I could spend the day sheltered from the storm, I decided it would be fun to head out into the snow with my Nikon in hand.  The only problem I faced was how to protect my camera from the wintery elements.  The solution that I came up with was simple, rubberband a ziplock bag around my camera and I was good to go, or so I thought.

Once out in the storm my ziplock plan seemed to work in terms of protecting my camera, but it made taking photos extremely difficult.  I was able to make the best of the situation by shielding my camera within my coat until I spotted a potential picture.  Knowing that I couldn’t preserve my camera’s dryness for long, I decided to hit two nearby Hoboken locations.  First I went to my usual spot, the uptown pier at Maxwell Park.  To my surprise I spotted a family of geese trying to take refuge in the cove of the pier’s “beach area.”  They were surrounded by ice and almost seemed to be frozen themselves.  I moved around trying to shoot the geese from the best angle possible without falling into the water myself.  Next I moved to the pier on Sinatra drive by the skatepark.  Since the snow was creating a nice white out I wanted to take a picture of the gazebo on the water with nothing but a white background.  Usually the New York City skyline is the backdrop so I thought this would make for a unique picture of the area.

gazebo picture

Gazebo picture

After getting the gazebo picture I decided to head back in for the day.  I had been outside for about an hour and it seemed that my ziplock bag was close to losing it’s ability to protect my camera.  As I fought my way through the snow back to my apartment,  I said to myself next time I’ll be better prepared for the elements.

Photography concepts:

The first time out in the snow with my Nikon taught me some valuable lessons.  The first and most obvious is that you need to keep your camera dry.  Although the ziplock bag was able to protect my camera for the hour that I was out, it would have been a stretch to sustain it’s usefulness for any longer period of time.  As a result my first purchase after Monday’s snow storm was a rain cover or “rain sleeve” for my camera (link below).  They essentially work just like the ziplock bag but they’re longer and hug my arm so shooting with them is a lot less clumsy.  I was hoping for another snow storm this weekend so I could test the sleeves, but of course you never get the weather you wish for.  Expect a follow up review of the rain sleeves usefulness in a future post.   

The second lesson I learned is that you absolutely need something dry to wipe off your lens.  This seems pretty obvious as well, yet I totally forgot to bring a cloth while I was out in the snow.  I had to use some of my inner layers to wipe off my lense.  Luckily I always keep a UV filter on my camera’s lens so there was no chance of damaging the actual lens.  Using a UV filter is nothing new for me but absolutely essential when you’re out in the elements.  It’s much smarter to scratch a $10 filter than the lens of your hundred plus dollar lens.

The last lesson that’s worth noting is what I learned in post (editing).  While reviewing my pictures I noticed that I didn’t take advantage of a key feature my DSLR.  Most DSLR’s, including my Nikon, give you the ability to shoot with very fast shutter speeds.  This is a great tool to have when it’s snowing (or raining) because it allows to you seemingly freeze time and capture snow flakes or rain drops midair.  I unfortunately didn’t shoot many pictures with fast shutter speeds.   From the pictures that I so happened to have a fast shutter,  it seemed that 1/1000 – 1/2000 seconds was the ideal speed to freeze the  snowflakes.  My guess is the best lens speed probably varies depending on the wind and size of the snowflakes.  Lesson learned, my shutter speed will absolutely be on the forefront of my mind next time I go out in the snow or rain.

Taken with shutter speed 1/1000 sec

Taken with shutter speed 1/1000 sec

Rain sleeve option 1

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/469774-REG/OP_TECH_USA_9001132_18_Rainsleeve_Set_of.html

Rain sleeve option 2

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/891383-REG/ruggard_rc_p18_18_plastic_rain_cover.html

New Perspective

Picture Info: ISO 500, 35mm, f/11, 1/320 seco

Picture Info: ISO 500, 35mm, f/11, 1/320 seco

Week 23 (1/6/2014 – 1/12/2014): Pier C, Hoboken NJ

Picture taken on 1/12/2014 at 3:58 PM

Picture description

A new year and a new perspective.  One of the keys to making progress is the idea that only by searching for new ideas and perspectives will you truly grow.  Therefore finding new perspectives in life and photography is my goal for 2014.  This week I decided a good way to challenge myself would be to set out in Hoboken to find a new perspective on some of the locations I’ve so often photographed over the past year.

Starting out on 4th street I begin working my way towards Pier A park.  When I arrived at the park I noticed that there were quite a few puddles still around even though it was a bright blue sunny day.  I’m a big fan of puddle pictures, so I set my sights on one rather large puddle at the corner of Pier A.  As I crouched down to get a good angle an old man tapped me on the shoulder and asked what I was photographing.  I proudly hit my camera’s review button and showed him my most recent shot.  He responded with a “Wow” and told me that reminded him of something he did when he was young.  Intrigued, I asked him what it was that he did with puddles when he was young?  He proceeded to stand over the puddle and intensely look down into the shallow pool of water.  I initially thought he was checking himself out but then he explained what he was doing.  He was standing at such an angle that he couldn’t see himself, just the reflection of the sky in the puddle.  He said I’d stand here and look, look into the puddle, and if you do it long enough you can lose yourself in it’s reflection.  Little did this man know he had just in part described my goal for the day.  You see as this man stared into the puddle he wasn’t simply looking at the ground, no he was gazing into the deep blue sky but only from a new perspective.  As the old man stood there for a few more seconds in silence I could see he was adrift in the skies reflection and found happiness from this new perspective.  That’s what I want in 2014, I want to find happiness through the eyes of a new perspective.

The "Old Man"

The “Old Man”

After my nice interaction with the old man I continued on my quest for this week’s picture.  I took pictures looking straight up trees, crouches at ground level, and I even fired off some no look shots while chasing some birds.  Although I might have looked like a real oddball to anyone that may have been observing, after they saw my pictures they would understand.  Eventually I worked my way back towards 4th street and the took one final detour at Pier C, or as I like to call it, Hoboken island.  I’ve attempted to get a picture from the winding entrance of Pier C many times.  This time I decided to drop to one knee and see what perspective that brought.  What I saw was how the railing of the path was leading directly towards the city skyline. I snapped of a couple pictures until homing in my settings then leaned directly against the railing for what would be my final picture.

Tree Perspective

Tree Perspective

Photography concepts:

The focus of this week’s picture was finding a new perspective which essentially meant I needed to find a unique composition.  In this week’s picture the look that I was going for was one of a focus to blur effect on the railing that led to the city skyline.  To get this look I had to set my aperture not too small (f/22) nor too large (f/1.8).  A logical approach was to split the two numbers and that’s exactly what I did.  I shot my picture with an aperture of f/11 which usually puts mostly everything in focus but because I was so close (actually touching) the railing it gave a good blur to the city skyline.   Below is an example of how the closeness of the railing and use of focus points got me the “blur” look I was going for.  This picture is identical to my featured picture from a setting (ISO/aperture/shutter speed) standpoint but as you can see the skyline is a lot more in focus.  This is the picture that I think most people would take at this low angle.  I took this picture first, then to get a “new perspective” leaned into the pole to get a new spin on the view.

Picture Info: ISO 500, 35mm, f/11, 1/320 seco

Picture Info: ISO 500, 35mm, f/11, 1/320 seco

As I edited the picture in Lightroom, I wanted to emphasize the metallic look of the railing along with the lights that were built into it.  To do this I worked with the color sliders but unlike last week, I was actually adjusting the colors not black and white shading.  As a result of tweaking the green in the railing you’ll notice all the green in my picture really pops.  I wanted the green to stand out so it would first draw your eye to the railing then the green of the railing transitions into the green of the city skyline.

Overall lot of my “new perspective” shots involved getting lower to the ground or closer to my subjects than usual.  I encourage you to do the same with some of your pictures this week.  After you take a picture pause and ask yourself, without changing your subject how can you adjust your composition to get a new look?

Searching for…

Picture Specs: ISO 320, 35mm, f/7.1, 1/500 sec

Picture Specs: ISO 320, 35mm, f/7.1, 1/500 sec

Week 9 (9/29/2013 – 10/5/2013): St. Petersburg Pier, FL
Picture taken on 10/1/2013 at 4:04 PM

Picture description:

Everyone is searching for something. Like most weeks one of the things I was searching for was an interesting picture to write about. In past weeks I had a set plan or some general idea about what I wanted to shoot, but my only plan for this week was to leave it open ended. The beginning part of my week was spent down in Florida visiting my insanely awesome family. My hope was that while in Florida something interesting would present itself and that my Nikon would be close or in hand to capture the moment. As one day rolled into another my camera stayed on the bench while most of my time was spent running around with my cousins doing what we do, “You don’t even know!” By the last day while my cousin Courtney and I were killing time before my flight we decided to grab a bite and hit the St. Petersburg Pier or as they call it “the pier” to see about getting a picture.

Once we got to the pier one picture instantly jumped out at me. With the thought of how everyone is “searching for” something in the back of my mind, the picture that caught my attention was this man sitting on a bench peering out at the pier as it jutted out into the deep blue bay. To me it looked like he was simply enjoying the beautiful view but also deep in thought, perhaps searching for an answer to something?

Another reason why this picture caught my eye was because this man’s spot reminded me of my own back up North. If you recall my post from week one I featured my favorite bench with a view. Chances are if Florida was my home this or one similar to this would be “my bench.” I’ve found that setting aside time to be alone in your thoughts is mentally one of the healthiest habits to have. Things move fast, as do people so if you don’t carve out some time to slow things down for a little you’re going to burn yourself out, at least that’s my philosophy. Not everyone has a bench, but I encourage you to find your equivalent. This nameless man and I have found our bench, the only remaining question is will we find everything else we’re searching for?

Photography concepts:

With 9 weeks in the books more of my focus is shifting towards the composition of my picture rather than the technical aspects such as exposure. Setting the right exposure is by choosing the correct settings is still key but it’s becoming more second nature for me. Using this week as an example, once I picked my spot there were two apertures I wanted to try for this picture. One was f/4 since this seems to be the “sweet spot” for my lens, and the other was something around f/7-8 to get most of the picture in a crisp focus. In the end f/7.1 looked the best since it kept everything in a nice focus, with the priority going to the sign in the foreground. In past weeks more of my time might have been spent finding the right exposure but thankfully this week I found it quickly and could put more thought into the elements of my composition.

Other than the beautiful clouds and water there were three things that I wanted to emphasis in this picture. My main subject was the pier with my secondary subject the man on the bench. Luckily these two subjects complimented one another in that the man is looking out towards the pier. This leads the viewer towards following the man’s gaze out into the water towards the pier. My third subject was the sign which had the main purpose of highlighting the location of my picture, St. Petersburg.

Framing the shot

Once my subjects were chosen it was all about lining them up, which of course brings back the concept of the rule of thirds. You’ll notice that two of my subjects are in the left thirds of the picture with my third and main subject (the pier) at the lower intersection point of the right two thirds. Putting the pier in its own two thirds was so my main subject had the prime location in the photo and so the viewer could see the area surrounding it. The last framing element I went for was breaking up the picture top to bottom by putting the water in the lower 1/3, the sky in the middle 1/3 and the tree branches in the top 1/3. This naturally framed my main subject (the pier) in-between the branches and the water. My feeling was that framing the picture like this gave it a tighter feel rather than a wide open feeling one would have felt if the sky took up 2/3+ of the picture. My goal was that the combination of all the framing elements would make the viewer feel like they were looking through the same natural window as the man on the bench. I hope it worked!