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.


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


Histogram Article – Click here


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!


The right spot

Picture Info: ISO 640, 38mm, f/22, 1/400sec

Picture Info: ISO 640, 38mm, f/22, 1/400sec

Week 33 (3/17/2014-3/23/2014): Hoboken NJ

Picture taken on 3/22/2014 at 6:08 PM

Photography description:

Late again, but just with the post.  I got this picture over the weekend which was within my self imposed weekly deadline.  Usually missing my deadline (or any deadline) would drive me absolutely nuts, but I decided that I wouldn’t beat myself up about it this time.  Lately I’m trying to be more relaxed and not stress myself out over little things.  Although my stress free mentality was partially  why I missed my posting deadline, the main reason for the latent post was because last week was one hell of a week.  It was my turn again to provide support coverage for work, and let’s just say the luck of the Irish was not on my side.  Every time I tried to venture out to get a picture my phone buzzed.  The constant interruption, or threat of one, didn’t allow me to get more than a few blocks from my apartment.  Although my localized limitation still would have permitted me to visit the Hoboken waterfront, I didn’t want to feature another skyline picture this week.  There are a lot of techniques that I’m still exploring and to do so I need to find something beyond the skyline to experiment on.

After walking around for about an hour I got a couple good pictures which I thought would potentially work as a featured photo but nothing made me too excited.  On my way back to my apartment I stumbled upon a church with this beautiful stone front exterior.  The masonry was looking exceptionally nice because of the way it was catching the fading light of twilight.  I reached back into my bag pulled out my camera and began the result is what you see here.

Photography concepts:

Last week I threw out a challenge to try and shoot more pictures in “manual” mode.  Unfortunately this week’s photograph was not shot in manual, but it was a step in the right direction.  After spotting how the light was getting captured along the church’s jagged stone edges, I knew that I couldn’t let my camera make the exposure decision.  As good as my camera is, the human eye is better at judging exposure.

When I pulled out my camera it was in aperture priority with spot metering turned on, so I stuck with that setting.  In case you didn’t know, spot metering mode allows you to set (or “meter”) the exposure of your image from a specific point.  Usually if you leave your camera on the default mode, which for my Nikon is “matrix metering” (the name varies by camera brand), the camera will inspect what’s in frame and choose what it thinks is the best overall exposure.  The important part of that statement is the word “overall.”  What I’ve noticed is that when a picture has lots of variance in shading sometimes the camera will try to compensate for the darker areas such as shadows and overexpose the image.  The image won’t be overexposed to the level that there is damage done, but it doesn’t look like what you see with the naked eye.  One way to prevent your camera’s miscalculation is to shoot in manual, which as I said I did not do this time.  The other is to use a more manual metering method, which is what I did with spot metering.  For this picture I metered my exposure off of the top of the image.  The top had the most amount of light so I wanted to make sure that stayed exposed just right, with the rest of the image fading into shadow.  The difference in lighting a little more obvious in a zoomed out version of my picture.

Picture Info: ISO 640, 17mm, f/22, 1/400sec

Picture Info: ISO 640, 17mm, f/22, 1/400sec

As you can see spot metering allows you to get a very natural look with the shadows.  This is a mode that I’ve been experimenting a lot with lately, the hardest part is having the time to select the exposure point and recompose.  In the coming weeks I’ll continue to work spot metering into my photography and try to point it out whenever I do.