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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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.

 

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!

 

Coffee

Picture info: ISO 6400, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/800 sec

Picture info: ISO 6400, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/800 sec

Week 44 (6/2/2014 -6/8/2014): Parent’s Kitchen

Picture taken on 6/8/2014 at 3:42 PM

Photograph description:

As a child I never knew why people drank coffee, as an adult I don’t know how I would get along without it.  Oddly enough I can remember the exact day that I made the transition to a coffee drinker.  My first cup of coffee was drank more out of a sense of duty than desire but the addiction took all the same.

It all started on a cold foggy spring morning in April of 2009.  I was at West Point Military Academy to compete in a paintball event.  On the first morning of my stay I was awoken by the sound of a bugle horn, followed by machine gun fire (blanks).  Although the startling sounds woke me up, they did not warm me up so I set out into the fog, cold and half asleep, for the mess hall to find some hot chocolate.  Once I arrived at the mess hall found a soldier standing by a hot water dispenser.  I kindly asked, “excuse me sir, do you have hot chocolate?”  The soldier sternly replied, “No, we have Coffee” while handing me a cup of hot coffee.  As the soldier handed me the cup I noticed he was a reasonably high ranking NCO.  Feeling embarrassed to turn down the cup of coffee from such a seasoned soldier I accepted the cup and drank it black.  Not only did that cup of coffee warm me up, it also gave me such a jolt of energy that I was hooked from that day forward.

These days my coffees aren’t shared with soldiers but instead typically with friends and family.  This past weekend while home visiting my family I grabbed a cup with my brother as we caught up.  After our coffee run we came back to my parent’s kitchen and brewed some coffee not for the purposes of drinking, but for the purposes of shooting coffee photographs.  It was a successful experiment and resulted in me finally checking “coffee picture” off my photography bucket list.

52from52-wk44(2)

Photography concepts:

This week’s picture was difficult to pull off, mainly because it required two things, a fast shutter and focus speed.  The first hurdle to overcome was how to get a fast enough shutter speed in a low natural light setting.  Even with a wide open aperture of f/1.8, my shutter was still too slow to when using a normal ISO setting.  I was left with no choice but to use an extremely high ISO setting of 6400.  Lucky I was able to clean up the “noise” created from the high ISO in lightroom by using noise reduction.  The trade off for using noise reduction is decreased detail and what ends up looking like a very smooth image.  In the case of this picture I actually liked the look that the noise reduction created so it all worked out.

My low light problem was solved with just a few clicks of a button, with my camera doing most of the work.  When it came to focus speed it was all on me to make the adjustment.  Since I was using a wide open aperture it was very important that I had control of where my focus point hit.  Small apertures result in small focus planes, meaning if my focus point hit the wrong spot my whole image would appear out of focus.  It’s easy to work around a small focus plane if you’re shooting something still, but I had to fire off pictures quick to catch milk’s mixing action.  The solution I came up with was to place my camera on a mini tripod and put my camera into manual focus.  The advantage of manual focus is the camera’s focus engine doesn’t think, it will keep firing instantly.  They key to using manual focus, at least in this situation, was to calibrate my focus via autofocus, then put my camera into manual focus mode so it wouldn’t change again when I clicked the shutter button.  The reason I had to use the tripod was so my camera didn’t move at all and lose my precise focus point.  This manual focus strategy worked well and is definitely something I’ll keep in my back pocket for pictures that require quick focus.

A Year Down the Road

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/22, 5.0 seconds

Picture Info: ISO 100, 36mm, f/22, 5.0 seconds

Week 42 (5/19/2014 -5/25/2014): “The Farm” PA

Picture taken on 5/25/2014 at 9:00PM

Photography Description:

Progress, it’s something that is noticeable but not always easy to measure.  Some progress is tangible while other progress is more metaphysical.  When it comes to metaphysical progress, the question is how can you measure the progress of something that doesn’t have a scale of measure.  Take for example a picture, how can you scale a picture’s quality?  Is a picture measured by the number of “likes”, the price tag someone can sell it for, or is it the satisfaction the photographer get’s after taking it?  The concept of measuring my own progress in the world of photography is one that I’ve been dwelling on recently.  I feel like I’m getting better, but how can I truly measure my progress?

This past week presented the perfect opportunity for me to try and measure my progress in the world of photography.  For me, one of the key metrics in progress is difference over time.  In terms of photography this means you need to take the same picture or shoot the same subject at two intervals of time.  How does this relate to last week? Well last week marked the one year anniversary of purchasing my camera.  I couldn’t think of a better way to gauge my progress than comparing pictures I took in the first week of owning my camera, to ones I took one year later.

During the week I went out and tried to recreate some of my first attempted “night photography” pictures.  After successfully recreating one of the pictures I took on the first night of owning my camera, the progress was pretty clear.  However, after looking at my recreation I realized one nuance in my recreation idea.  I couldn’t limit myself to taking the “exact” picture, I needed to place myself at the same location but then shoot freely choosing whatever composition I liked.  Since composition is such a large component of photography, it seemed silly to force myself into recomposing images that might have been better from another perspective.

On Friday, I set out for my traditional Memorial Day weekend trip to “The Farm,” which is my friend Bob’s PA house.  While in route I was excited knowing “The Farm’s” rural landscape would act as the perfect testing ground for my progress.

Recreation of a shot from 2013

Recreation of a shot from 2013

Without getting into the technical aspect of my progress (I’ll cover that in the next section), let me just say WOW, I saw a whole new side to the Farm.  It’s worth noting that I’ve been going to the Farm for 11 years, so something new totally blew my mind!  Take this week’s picture for example.  Never before have I thought to walk down this road during sunset.  It wasn’t until this year that it dawned on me, this road, sunset and mountain background would make for the perfect leading line composition.  The new perspectives didn’t stop at this road.  The entire weekend I was shown how photography has unlocked a whole new world for me visually.  That’s progress, and although it’s not entirely measurable it’s certainly noticeable to me and hopefully everyone else. Seeing the progress that I’ve made in a year makes me excited to think about where I’ll be another year down the road.  Only time will tell…

The last night's sunset

The last night’s sunset

Photography Concepts:

There are three major differences between the way I shoot now, versus how I shot a year ago.  First and probably the most important is the picture format that I shoot in.  Last year I had no clue about RAW vs. JPEG, so I shot in JPEG to give myself more pictures per SD card.  Had I shot this week’s picture in JPEG, I never would have been able to edit it the way I did.  This week’s picture was shot in Nikon’s RAW “.NEF” format.  While shooting, I purposely underexposed my image by a few stops knowing that it would better retain the detail in the sky, and I would be able to recover the lost detail in the foreground.  Simply put, last year I was unaware of the RAW power of shooting in .NEF…pun intended.

The second major difference between last year and now, is that I now mainly shoot in manual mode instead of aperture priority.  Manual mode is what enabled me to under expose my image to my desired level.  I made the jump to shooting more in manual a few weeks ago and I can tell you it’s been paying off in almost every one of my pictures.  Not only do I have more control, but I’m getting quicker at determining what settings are best for specific lighting or subject scenarios. Using this picture as an example, I instantly knew I wanted almost everything in focus so I shot at f/22.  Initially I didn’t have my tripod when I show this picture.  Last year I might have opened my aperture to f/2.8 so I could shoot with a fast enough shutter.  This year I knew f/2.8 wouldn’t let me capture the image I wanted, so I ran back to the house grabbed my tripod and tapped into the power of f/22’s large plane of focus.

Last but definitely not least is what I touched on in the previous section, composition.  Before taking the trip to the Farm this year I reviewed some of my pictures to see how I shot things.  What I noticed was that I wasn’t composing my pictures to take advantage of the full scene.  This year I focused more on lining things up or positioning myself at a location that gave me the best angle.  As often as you can, while out shooting mentally take a step back and think to yourself where is the best angle?  On top of that don’t fall in love with one location, move around!  Last year I was one of the biggest offenders of getting concrete shoes.  I picked a spot and took countless pictures.  This year I took 5-10 pictures ranging in aperture from a location, then moved to the next spot.  When you get home the last thing you want to see is 200 of the same picture.  Variety is good so don’t forget to move.

That about wraps up my review of the differences between this year and last year.  There were other things that I noticed, such as how I edit now, but it’s far too much to fit into one post.  As I get closer to the end of this blog you can expect more then and now comparisons.  Until then, I’m gone for now…

 

A shot I never saw before

Leading Lines Pt2

Bloomfield in Bloom

Picture info: ISO 250, 36mm, f/11, 1/80sec

Picture info: ISO 250, 36mm, f/11, 1/80sec

Week 39 (4/28/2014 -5/4/2014): 10th & Bloomfield, Hoboken

Picture taken on 5/3/2014 at 9:13 AM

Photograph description

Last week I mentioned that one of the biggest challenges for my Hoboken streets project would be to taking pictures that don’t in some way involve the sun .  Naturally I’m drawn towards taking pictures that utilize some kind of light source to create contrast.  In order to keep improving my photography, it’s important that I constantly challenge myself to go outside of my comfort zone.  It’s as the saying goes, “variety is the spice of life”

This week’s picture was taken while I was on my Saturday morning bagel run…for those of you that don’t know, I’m a bagel addict.  Moving on though. It was still early enough that the sun wasn’t high in the sky but it was still filling the day with plenty of natural light.  Although my usual Hoboken bagel spot is on Washington street, I decided to walk down Bloomfield instead so I could photograph the cherry blossoms that line the street.  It only seemed fitting that bloomfield would be filled with so many blooming trees.  Early into my trip I came across an apartment building that had a pinkish tint which acted as the perfect backdrop for the cherry blossom.  I shuffled around for a few minutes trying to find the best angle to fit everything in frame at ~35mm.  Eventually I found the spot and the here you have it!

Photography concepts:

One of the advantages of taking pictures with even light is that it’s easier to set your exposure for the entire scene.  When you include a bright light source in your picture (e.g. the sun) you have to worry about some or all of the image getting blown out (overexposed) or underexposed.  I usually worry more about overexposing the image because it’s harder to recover overexposed areas, than underexposed areas.  Since this week’s picture had no harsh light source setting my exposure was a breeze!

The hardest part of shooting this picture was capturing what I considered to be the good part of the scene at ~35mm.  The reason I’m saying approximately (~) is because I’ve been shooting more and more with my 17-50mm Sigma lens.  Yes 35mm is within the range of my lens, but for some reason the lens never seems to settle on 35mm exactly.  Any picture I take at 35mm usually reads as 34mm or 36mm when I review the image.  I’m not sure why this happens, but it’s not really a big deal.

If there is one thing I learned this week it’s evenly lit pictures are relatively easy to shoot, if you can find interesting ones.  The last part of that statement is the key, “if you can find interesting ones.”  My usual move in the absence of contrasting light is to find a unique angle or move in close and use a wide aperture to tap into a depth of field element.  I did neither this week and that again plays into my desire to shoot more variety.  Variety should be everyone’s goal.  Flip through the pictures on your computer, facebook or instagram and I bet you’ll see a trend.  Hopefully the trend isn’t selfies, but even if it is, this week try to shoot something new.  Find something you don’t usually photograph and get to it!

Beaming

Picture info: ISO 250, 36mm, f/14, 1/100 second

Picture info: ISO 250, 36mm, f/14, 1/100 second

Week 38 (4/21/2014 -4/27/2014): 9th & Park, Hoboken

Picture taken on 4/22/2014 at 6:40 PM

Photograph description:

If you have ever scrolled through my instagram gallery, you probably noticed that I enjoy taking pictures featuring the sun.  When posting to Instagram, the sun is a little bit of a photo hack. What do I mean by photo hack?  It’s been my experience that people tend to give more likes to pictures that have nice contrast, especially when that contrast is created from the sun’s beaming light.  Featuring the sun might be a bit of a cheat, but there still is an art to it.  I’ll give some tips on how I feature the sun with my phone and camera in the next section.

This week’s picture was shot while I was out hunting down material for my “Hoboken Streets” project.  The biggest challenge of the project will be to find unique ways to photograph the “streets,” without featuring the sun in each picture.  On top of avoiding too many sun shots I’m also going to avoid taking any of the pictures along the waterfront.  Yes the waterfront is still in Hoboken, but I’d like this project to feature more of the interior sections of Hoboken.  If you have any suggestions for locations shoot me an email.  This project is all about exploring the streets so the more unique the better!

Photography Concepts:

The main thing you have to think about when you’re taking pictures directly into the sun is setting the right exposure.  When you’re shooting the sun with your phone your exposure is typically locked to wherever your focus point is.  My recommendation is to set your pictures exposure on a darker area.  When you select a darker area your phone’s sensor will adjust the exposure to make the dark area evenly exposed.  With the darker area exposed properly the sun should be overexposed and appear to be very bright.  If you want to apply some kind of HDR setting to your picture in post, then meter the pictures exposure by focusing on the sun.  This will make your image look very dark but the HDR will bring back most of the detail.  I recommend going with the first exposure setup, overexposing the sun makes it look better.

Setting your exposure is obviously different with a DSLR and is done by making adjustments to your ISO, Shutter speed and aperture.  When shooting the sun with a DSLR your ISO should be as low as it can go, which is typically 100.  Choose your aperture based on how you want the sun to look in the picture.  If you use an aperture of f/22 the sun will look almost like a star with very sharply pointed flares.  The wider the aperture the softer the flares will become.  This week’s picture was shot at f/14 which is a good middle ground.  My beams (flares) have nice lines that fade into the picture smoothly.

Selecting your shutterspeed is easy if you’re in aperture priority, because the camera will do it for you.  If you’re shooting in manual, like I did for this picture, then you should start with a quick shutter and work your way down until your image is exposed to your liking.  The reason you should start with a quick shutter is so you don’t burn out your sensor with the sun.  I can only imagine the damage that would be done to your sensor with a 30 second sun exposure….ouch.

Two more quick tips.  One when you’re lining everything up, try to put the sun on either the left or right thirds intersection line.  This not only follows the rule of thirds, it also will make for better sun beams shooting through your picture.  My second tip is to find something like a tree, flower or cloth material that you can backlight with the sun.  Backlighting things that let some light through give your picture some nice texture.  If you backlight something that lets no light through, as in people, walls or buildings you’re left with a nice silhouette.  The choice is up to you, get creative and more importantly have fun!