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

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!

Reflecting on Goals

Picture info: ISO 100, 34mm, f/2.8, 1/500sec

Picture info: ISO 100, 34mm, f/2.8, 1/500sec

Week 37 (4/14/2014 -4/20/2014): 8th Street, Hoboken

Picture taken on 4/19/2014 at 7:33 PM

Picture description:

What do I want to accomplish? This is a question that often keeps me awake at night.  I’m all about setting goals and  doing whatever it takes to complete them.  Step one of having a goal oriented mindset is obvious, set some kind of goal.  If you don’t know what you want to accomplish, how can you achieve it?  This “goal oriented process” is the concept I applied after purchasing my camera, my goal was to learn photography.  After setting my goal, step two was figuring out a way to achieve my goal, which led me to create this photoblog.  With the end of this photoblog quickly approaching, I’ve been spending time thinking about what will be my next step in achieving my overall goal of learning photography.   Learning photography is hard to measure though, one can argue that you can never fully learn photography.  There will always be  some new camera, some new technique or just something new to learn.  Knowing that I’ll never be able to measure my original goal has made me think, perhaps it’s time I expand my goal and decide what I’d like to do with my newly found photography knowledge?  I’m now asking myself, what do I want to use my photography to accomplish?  Is my passion for photography just a hobby, or do I want to take it further?

This past weekend I set aside some time to think about the questions I’ve raised about my next steps.  While kicking around ideas I decided to throw on a YouTube video from one of my favorite photography resources, “CamerRec Toby.”  Toby is a photography pro out in Vermont with his own YouTube channel devoted to reviews and tips about photography gear and techniques .  I’ve cited Toby’s videos before but this week one of his videos really caught my attention.  In the video (link below) Toby and his co-host Christina discussed an article “7 Reasons why most Photographers and Videographers don’t Reach their Goals” (link below).  The article was so relevant to what I was currently thinking about it almost seemed like it was targeted directly at me.  In the article the author talks about photographers setting too general of goals  (e.g. Learning photography), and how it’s important to have measurable goals. The article helped put things in perspective and made me realize it’s time for me to set some measurable goals.  The article and Toby’s video also motivated me to push forward on one of the smaller goals that I’ve been toying with.  As of this past weekend, I’ve decided that I’m going to participate in the next Hoboken Art & Music festival in September.  My main goal isn’t to make money (though that’s always a bonus), my main goal is to meet lots of people and seeing who and what might help me decide where to take my photography next.

With a new goal (participate in the Art & Music Festival) set, step two was to figure out a way to accomplish it.  There are many things that will go into preparing for the festival, but one of the most basic things is having plenty of pictures.  As a result, this weekend I also decided to start a new project called “Hoboken Streets.”  Since the festival is held in Hoboken, it seems logical to think many of the attendees will be Hoboken residents.  Having a geographically targeted audience means I should have geographically targeted pictures, hence my “Hoboken Street” idea.

If you’re still with me, you’re probably asking, “how in the world does all this related to this week’s picture?”  Well, even before officially deciding on the idea of doing a “Hoboken Streets” project, I wanted to explore more of Hoboken.  Over the past few weeks I’ve changed up my nightly running route and began zig zagging around town looking for pictures.  This past week one of my runs led me up 8th street towards Stevens around sunset, where I found this location.  It might come as a surprise but I don’t run with my camera, so a few days later I circled back with my Nikon and got the shot.

Photography concepts:

I wrote a little too much in the previous section, and the article I referenced could somewhat fall into this section so this week I’ll keep this section short.  Two keys to this picture were composition and editing.  In terms of composition, I wanted to have an equal balance between the sky/silhouette and the solar panels which were reflecting the sky/silhouettes.  Instead of following the usual rule of thirds guidelines I split my image in two halves horizontally (top/bottom).  The bottom half was focused on the reflection which was meant to lead your eyes down the path to the top half, which was meant to feature the sky and silhouettes.

Editing was key for this image because I wanted to emphasize the contrast between the dark silhouettes and light from the sunset.  In order to do create a nice contrast, I dropped the overall vibrancy of the image while boosting the saturation of specific colors.  After my color adjustments, I was left with the contrasting image that I was looking for.  Of course there were some other adjustments (e.g spot adjustments, highlights, clarity, ect.) but nothing more than I’ve talked about in previous weeks.  If you haven’t already, circle back and read some of my earlier weeks posts to get some more in depth tips on editing and composition.

Article:

http://theslantedlens.com/2014/7-reasons-photographers-videographers-dont-reach-goals/

CameraRec Toby Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhGUyD2g7Eo

 

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.

Cameo

Picture info: ISO 160, 36mm, f/4.0, 1/4000 sec

Picture info: ISO 160, 36mm, f/4.0, 1/4000 sec

Week 29 (2/17/2014 -2/23/2014): Wagner Park, New York, NY

Picture taken on 2/23/2014 at 5:13 PM

Photograph description:

There is a first for everything, and this week was a feast of firsts. For starters, this week was the first time that I didn’t post within my weekly deadline.  After a busy weekend when it came time to write my post on Sunday night, I  couldn’t resist collapsing face down on my plush tempurpedic.  Other than my latent post, this week also marked the first time that my post’s picture was shot with something other than my Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens.  I still shot my picture at ~35mm but this time it was with a new  Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8.  I had been tussling with whether or not to buy a new lens for a couple of weeks.  Last week I was finally able to validate purchasing a new lens.  One of my stocks recently started to take a hit so I decided to cut bait and divert those funds to the investment of a new lens.  Hopefully the lens will pay better dividends.  

The last two “firsts” worth noting are locations based.  This week was the first time that I visited Washington Square park and the nearby Stumptown coffee shop.  I’ve been to the Stumptown on 29th street a few times but never the second and smaller location by Washington Square park.  It was nice finally checking out the park  even if it wasn’t the best time of the day for pictures.  The sun was at about 45 degrees and blindingly bright.  After walking around the park for a few minutes with my friend that tagged along we decidle split off from one another so we could each focus on finding the best shot.  As I moved away from the park’s iconic arch I found a couple ways to use to the sun’s harsh angle.  One was to shoot some reflection pictures using the wet ground.  The second idea I had was to line the sun up within the street lights that littered the park so it looked like they were glowing in the daylight.  Although both were fun ideas, they quickly grew old so I decided to find my friend and search for a better location.

Washington Square Park Light Post

Washington Square Park Light Post

With sunset approaching we decided to head to Wagner Park located at the southern tip of Manhattan.  I shot at that location once before during week 16 but since it provides great sunsets, I knew there was no harm in taking a return visit.

While on our way south we seemingly stopped every couple of feet to take pictures.  Since the purpose of our trip was to take pictures, frequently stopping wasn’t a problem, but it was threatening our chances of getting to the park at the right time.  Eventually we decided to jump on the 1 train to expedite our journey.

Once we got out of the subway we made a beeline towards the park.  When we finally cleared the tall buildings of the financial district, I yelled out “boomshakalaka” in excitement once I saw the beautiful evening sky.  For the next hour or so my friend and I were treated to one of the better sunsets I’ve seen in a while.  We both shuffled around the park trying to find the best shot.  I eventually spotted a patch of tall grass which provided me with a good foreground subject and sealed the deal for this week’s picture.

Photography concepts:

Since this week is the first time shooting with my new Sigma lens it makes sense for me to talk about some of the advantages it provides.  One of the advantages which benefited this week’s picture is the Sigma’s nice bokeh.  As I talked about last week, bokeh is the part of the picture that’s out of focus.  One thing I recently learned is that with nicer lenses the bokeh is smoother and although it’s a little bit of an oxymoron, the out of focus images are sharper.  The nice bokeh worked well for creating silhouettes of the lamp post, railing and couple walking.

Another advantage the Sigma has is a low fixed aperture of f/2.8. Although the Sigma doesn’t beat my Nikon 35mm’s f/1.8 aperture it’s still large enough to make shooting indoor and night pictures easier.  The Nikon beats the Sigma aperture but the Sigma has a 4-stop Anti-Shake feature which allows for slower shutter speeds.  This means that although the Nikon can let in more light via a wider aperture, the Sigma can let in more light via slower shutters (without using tripods).  The term 4-stops means I can go 4 stops lower than the recommended shutter speed for a specific focal length.  When shooting at 35mm (52 with a crop sensor) it’s recommended that I stay at or above 1/100 of a second.  Thanks to the anti-shake feature I can hit a shutter speed of 1/40 of a second, and possibly slower if I have any added stabilization.  This is a moot point if you’re using a tripod but it’s very relevant when you’re shooting indoors or at night.

The last advantage I’ll quickly mention because it’s not one that can help me during my 52from52 photoblog series is that the Sigma is a zoom.  The advantage of having a zoom lens is pretty obvious.  With a zoom you’re able to recompose your picture without moving and hit targets that a 35mm prime can’t.  Because it’s a zoom I might use my Sigma again in some upcoming posts, not to shoot my picture from another focal length, but so that I have some flexibility for the pictures not meant for this blog.  The Sigma’s focal length range 17-50mm ( ~25-75mm) is very versatile.  The lens moves from wide angle to a nice focal length for taking pictures of people, especially when I can maintain a f/2.8 aperture.  The possibilities this lens has is exciting so stay tuned!

Step forward by stepping back

52from52 - Week 19

Picture info: ISO 3200, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/200sec, -1 Exposure step

Week 19 (12/9/2013 – 12/15/2013): Top of the Rock Observation Deck

Picture taken on 12/12/2013 at 5:15 PM

Picture description:

This week I finally got the chance to make a return visit to Top of the Rock.  My first visit was six months ago and was only two weeks after I purchased my Nikon.  Since my last visit I’ve often looked back at the pictures I took and thought about the many things that I could have done better.  I’ve learned many lessons over the past six months, in part because of this blog but also because I’ve immersed myself in photography.  Articles, YouTube tutorials and experimenting with different  techniques have been my main sources for learning.  One other source of learning that might surprise you is instagram.  I often flip through different hashtags looking for ideas of what to shoot or to see how people photograph certain subjects or places.  Instagram has photographers of every level ranging from the professional to amateur, and or dare I say serial selfie taker.  Before and after my trip I looked through the hashtag #topoftherock to see the kind of pictures people took during their visit.  Besides the selfies and couple pictures I noticed that nearly all of the pictures looked identical with the exception of changes to the sky or filter the person used on the picture.  After seeing how people have been over-sharing the same picture I knew that I had to find some way to differentiate mine from the rest.

During my visit even though my goal was to take an original picture, I couldn’t help myself from taking the classic Top of the Rock picture.  I found myself taking the same kind of picture over and over again partially to make sure I got a good one, but also because in person it’s just that hypnotizing of a view.  After about an hour of scanning the horizon for a unique view I came to the conclusion that from my vantage point there really was none.  It didn’t matter where I aligned the buildings, I had already seen that picture, or one very similar, shared countless times.  At that moment I decided to take a step back from my coveted position to see what new perspectives I could find.  Within a matter of seconds I was rewarded for my decision.  After stepping back I saw that all the people taking pictures were casting silhouettes in front of the very same view I was just photographing.  I spent the next couple of minutes wading in and out of the crowd to try and get the a picture that met my satisfaction.  Eventually the 20 degree weather got the best of me and I decided to call it a night.  On my way home while thinking about my night, I realized the valuable lesson that I just learned.  It’s very easy to get drawn into taking the obvious picture. The only way my photography is going to continue to improve or “move forward” is if I regularly remind myself to take a “step back” and find a new perspective on what’s right in front of me.

Photography Concepts:

Although I used the previous section to talk about avoiding the obvious shot, it doesn’t mean the classic Top of the Rock pictures aren’t good ones.  For the purpose of this blog I wanted to challenge myself to get something unique but it leaves the question, how do you take a good picture at Top of the Rock?  As I mentioned earlier I often look back at the pictures I took during my first visit and dwell on what I could have done better.  Let me share with you some of the lessons I learned between my two visits in terms of taking pictures at Top of the Rock.

Example of the classic Top of the Rock Pic

Example of the classic Top of the Rock Pic

The first thing you have to ask yourself is what kind of picture are you looking to take?  Do you want take pictures of only the buildings or are you planning on featuring yourself or friends in the picture with the buildings in the background?  Knowing your subject is important to so you can determine the time you’re going to go and where you should set up shop once you’re there. Let’s start with talking about taking pictures of people.  If you’re taking pictures that will feature yourself or your friends the location is less critical but the time that you arrive is important.  In this case you’ll want to go about an hour before sunset this way you have time to take nice pictures in softer light and without flash.  In my opinion flash is the worst when taking pictures at Top of the Rock.  Unless you’re an absolute pro and know how to compensate correctly flash tends to wash out the city backdrop, which is one of the main reasons you’re at Top of the Rock right?  In order to feature the cityscape behind you, don’t use flash, especially if you’re taking pictures on the 68-69th floor behind the glass.  Once you find a nice location play around, take pictures of you subjects looking out towards the buildings or doing some forced perspectives (google it).  If you want to get more original, take pictures of your subjects from a distance.  Perhaps have your subject stand looking out towards the city and snap your picture focusing on them through the busy crowd? As was the theme of this blog, once you take a step back you’ll be surprised what new perspectives you’ll see.

Example of a unique Top of the Rock Picture

Example of a unique Top of the Rock Picture

What about the settings to use or not use when taking pictures of people, other than flash?  One option is to use the smallest aperture your camera will allow which will give you nice background blur and permit you to use a low ISO.  The negatives of this is the exposure of your cityscape background might be overexposed.  The solution, shoot your picture in such a way that you’ll be able to only edit the background later to correct the overexposure (don’t forget to shoot in RAW to enable this).  Option two in terms of aperture would be to use a small aperture which if you took my advice and came close to sunset, is going to force you to use a high ISO.  The negatives, you’ll have a grainer photo but the positive is you will have a more detailed cityscape background.  If you’re only looking to share this picture on something like instagram a high ISO image is fine.  Even with the wide aperture you still might have an issue with overexposure for the background so compose your picture accordingly.  The last setting I mention is try to use a focal length of 50mm+, I won’t go into detail about why but if you want to know why check out the video below from one of my favorite YouTube sources.

Now let me talk about what to do if you’re looking to take pictures of the buildings.  First, I recommend going to the 70th floor and trying to lock down a position in the center area where you don’t have the bottom floors jutting into your picture.  Getting this prime location is even more important if you’re using a wide angle lens.  Just like shooting people, I think the best time to take pictures of buildings is right before and during sunset but you can go any time especially if there are nice mid-day clouds.  For now I’ll talk about what to do at sunset.  Going at sunset or at night really forces your hand in terms of camera settings.  Unlike taking pictures of people, when you use a small aperture there aren’t many positives.  Your plane of focus is going to be narrow even with the buildings being far away.  What’s going to happen is one building might appear in perfect focus while the others are a little blurry.  You can still take a good picture using small apertures but if your goal is to get a crisp image that you can blow up on perhaps a canvas,  I don’t recommend using small apertures.  What are your options then?  Option one, you can boost your ISO but this is going to still leave you with the problem of not having a crisp image for enlarging later.  Option two, bring a tripod and shoot with a small aperture and slow shutter speed.  This seems simple right? Well tripods are not allowed at Top of the Rock but there are ways around this rule.  As you can see in this week’s featured picture people bring tripods.  The key is to bring one small enough to fit in your bag, and one that has a small leg spread so it can sit on top of the cement pillars.  This is also why getting a good location is critical, there are a limited number of cement pillars and or locations that can facilitate the use of a tripod.  I’m not going to go into the all settings specific to tripods because if it’s pretty simple, small aperture, low ISO, slow shutter.  Two things I will recommend though  is use the multiple focus point setting which will grab more buildings in focus, and underexpose your image.  One thing not to do, which believe it or not I saw someone do, don’t use flash while you’re shooting buildings on a tripod.  Maybe I’m missing something and if I am please comment and correct me, but I don’t see any positive in using flash on a tripod when you’re not taking pictures of motion or people.

ISO 2500, 35mm, f/7.1, 1/40 sec, no tripod

ISO 2500, 35mm, f/7.1, 1/40 sec, no tripod

These are some of the lessons/tips I’ve learned from my two trips to Top of the Rock.  I still haven’t gotten what I would consider a great classic Top of the Rock picture, but that’s mainly because I haven’t brought a tripod or wide angle lens.  I think I’ll take at least one more trip in a few months and try my hand using more than just my 35mm lens and perhaps a tripod.  Until then I hope the lessons I’ve learned and shared so far help you shoot some great pictures at Top of the Rock, have fun and remember take a step back!

Big Head Focal Length by CameraRecToby:

Center of Attention

Picture Info: ISO 200, 35mm, f/8, 1/320sec

Picture Info: ISO 200, 35mm, f/8, 1/320sec

Week 16 (11/18/2013 – 11/24/2013): Wagner Park, New York City
Picture taken on 11/23/2013 at 5:04 PM

Picture description:

Back in September I discovered the beautiful location that is Wagner Park.  After getting the picture for my week 5 post, Never Forget, at the Freedom Tower, I had dinner with my wonderful mother for her birthday at a place that had long been on my “To Try” Yelp list.  The restaurant I’m talking about is Gigino at Wagner Park and let me tell you put it on your to do list.   Gigino has outdoor seating (weather permitting) which provided us with one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen while we ate a delicious dinner.  After dinner I knew that I’d have to make a return trip in the near future, if not for a date, I’d absolutely have to take my camera to capture the scenic views at Wagner Park.

Since September I haven’t made it back to Gigino, mainly because it’s gotten far too cold to take anyone on a date there.  That being said I can handle the cold on my own so this past Saturday I decided to take a trip to Wagner Park around sunset to see what kind of pictures I could get.  Luckily as it turned out I chose a great night that provided a really interesting and vivid sunset.  Out of all the sunset pictures there was one picture that really caught my attention during editing.  It’s pretty obvious which picture I’m talking about, look up, but let me give you the quick story behind it.

After arriving at Wagner Park I noticed that I wasn’t the only one that decided today was a good day to hang out in the park.  No I’m not talking about a person, although they were there too, I’m talking about a brace of ducks.  Yes, a group of ducks is called a “brace” look it up, I did.  As I walked around the park trying to figure out where would be the best place to get my sunset shot I kept glancing over to the ducks.  Eventually I decided why not see if I can creep up on the group and snap a birds eye view?  Since the sun was so strongly beaming down from the horizon I couldn’t use the viewfinder (I’ll explain this more later) I blindly lined up my shot and fired away.  With each picture I adjusted my shot based off the last picture’s preview.  After a couple shots I finally “walked in” my picture’s composition to something that I liked, and here you have it.

Photography concepts:

As I mentioned in the description section this picture was shot basically blind and through a series of picture to picture adjustments.  The reason I did this is first because I could not use the viewfinder.  It might seem obvious but when you’re taking a picture directly into the sun you can’t look through the viewfinder.  Why? Well the sun is dangerous enough to look at with the naked eye, forget about through essentially a magnifying glass.  Since I value my eyesight I won’t even risk getting flashed with the sun’s blinding light.   For shot’s into the sun this leaves the live-view option which is the back screen.  Although I could have used the live-view I don’t like how it focuses, it’s not fast enough for moving objects.  With the ducks moving around I wanted to be able to fire quick shots and thus did not use the live view.

A concept I tend to mention in almost every post is the rule of thirds.  This time though I want to highlight how I didn’t exactly follow the rules.  In this picture I had three things that I considered the focus of my shot, or my main subjects.  One was the sun, two was the light post and the third the ducks, more specifically the one duck that was closest to me in the foreground.  When it came time to align my shot rather than put the sun on one of the left or right third lines like I usually do I centered it.  I also centered the main duck and the light poll, which only further highlighted the sun.  Aligning the sun with the light post gave off the effect that the light post is the reason the sky is so illuminated.    The reason I said I did’t exactly follow the rule was because I did follow it for some other parts of the picture.  For example, I did not put the horizon in the absolute center of my picture.  I gave more weight to the ducks/grass rather than the sky to further emphasize them in the picture. Another way I loosely followed the rule of thirds was putting some of my  secondary subjects close to the cross points of the upper thirds line on the left and right.  I’m talking about the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  Although this falls under the rule, it was more of an accident but I’m glad everything lined up with such great symmetry.

Center Vs. Rule of Thirds

Center Vs. Rule of Thirds

The last thing I want to mention real quick is how I edited the sky.  In the unedited photo the sky was really blown out from the sun.  As I’ve mentioned before since I shoot in a RAW format I’m able to recover some of the detail even when images get over or under exposed.  Below is a comparison of how the image originally looked and how it did after I dropped the exposure for just the sky by about 2 steps.  One way I might have been able to avoid doing this is shooting in HDR mode or creating one via bracketing and photo merging.  I haven’t talked a lot (if at all) about HDR but it’s something I plan to in some future posts.  Right now I’m still in the experimental stages with my Nikon as far as HDR but it’s one of my favorite effects with my iPhone 5s.  More to come on this subject soon!

Edited (via Lightroom) vs Unedited

Edited (via Lightroom) vs Unedited