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Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/2.2, 1/5 sec, -.6 ND filter

Picture Info: ISO 100, 35mm, f/2.2, 1/5 sec, -.6 ND filter

Week 32 (3/10/2014 -3/16/2014): World Trade Center PATH station

Picture taken on 3/13/2014 at 12:33 PM

Picture Description:

Architecture has been an interest of mine for almost as far back as I can remember.  As a kid I dreamt of becoming an architect, but life had other plans.  Why and how I didn’t fulfill my childhood dream is a story for another time.  I don’t regret not becoming an architect, I’m very happy with where I’m at professionally, but there are days I find myself daydreaming about a good blueprint or 3D model.  Since I don’t practice architecture professionally I can only seek out nice locations to appreciate the work of others.

This past Thursday was one of those days where I decided to set out to see some local modern architecture.  My destination was the new World Trade Center (WTC) PATH station. I’ve been admiring the WTC PATH station via online posts (mainly instagram) for a while, so it was nice to finally see it in person.  Of course beyond just admiring the architecture, I wanted to photograph the location.  As I said, I’ve seen lots of posts online of the station and sadly all of them seemed almost identical.  Prior to arriving I planned out some shots in my head that might provide a more unique view.

Usual eye level shot (taken at 18mm)

Usual eye level shot (taken at 18mm)

As the train pulled into the station I was nearly blinded by all the bright white marble that made up the platform.  Getting off the train felt like walking into a dream or train station from the future.  I spent the next 20-30 minutes touring the area and eventually met up with my younger brother.  After linking up, my brother and I went to the main hallway that everyone has been photographing.  Most of the pictures that I’ve seen were taken at eye level, so naturally one way to get a more unique view was to shoot from low to the ground.  My plan was to set my camera up few inches off the ground using my mini tripod.  One advantage about using my mini tripod in a public location is most people don’t realize I’m taking a picture.  From a distance it could almost look like I’m tying my shoe.  While at WTC this ‘stealthy’ feature proved to be a big advantage because once one of the staff members realized I wasn’t playing with my shoe strings he told me “no tripods are allowed.”  The staff member then said my alternative was to put my camera on the ground.  This really made no sense considering shooting with my camera on the ground or with the little tripod takes up the same amount of space.  Although I didn’t agree with the rule, I had already gotten my shot so I saw no reason in arguing and took that as my cue to leave.

Photography Concepts:

There were two main lessons that I took away from shooting this week’s picture.  The first lesson was that with so much white my camera tried to underexpose the image.  In order to get the image the way I wanted, I had to override my camera’s judgement and overexpose the image via exposure compensation.  I could have shot in manual which would have given me more control over exposure, but I was trying to shoot quick before I got told to move (which did eventually happen).  Lately I’ve been finding that I am hardly ever using the even exposure my camera calculates.  Thus far I’ve mainly used exposure compensation (+/- 3 stops) to adjust my image, but I think it’s time for me to just start shooting in manual.  It’s a big step shooting all manual but when it comes to shooting an image such as this week’s, it’s the better way to go.

The second lesson learned was the ideal shutter speed to shoot to give a slight blur to people walking.  My original idea was to shoot with a long shutter (10+ seconds) to get ghost like blurs of people walking.  Unfortunately since there weren’t many people in the hall, when I shot a 15 second exposure there was hardly a hint of people, except one guy that was standing still.  From that point I began winding my camera’s dial to increase my shutter speed, eventually settling at 1/5 of a second.  I didn’t know at the time, but I had luckily stumbled upon the ideal shutter speed for blurring people walking.  Below is a link to a guide I found after Thursday which provides the ideal shutter speeds for capturing certain effects.  

15 second exposure

15 second exposure

The last thing I want to mention is something I learned from watching Lightroom Tutorial video.  There is a feature in lightroom that allows you to correct perspective.  Let me tell you, this is absolutely awesome.  For me it’s always difficult to get my camera’s lens oriented correctly to capture perfectly straight vertical or horizontal lines.  Lightroom’s perspective correction is something I always knew I needed but never knew existed.  Watch the video (link below) and you will understand the features capabilities better.

In the coming weeks when I’m not forced to shoot under a time restraint I’m going to try to shoot in manual mode.  My guess is this will open a whole new world of opportunities and image quality for me.  Only time will tell…

Links:

Shutter Speed Cheat Sheet

http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2012/06/26/best-shutter-speeds-for-every-situation/

Lightroom Perspective Correction:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bU_r5hS4fpE&list=PLmXfFxjdp3CH8D2p_Rm5RKtOUmGGzpnFj

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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:

On the run

Picture specs: ISO 640, 35mm, f/8, 1/15 sec

Picture specs: ISO 640, 35mm, f/8, 1/15 sec

Week 13 (10/27/2013 – 11/2/2013): Maxwell Place Park, Hoboken NJ
Picture taken on 11/1/2013 at 5:59 PM

Picture description:

One of the many benefits of living in Hoboken is having easy access to its waterfront parks and paths.  The waterfront provides a place to relax, socialize and or exercise in the midst of some beautiful views.  If I had to point out one negative aspect about exercising on the waterfront, it would be that while running you regularly have to fight the urge to stop and take pictures.  If you follow my Instagram you’ll probably notice most times this is a losing battle for me.  This week I decided to take my Nikon out during the time I usually run to see if I could capture something that depicts my daily struggle.

While moseying around Maxwell Park I noticed that many of the trees that were green just last week were now turning all different kinds of amazing colors.  There were two trees that really stood out to me so I began trying to find a good angle to photograph them.  As I shuffled around the trees I noticed that I wasn’t the only one that was giving them focused attention.  Runner after runner stopped to fire off a picture “on the run” then carried on their way.  Initially having runners photobomb my picture was very frustrating until it hit me, this is exactly what I do, so why not try to capture the moment?

Photography concepts:

This week’s photo included a wide range of colors most of which required different exposure settings to reveal their vividness.  The best tactic that I’ve found for recovering color when you can’t choose one exposure is via select post-production exposure adjustments.  Although it’s possible to recover many colors after the fact you still have to select an in camera exposure which isn’t going to make that impossible.  What I’ve found through experience and also read is that going with an underexposed picture allows for more recovery capabilities.  Despite my own observation regarding underexposing, this week I rolled the dice and didn’t drop the exposure of my picture.  To demonstrate what I’m talking about regarding exposure recovery I sliced up before and after sections of my picture to highlight the comparison.  The most noticeable area that benefited from the exposure adjustment was the sky and empire state building.  Without making the adjustments illustrated below the tree’s would have still had nice color but the entire sky would have been very washed out.

Half edited

Edited vs. Unedited example

In addition to having the right in camera exposure settings the other key setting which permits recovery capabilities is shooting in your camera’s RAW mode.  For Nikon the raw mode is NEF format and it retains 12-14 bit data versus in JPEG where it retains only 8 bits.  To read more about Nikon’s RAW format see the article linked below.  Although each camera brand has it’s own RAW mode it’s fair to say that each would follow similar attributes and recovery capabilities.  When I first started taking picture with my 5200 I went with just JPEG then after learning the value of RAW I did JPEG + RAW.  Now to save space I only shoot in RAW format which still takes up a lot of space.  So far the space limitation is one of the only negative that I’ve run into in regards to shooting in RAW mode.  My 32GB card can hold about 875 NAF images while I can shoot 2000+ JPEG (fine) images.  The other negative aspect of shooting in RAW is that there are some limitations on what you can use the edit the image.  I recently found out that you can edit RAW images via Google+ and Snapseed which is really great for on the go editing.  If you want to learn more about Google+ editing watch the below YouTube video from one of my favorite online photography resources “Camera Rec Toby”.  If you have time I highly recommend clicking through Toby’s YouTube page, he is very informative.

NIkon NEF Article