This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to NYC for Generate Conference, a Web Design gathering in the heart of Manhattan. Of course I jumped at the chance and spent all my free time exploring the city with my new 5D MkIII. After a long weekend I am exhausted but heading home with full memory cards and some beautiful shots to add to my portfolio.
Day 1 - Thursday
Thursday I packed my bags, picked up a Canon 16-35mm 2.8 from LensRentals.com and headed off to O'Hare. I got in and surprisingly breezed through security I decided to trek over to Terminal 1 to take some shots of the tunnel of lights that connect the two parts of the terminal. There are two long moving walkways on either side but unfortunately one of them had big ugly construction gates on each entrance so shooting from either end was out of the question. I quietly setup my tripod and walked around a bit finding my angle, finally settling midway down the second set looking the long way back. I took an exposure of 1s at f/7.1, ISO2000 which captured enough light while blurring out the passengers enough to create some interest in the foreground. I have always loved coming down here since I was a little kid, so it was a real treat to get it on film for once.
Once boarded I made sure my bag was below the seat in front of me and not above so I could grab my camera at any point. Knowing Chicago like the back of my hand and having a good guess of where the flight path was, I was fairly sure that we were going to pass along the north side of Chicago right after takeoff. Thankfully I was on the right side of the plane in a window seat so I was in the perfect position to grab whatever I could get. Sure enough right after takeoff we were cruising over the far north side, so I fired off a couple shots as the city came out from under the wing. I only had a window of a second or two because we started flying into some heavy clouds which obscured our view. Its always tough shooting out airplane windows and this was no exception. The haze from the glass was pretty bad, as well as the overall fog. After this shot things got really choppy so I had to put away the camera and try to stay calm.
The flight finally calmed down and I got into La Guardia, making my way to the hotel by mid-day. I was a little worn out but I didn't want to waste any time so I hopped the A train down to Brooklyn Bridge Park on the Brooklyn side of the river. From the park there are a large number of really beautiful views of one of my favorite pieces of architecture (seriously, I just finished reading The Great Bridge by David McCullough), so I walked around about an hour before sunset scouting where I was going to shoot during magic hour. I went south to a location I had seen on Google Maps where there were a bunch of pylons in the water which I thought could make for an interesting foreground during a long exposure. To minimize the impact of the clouds that were rolling in I added a 2 stop ND filter to make my exposures even longer, finally settling on 4 minutes at f/11. I wish the sky was clearer, but I still really like this one.
Even though it was quite late and the lighting wasn't that good I wanted to scout another location while I was down there, so I headed north of the bridge, finding a great location on a boardwalk area at the very tip of the park. Looking back I made this exposure of 90 seconds at f/16. The sky is granier than I like but its still a beautiful image that I want to see in print. After getting up and out the door by 6:30, travelling all day and lugging my camera gear all over New York, it was close to 11 so it was finally time to head back to the hotel.
Day 2 - Friday
Friday was spent at the conference which was a lot of fun, but afterwards I wasn't up for the typical after conference bar crawl. I made my way over to Grand Central Station to check out the great hall there, but I quickly realized it was an absolute zoo. I am usually okay in crowds but this place was over the top. There was zero chance of setting up a tripod with all the pushing and shoving, so I made some hand-stabilized shots from a balcony. Of the 10 or 15 shots I attempted only two or three were clear. I was shooting around 2-4 seconds each but was really struggling with anything longer than three seconds. After about 5 minutes I'd had enough, I was out of there!
I didn't want to push myself too hard so I meandered around Midtown and checked out the scenery, eventually taking a stab at the famous New York slice of pizza. First place I tried looked okay, but was a dud, strike one. After a disappointing early dinner I rounded the corner to find myself right by the Chrysler building, one of Manhattan's crown jewels. I felt I was a little too close but shot a few frames to be sure, and was actually impressed with this shot when I converted it to black and white.
Some more wandering and I finally decided to head back to Brooklyn since the weather was much more cooperative. This time I got closer to the bridge, settling in at the best spot on the boardwalk just north of the bridge. There were about five photographers to my right and more over my left shoulder. This time the clouds added just a touch of drama to the shot, the lighting was amazing, creating almost a spotlight effect behind One World Trade Center, and I even got a party boat going upriver adding extra lights streaking across the frame. Certainly one of my favorite shots in recent history.
Day 3 - Saturday
By Saturday my feet and shoulders were telling me to slow down since I had lugged my camera gear all over Manhattan the past two days, so I stayed around Central Park. Grabbing some doughnuts I had a lovely breakfast down by Sheeps Meadow then wandered up to Strawberry Fields, the memorial just across from the Dakota Building where John Lennon was shot. As always it is surrounded by very inconsiderate tourists so taking a clean shot of the tiled 'IMAGINE' is tricky. I watched a performer sing a few Beatles songs, finally tipping him after a great rendition of Here Comes The Sun, and snuck over to the circle. Nobody seemed to notice the mid-size stick that was laying over the G and I, or they just didn't care, but its small details like that that drive me nuts. Most people kneel down and give the peace sign while someone else takes their picture, so there are only split second windows where you can take an un-obstructed shot. I snuck in and grabbed the stick, throwing it into the grass, and had to patiently wait for my window. The area is covered by trees and the sun was beaming down creating a tricky shooting environment. I finally got this one between the gawking tourists. This shot I had wanted to re-take ever since my first trip to NYC when I got it with a point and shoot sometime around 2003, so needless to say I was a bit relieved.
Once the sun started setting it was time for another shot I had planned long before coming to NY. I had wanted to take a dusk shot at the Flatiron Building at 5th Avenue and Broadway. I scouted the shot and picked my location then headed off for another New York slice - trying 2 Brothers Pizza on 24th and was not disappointed. I grabbed two 1$ slices and headed back to Madison Square Park to eat and wait for sundown. I got my camera setup and started taking some test exposures, honing in my composition and making sure everything was ready to go, only to realize to my dismay that the Flatiron doesn't light up at night. There are a lot of things you can plan for, but sometimes its just not in the cards. I did manage to take this shot of the traffic zooming by, and while its a good shot, its rather flat and gray. I guess thats as close as I will get to a true nighttime shot of one of my favorite NY icons.
As I headed back to the hotel I decided to stop back at the 5th Ave Apple store. This is one very tricky exposure at night - you have to open the shutter long enough to get details in the foreground and surrounding buildings but not blow out the Apple logo in the cube. I finally landed on an exposure around a third of a second at f/11, ISO1600. This was taken at a very low angle, I was sitting on the sidewalk right next to a hot dog vendor with my tripod completely collapsed. I kind of assumed the police officer was going to shoo me along since I was sitting there for the better part of an hour, but he was incredibly friendly and didn't seem to have any issues with me being there.
Day 4 - Sunday
By Sunday I was almost ready to drop, but I wanted to meet up with some family that lived in the city now that our schedules lined up. After brunch I started walking around Lexington and the mid-50's when I stumbled upon a wonderful building that was almost circular, completely glass and absolutely fascinating. I took some photos and was kind of standing around just admiring the architecture when an Audi pulled up and parked (after almost hitting me) and the driver proceeded to tell me that it was private property and there was no photography allowed. The key in any of these situations is to remain calm and determine what your rights are at that time. I was on public property, and I calmly informed him of that. He insisted that there was no photography, to which I asked if he was the building owner, building security or NYPD. He mumbled something and started walking away, again almost yelling that there was no photography allowed. I raised my voice a bit but calmly told him that I wasn't taking photos of him, and if he wanted to take it up with the police I was more than happy to speak to them. He kept walking, finally disappearing around a corner. I turned around to find a doorman looking at me sheepishly. I kept shooting and he just smiled at me, it was the second time I have been yelled at when taking pictures, and of course the other time was again in New York, back in 2003. Anyway, I finished up some more shots and finally made my way back to the hotel, then off to the airport.
We were delayed coming out of LaGuardia but as we took off and banked around I spotted Manhattan out the window and scrambled to get out the camera. Unfortunately I was experimenting with some time-lapse work in the airport and had left it in JPEG mode. I quickly switched into Shutter Priority and dropped it to 1/60th, just a vague guess at something that was hand-holdable, slow enough to get some light in and yet fast enough not to blur as the plane moved. I snapped a few frames and noticed some bad glare coming from the cabin lights so I had to quickly try to shield as much of the window as I could. You can see from Central Park at the bottom of the frame all the way up to the Statue of Liberty which is the far right speck of light just above (in frame) Manhattan proper. It's not going to win any awards, but it's a great way to say goodbye to NYC.
The trip was a lot of fun and I was able to get some amazing photographs thanks to all the planning I did beforehand. I scoured Google Maps, Google Streetview, and Google Earth looking for some unique places to shoot from, which really paid off. I still have more shots to process and take a closer look at later, but for now it's back to the day job.