Thursday, October 31, 2013

New York City in Black and White

If you are a regular blog follower, you know that I mostly post color photos here. But, that is not to say that I don't like and appreciate black and white images. On the contrary. I really love looking at my images when processed in B&W, as it gives them a totally different feel. Today's blog post is sans color for a change.

This is collection of photos that I took this month while on a couple of trips to New York City. I felt that many of them were strong images in color, but became stronger when processed in B&W. For those of you wondering, I used Google's NIK SilverEfex Pro 2 software to convert the photos.

This first photo was taken of the Statue of Liberty. What makes this a truly unique image, is that there is nobody on the island. Not one soul. This was taken during the US government shutdown and the island was closed. The sky on this particular day was filled with clouds and a bit dreary. Converting this photo to B&W draws the viewer's eye to the details in the statue and helps negate the bland sky. (Canon 5D Mark III, 28-300mm lens, ISO 500, f5, 1/160 sec, +.3 exposure comp, Lexar 1000x CF, Nik SilverEfex Pro2)

This is my favorite photo from this collection. For this photo, I got down low to the Brooklyn Bridge and used the angles to draw your eye along the span. As luck would have it, I captured this shot as people were equal distance from me, walking towards and away from me. Not seeing their faces, the two people become anchor points for the rest of the image, without being the subjects. (Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm lens, ISO 200, f9, 1/800 sec, -.3 exposure comp, Lexar 1000x CF, Nik SilverEfex Pro2)

Another view of the Brooklyn Bridge, this time looking up through the cabling. For this image, I chose to use one of the detail enhancers in SilverEfex Pro 2 to create additional contrast and sharpness in the image.  (Canon 5D Mark III24-105mm lens  ISO 200, f9, 1/500 sec, -.3 exposure comp, Lexar 1000x CF  Nik SilverEfex Pro2)

Let's stop here for a second and talk about B&W conversion. When most people think of B&W photos, they think that creating the image is as simple as removing color from the file. It really is not that simple. As a matter of fact, there are many adjustments that can be made to the different tones, ranging from the darkest black to the lightest white. This is why I like using the Nik software. It gives me many different presets to play with, but also allows me to make subtle adjustments to each tone. If you look at the collection of images below, you will see some of the endless options you have for B&W conversion.
(You can click on this image to see it larger)

While walking through Washington Square Park, I came across this man who was playing two trumpets at the same time. I don't think I have ever seen that before. I got up close and shot this frame. (Canon 5D Mark III24-105mm lens  ISO 250, f4, 1/160 sec, -.3 exposure comp, Lexar 1000x CF  Nik SilverEfex Pro2)

It was a warm day and this guy decided to cool off. He took off his shirt, wandered into the water and hopped up into the fountain. Unfortunately, when we did this, he was facing away from me. Not wanting to miss this cool shot, I went over to him and asked him to head back into the fountain and do the same thing facing me. I guess it pays to be outgoing and friendly to people. (Canon 5D Mark III24-105mm lens  ISO 250, f4, 1/8000 sec, -.3 exposure comp, Lexar 1000x CF, Nik SilverEfex Pro2)

A view from Central Park.  (Canon 5D Mark III28-300mm lens  ISO 100, f5, 1/640 sec, -.3 exposure comp, Lexar 1000x CF, Nik SilverEfex Pro2)

I have photographed the Guggenheim Museum before, but wanted to try and show it a different way. Again, processing the image in B&W gives this building a completely different look. I think that removing the color from the image, helps the viewer see the shape of the structure better. (Canon 5D Mark III28-300mm lens, ISO 500, f5.6, 1/2000 sec, Lexar 1000x CF, Nik SilverEfex Pro2)

After walking for hours, I decided to sit down on a wall outside the museum and relax for a little bit. It was not more than a minute before I looked up and saw this cool intersection of lines. In order to get this photo, I stood up on the wall and framed the shot to include the museum name and a hint of the building circles in the background. (Canon 5D Mark III28-300mm lens  ISO 500, f14, 1/400 sec, Lexar 1000x CF,  Nik SilverEfex Pro2)

Grand Central Station is another location in New York where I have photographed many times. This was the second time that I have shot here with a tripod and not stopped from doing so. In the past, the police would not allow tripods in the building, but that rule seems to have been relaxed in the recent years. I love shooting this location with a slow shutter speed to show all the motion of the people in this environment. What attracted me to this particular shot, was the woman right in the middle of the crowd shooting an image back at me. Because I was shooting at f/13, I got a nice starburst from her flash. (Canon 5D Mark III24-105mm lens, ISO 100, f13, 8 sec, +.3 exposure comp, Lexar 1000x CF,  Nik SilverEfex Pro2) time you are out shooting photos, think about what they might look like when processed in black and white. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A short visit to Seoul, Korea and the Bongeunsa temple

I just returned home from a quick trip to Seoul, South Korea. I was there for less than 3 days, before flying home, but had a chance to grab some photos of this unique area in the small amount of time that I had available.

This first shot was taken from my hotel room when I first arrived in the city. The rain had subsided and the skies were filled with these dark ominous clouds. (Photographer's note: The best way to shoot through windows like this, is to focus out in the distance, and shoot at a high aperture, thus defocusing the dirt on the windows. I also turn off all the lights in the room to reduce reflections. If you are in a public area and can not turn off the lights, use a black jacket and drape it around your camera to shield all the ambient light. Of course, for all night shots, you should use a tripod to get a sharp image.)

Wednesday morning, the skies had cleared and the city was bathed in bright sunlight.

I have stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel at Coex once before and knew that there was a very cool old temple, called Bongeunsa, one block away. I had a free hour to go and explore, and headed straight to Bongeunsa to shoot.

This time, unlike the last time I visited the temple, things were decorated. I did some investigating on the Internet to try and determine if this was related to a specific event, but could not find anything.

This buddhist temple is busy at all hours of the day and night. I really wanted to capture photos of people praying but was a little wary of being disrespectful. I turned off the "focus beep" on the camera and put the Canon 5D Mark III into silent more. That allowed me to capture photos without making any noise. I LOVE the silent mode of this camera!

As is the case for most older temples in Asia, the details are just amazing. I knew that I would have limited time to shoot on this trip, so I only brought one lens. The Canon 28-300mm lens proved to be perfect since I could shoot wide shots, but also let me zoom in for detail shots like this.

There are a bunch of feral cats running around the temple grounds. Normally I would not stop to photograph these guys, but since my last blog post had a black cat in New York City, I thought it was a theme meant to be captured. :)

Throughout the temple grounds, there are lots of these little figurines that people have placed in nondescript areas.

I was walking around Bongeunsa, looking for interesting perspectives, and saw this view of one of the buildings peaking out amongst the trees. I really like the contrast of colors.

It was approaching 6pm in Seoul and I was watching the moon as I walked around. I positioned myself so that I could get a shot of the moon at the edge of one of the temple buildings. (Photographer's note: I metered this shot to get the moon exposed correctly. I knew that the temple would be almost completely silhouetted, but that I could open up the shadows in Adobe Photoshop later. In the retouching process, I lightened the building just enough to see the shingles.)

More praying...

...and more details... I was shooting this photo when I heard a series of loud drums. I stopped shooting and headed straight towards the sound.

One of the Buddhist monks was drumming. I looked at my iPhone and noticed that it was 5:55pm (the exact time of sunset), so I assume that this was signaling the end of the day.

As soon as I saw this, I slowed the shutter of the camera to 1/13 sec to get some motion blur of the drum sticks.  (ISO 640, 180mm, f5.6, 1/13 sec)

This photo was a "lucky shot". If you compare this photo to the one above it, you will notice the cool shadow of the monk on the drum. That was caused by someone else's flash, coming from far to my right. The perfectly formed shadow makes this photo way more interesting.

As I was photographing the drummer, I looked up and saw a couple of other buddhist monks waiting in the background. I was captivated by the last remaining evening light on their faces and quickly moved to capture these photos of them.

And then, after a couple of minutes, the monk moved from the drum to this giant bell. And this thing was really loud! After shooting a couple of photos of this, I decided to put the 5D Mark III into video mode and shoot some video. I put this into a short YouTube video here so you can experience this cool site for yourself.

Later that evening, after a business dinner, I headed back to the temple with some friends to show them what I had seen earlier in the day. This time, I brought my Gitzo tripod and grabbed some nice low light shots. For this photo, I focused and exposed on the face of the woman, knowing that the candle light would be a little too bright. I then pulled back the candle light (using the Highlights control in Adobe Photoshop) in post production.

I remembered this wall of gold figurines from my previous trip to Seoul and wanted to capture this again.

I took this photo at f5.6 to isolate the focus on just one of the figurines. I was on a tripod and could have easily shot this at f/16 to get everything in focus, but wanted the narrow depth of field to draw the viewers eye to the middle of the image.

I also wanted one photo highlighting the candle in front of the figurines, showing the Korean text.

Another low light shot of people praying...

At the top of Bongeunsa, there is this large statue. For this photo I set the camera to f/16 to create the starburst effect from the lights. Again, I was on a tripod, so shutter speed was not an issue. (ISO 100, 28mm, f/16, 20 sec exposure)

After shooting the statue photo, I turned around and saw this view of the Gangnam district, showing the Coex convention center and the Intercontinental Hotel (right), with a hint of the temple at the bottom of the frame. Old and new in one photo.

This was the last photo I took in Seoul, as the sun set and I prepared to head back to California.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Awesome Graffiti and Dance Battle at Five Pointz in Queens, New York

Last week was yet another cross country visit to New York City for some more B&H events. (For those of you following my YouTube videos on the B&H channel, we completed another one which should be posted any day now.)

While doing one of the B&H events, a nice gentleman named Chris Ryan, who follows my work and saw some of my graffiti photos from San Francisco and Toronto, suggested that I go to a place in Queens called 5 Pointz to shoot their graffiti. This sounded really exciting. But, Sunday started slowly, with my brother (who I flew out with me for this trip) and I taking it easy. We had walked more than 50 miles in 4 days and our legs were tired. We both said that we would not walk too much on Sunday and that we would kick back and watch football for the day.

Well...If you follow along with the blog, you know that I can not sit still, and I was chomping at the bit to go and shoot something different on this trip to the big city. As we were sitting in the hotel room, 5 Pointz was calling my name. I looked it up on the Internet and determined that it would be a fun 4 mile walk from Times Square.

So, I convinced my brother that it would be a fun walk and off we went. I honestly did not know what to expect, and after walking for an hour and a half, hoped it would be worth it. But when we got there, boy did we stumble on something cool! But, before I give away the surprise, let me tell you how it all happened. (Yep, that is my tease!)

As I mentioned, we walked for quite a while, and eventually made our way into Queens. It was approaching 5pm when we crossed the 59th Street bridge and made the walk for the last 6 blocks to 5 Pointz. The skies were overcast, the light fading a little, and the area did not look great. My brother kinda gave me that "what the heck have you gotten us into?" look.  But then we came to the graffiti area and I was in photography heaven.

The artwork was just amazing with vibrant colors and really cool subject matter. And, because it was late in the day and overcast, I did not have to deal with harsh sunlight or shadows. Time to shoot!

I was teaching my brother to not only shoot the wide shots, but to key in on the details as well.

And speaking of details, as I was walking around and looking at the different painted walls, I saw this black cat hanging out by a chain link fence. I wanted a shot of the cat, but not by the fence. As my luck would have it, the cat jumped to a nearby wall, in front of some cool graffiti and voila, I got my shot!

I am truly impressed by the artistic ability of these street artists.

This was painted in black and white. Something very different than the other street art, but since I love things that are different, this really spoke to me.

Something is up with this one.

More vibrant colors...

This one made me laugh...

And then... as I moved around the corner, I heard rap music and what sounded like a crowd of people cheering. Being the ever curious person, I made my way towards the sound and found the most amazing site. It was a battle of street dancers doing their best to one-up each other, and taunting each other up on stage. 

This is the first view I had of the crowd, surrounded by endless graffiti (with 5 Pointz emblazoned on the building). It was awesome, and I knew that I had to get some shots of this up close.

My brother isn't as crazy as I am. I shot this photo of him watching the scene from afar. But I saw this as an amazing photo opportunity and could not wait to get into the mix.

I worked my way up to the stage, raised my Canon 5D Mark III (with 24-105 lens) up as high as I could, over people's heads and started shooting.

I love the taunting!

With all of this going on around me, I was loving every second of it. This was so different from anything I have ever photographed, and so outside my element. But it was a really calm crowd of people who were having a great time, and I felt totally at ease. My brother had to think I was nuts as I ran around saying "this is #$%#ing awesome!".

I always teach people to shoot with passion, and these people definitely had passion for dance!

When writing this blog post, I did a Google search to see if I could find any information about this event. It did not take long before I found this. I guess I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

As I was getting ready to leave, I saw this guy painting on a wall. I positioned myself to the side of the subject to get a nice perspective of him working.

And then I moved behind them to take a photo. They turned and I asked if it was OK to photograph them. Neither of them wanted to show their faces but were willing to give me this. I like it.

And then we were done, and we hailed a cab. My brother got in first, and then as I was getting into the back of the cab, I turned around and noticed that there were a couple more walls of street art that I had missed. I asked the cabbie if it was OK to wait a couple of minutes, and he and my brother patiently waited while I explored a little more.

I was so glad that I took the extra couple of minutes to capture the additional graffiti that I would have otherwise missed.

I really liked this art, painted across different textures on the wall.

Lastly, I came across this magnificent brush work. The painting of this person looks great from far back, but even more amazing when you look at the details of each stroke. All I could think of, as I edited each of these photos is, "whoever painted these is WAY more talented than I will ever be."

And then the day of shooting was over, and as I was walking back to the cab, a man came up to me and asked "Are you Jeff Cable?" I have had this happen numerous times in the past, but never in the back streets 3000 miles from home. He said that he enjoyed my blog and wanted to say hello. Thanks to Chris for telling me about this photographic goldmine and to Seamus for saying hello and making my day.

They tell me that the street art is constantly changing at 5 Pointz, so you can bet that I will go back and this again!