Thursday, June 25, 2015

High above New York - The view from the top of the new Freedom Tower (World Trade Center)

Last week I was back in New York City to record a couple more video presentations for the B&H Photo's YouTube channel. Both of the presentations should be posted online in the next week. Keep an eye out on my video page.

As you know, whenever I am traveling, I love to go out and shoot photos when I am not working. This trip was no different.

As luck would have it, my brother and his family were in NY on vacation with a couple of days of overlap. Since I have been to New York more times than I can count, I became their tour guide. I presented at B&H Photo late in the afternoon, and then met up with my brother and his family to go out and walk the city.  Since I was playing tour guide and not wanting to slow them down with my photography, I took only my Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm lens and (gasp!) no tripod. At one point, we were crossing a street (I think it was Lexington Ave) when I looked up and saw this color in the sky. I set the ISO of my camera to 2000, which gave me a shutter speed of 1/100 sec. I shot as wide as I could (24mm) to get as much of the purple sky as I could. I used the buildings to frame the shot.

As we continued our walk down Park Avenue, I turned to get this shot of the Helmsley and MetLife buildings. Even though it had gotten darker, I kept the ISO at 2000 and held tight as I took the photo at 1/15 sec.

The next day, after meetings, I met up with Dave and the family to visit the World Trade Center. If you read the blog a lot, you know that I have visited here many times. But this time, things were different. The new Freedom Tower is open and visitors can go to the One World Observatory at the top. That was our plan!

We purchased our tickets for the One World Observatory, but had an hour to walk around before our time slot was called. I walked them over to the two fountains (placed where the original twin towers once stood). Since I have photographed these fountains many times, I decided to shoot something different, focusing on the names of some of the victims, with the new subway station in the background.

We also walked over to Ladder Company 10 which is the fire department right next to Ground Zero. I stood across the street and framed the camera to include the two garage doors. I set the ISO to 100 and the aperture to f/22. This gave me a slow shutter speed of 1/13 sec. My goal was to wait for a small number of people to walk into the frame and get some motion blur. As luck would have it, this gentleman walked into the frame, wearing this hat. Perfect!

When walking back towards the Freedom Tower, we passed by the 9/11 Museum. I saw these two Port Authority policemen and liked the composition of them and the reflection behind them. After looking at this on the computer, I determined that this would look better in black and white. Using NIK SilverEfex Pro, I did the conversion.

Funny story. I posted this photo on my Facebook and Instagram pages, and the one office (closest to me) happened to come across this, and emailed me asking for the photo. Of course, I was more than happy to send the photo (in color and B&W) to them. He said that the photo "has become a real hit at my department." I love that.

As we approached the Freedom Tower, I looked up and saw these dramatic clouds in the sky and reflecting off the buildings.

This is the worker's entrance to the Freedom Tower. I really liked the colors here, so I stood back across the street and waited until I had a clear photo, without cars or people walking through the frame.

And then it was time to go up to the 102nd floor...

The elevator ascends 102 floors in only 45 seconds. But the real treat is the virtual reality video show inside the elevator which depicts the area through the last couple of centuries. The video begins with renderings of what this area would have looked like before anyone inhabited the area, and then transitions through the years with all the buildings being added (and sadly subtracted).

My first view, after exiting the elevator, was of the lower East Side of the city.

And then I moved to a vantage point to capture images of the upper East Side, which included the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge in the foreground and the Williamsburg Bridge far off in the distance.

For all of these photos, I used the Canon 5D Mark III with a 28-300mm lens.

I really wanted to get a clean photo of the fountains below us. I stood as tall as I could and strained to get a clear shot without any reflections. This is the best that I could do. You can see some reflections in the lower left hand portion of the photo. (Photographer's note: For all you photographers looking to get the best photos from the top of this building, or any building where you do not have outside access, bring a large hood or dark shirt to shield the light around you. I am hoping to make another trip to this vantage point, with a lens skirt.)

I took this vertical shot to show the distance between the World Trade Center and midtown. Unfortunately, the weather had deteriorated and midtown was not as sharp as I would have liked. But, you get what you get...

For this horizontal shot, I zoomed in a little closer to midtown, and I used some tricks in Photoshop to increase the contrast in the distant buildings.

You are probably looking at this photo and thinking "what the heck was Jeff focusing on?" Here we were, 102 stories above the ground and I see a bug crawling on the outside of the window. And I was thinking "Hey, if this bug flew all the way up here, it deserves to be photographed and put on the blog." Maybe it will see this and ask for a copy of the photo. :) BTW - I shot this at f/14 to make sure that the city was recognizable behind the bug.

Before leaving the 102nd floor and heading back down, I quickly grabbed this shot to show you what it looks like on the observation floor.

After making the 45 second descent, we walked over to the Brooklyn Bridge.

I have photographed here many times, and was not really taking too many images. Until...

I saw this really eclectic couple coming towards me, and I quickly raised the camera and started taking some photos. I didn't even have time to switch to servo focus, so I had to keep refocusing and shooting in quick succession. Like the police shot, I decided that this photo was stronger in B&W, except that I really liked the bright colors the couple were wearing.


I created a layer mask in Photoshop and make a "selective color" shot. I know that some people are cringing right now. When I posted this on Facebook, someone (Jamie - I am talking about you) already gave me some grief about it. But I like to play around with the photos I take, and this one works for me. Go ahead, chime in. What do you think? Too gimmicky? Fun?


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post or send a newsletter.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Seeing and photographing details at weddings, mitzvahs and other events

This weeks blog is all about capturing details while photographing events. You know...the small things that some people overlook, but you as a photographer need to capture to help capture the spirit of the day.

I am going to start with weddings. These are major events in people's lives, and the bride, along with her family and friends (and yes, even the groom might even be involved) have planned the day down to the smallest detail. As a photographer who has been hired to capture this special day, you need to look for these details and photograph them in a meaningful way.

Anyone who has photographed weddings for a living knows that you must capture a macro shot of the rings. I like to photograph the rings in a surrounding that shows additional details of the wedding. In this case, I used one of the bouquets to rest the rings. In a western themed wedding, we put the rings on some cowboy boots.

I photographed this at my sister's wedding. I wanted to get a detail shot of her bouquet, with just a hint of her in the background. I used the Canon 100-400 lens at f/5.6 to get in close.

Here is another photograph highlighting the wedding bouquets. For this, we arranged the flowers in front of a small fountain at the hotel. I photographed this with the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens at f/1.6. I shot at this wide aperture to make sure that the focus was only on the bouquets and not anywhere else.

Unlike the rings and the bouquets, there are often other details which are important to the bride, groom and their families. You should talk to the members of the wedding party to get as much information as possible. While talking to Alina, she mentioned that these earrings were important to her. So, I zoomed in to 200mm, set the aperture at f/4 and focused only on her earrings. I used the bouquet and her smile to frame the shot, but the subject is the earrings and nothing else.

A couple of days before their wedding, my wife and I were having drinks with the family, and the bride's father told us that he had carved some wood with Trey and Lauren's initials. I knew that this was something I had to photograph as part of their story. We asked if we could photograph these pieces, borrowed the bride and groom to be for a couple of minutes and I took this.

While photographing Trey and Lauren's wedding, I moved back to shoot a long shot of them down the aisle. I had seen this sign earlier in the day and knew that it would make a good photo. I moved into a position where I could see the wedding party in the shot, using the Canon 70-200mm II lens mounted on a Canon 1Dx, I rolled the aperture to f/2.8, focused on the sign and shot this. It is one of my favorite shots from their wedding.

Details are not just important when photographing weddings. I find that there are details in almost everything I shoot. Next let's look at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.

I almost always start my day, before the family arrives, with a photograph of the program. Like the wedding rings, I try to put the program somewhere interesting, not just on a table. Since this family had a beautiful flower arrangement at the front of the Temple, I decided to put the program and yalmacha (cap) carefully into the arrangement. I do this for two reasons. First, it is a shot that many of the families like, and secondly, it is a good way for me to have the correct spelling of the participant's name and their date...

Here is a detail shot of the torah (hebrew scroll). Like many of the previous photos, I chose to have the tip of the yad (pointer) in focus with everything else out of focus. This draws the viewer's attention to the torah and yad, not the child. I shot this at f/2.8 to have narrow focus on the torah, but still wanted to give a hint of the pattern and colors of her dress. If I had taken this at f/1.2, I feel that the foreground and background would be too diffused and unrecognizable.

I was photographing this young lady's mitzvah practice when she mentioned something special about this yad. It had the hebrew letters that spelled her name. After hearing this, I asked her to hold it out towards me, focused on the yad, and shot this. 

Almost all the previous photos had a person in the shot, even if they were not the focus of the photo. But that does not mean that they have to be in the shot. While photographing a mitzvah practice, there was a point in time when the rabbi and child were away from the torah. I saw the yad laying on the torah and grabbed this shot. I used the Canon 5D Mark III with a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 lens and took this wide open at f/1.4 . I was careful to focus on the very tip of the yad.

Just a week ago I was photographing a Bat Mitzvah where the young lady opted to play guitar during her service. Just minutes before the start of the service, she was practicing, I went very close to her, using the Canon 24-70mm II lens and photographed this tight shot of her hands at f/2.8. I love that this shows the detail of the guitar, and the color of her fingernails. You don't even need to see her body or face to know what she is doing here. 

This young lady had a really pretty yalmacha made of silver. I asked her to turn around and captured this photo to show that detail. 

Unlike the simplicity of the silver yalmacha, these were really intricate caps imported into the country for a high-end Bat Mitzvah in San Francisco. I stood in a place where I could fill the frame with all these colors and took this photo. I chose to shoot this photo at f/4 to have narrow focus, but still have all of the orange yalmacha all in focus,

I usually get to mitzvah party about 45 minutes before the guests are expected to arrive. This gives me time to get all my detail shots. One of the photos I always look for, is the place cards. In this case, they were really unique. The theme of the mitzvah party was New York and they had everyone's names on taxi cabs. So cool! It would be a shame not to have this photo.

Here is another detail shot of an elaborate mitzvah party. Not only do these make beautiful photos, but these photos are also highly requested by the coordinators and other vendors for their portfolio and websites. My wife, who does all the album design, also loves having these types of photos to use as backgrounds in the family's album.

I usually check out the food before the guests arrive in the room. No! I don't do this to get early grabs on the good chow (well...maybe). I am looking for good photo opportunities. Again, these are usually requested by the caterers.

As I mentioned earlier, details shots are not just for weddings and mitzvahs. These next two photos are detail shots that I captured at the Summer Olympics in London.

I love that this detail shot shows the field hockey ball, the stick and the shoe. But it also shows the colors that were used during the 2012 Olympics.

This is one of my favorite photos from the London Olympics. No, it does not show the face of the player or anyone defending against them. But it shows the athletes Olympic tattoo with a matching logo on the ball. 

Look for the details in everything you shoot. It allows you to be more creative and will likely get you some of your favorite photos!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Photographing a graduation - Tips and tricks to get the best photos

Yesterday was my daughter's high school graduation, and of course, I was there as a proud father. But since I am a photographer, I also wanted to photograph the big day to remember this occasion.

After going through the images today and editing the best photos for the family, I thought I would write a blog to help those of you who are about to attend your own graduation. My goal here is to give you hints on best equipment to use and also best locations and techniques to get great shots.

I came with my Canon 1Dx (but any decent DSLR would work here) and the new Canon 100-400mm II lens. Knowing that I was going to be sitting in the stands and far from the students, I knew that having a long zoom would be the difference between getting a good shot and not. Unless you happen to be sitting near the graduates, bring your longest zoom lens to get up close to them.

Starting at the beginning of ceremony, I waited for Ali and her best friend to walk out on to the field. Using all 400mm of this zoom lens, I shot numerous photos as they made the long walk down the field. Assuming that you are shooting with a digital camera, don't be afraid to shoot a lot of photos to get that one moment that stands out from the others. I was using a 64GB Lexar Professional 1066x CF card and had plenty of headroom for lots of photos. I shot at least 15 photos of their walk, and loved this one where I could see both girls and they had great smiles on their faces.

Once they got to their seats, I sent my daughter a text message and asked her and her friends to turn towards the family and I. Ah, the beauty of technology. :) Once again, I used all 400mm to get this shot of them.

Here is a tighter crop of the same photo. Amazing quality from this new zoom lens!! In case you are wondering about my camera settings...Since it was still bright outside, I set the camera to ISO 160 (cleanest for Canon), aperture of f/5.6 and still had a shutter speed of 1/1000th sec.

Half way through the ceremony, it was time for them to hand out diplomas. As the first graduate received their diploma I realized that we were sitting on the wrong side of the field to get a shot of the diploma exchange. The graduates would face the other direction towards the school photographer. Uh oh! So...I quickly got up, made my way through the bleachers and walked swiftly around to the other side of the field. Just in time to get this shot.

Another crop from the Canon 1Dx shot (also at 400mm).

This is another crop from a larger photo. I chose to crop it this direction to avoid all the distractions on either side of them. You may also notice that the background of this shot is much cleaner from this side of the field, with just the dark fence behind the presenter and my daughter.

As they were continuing to hand out diplomas to the other couple hundred graduates, I sent Ali another text and had her turn around for another shot. Yeah, I know, the crazy photographer father!

I really like that everyone else is facing forward and just my daughter is turned towards me, I did a tight crop of this photo for my daughter, thinking this would make a really cool Facebook banner for her page.

Once the last diploma is handed out, you should be ready to shoot the cap toss. I zoomed the 100-400mm lens out to 100mm, prefocused on the kids, and waited for the big moment. This was the best of the photos.

I was hoping for more caps in the air, and so, just for the fun of it, I decided to use Adobe Photoshop to clone the caps and add a lot more to the shot. It is cheating, but I was just having fun to see how many I could put in the photo. My daughter was rolling her eyes behind me as I edited this.

Knowing that, after the ceremony, I would be taking photos of the kids up close, I brought along a Canon 24-105mm lens. As soon as the ceremony was over, I switched lenses, knowing that I would not need a long zoom any more. I also brought along a Canon 600 EX-RT flash and mounted that to the camera. Even though I was shooting photos outside and in reasonable light, I like to use a flash (turned down by one stop) to add a touch of fill light to my subjects. If you don't know how to adjust your flash power, check your manual. It is worth knowing how to do this.

I saw a ton of people photographing their graduates in mix light (harsh light and shadows). I moved my daughter and her friends into a shady spot to get nice even light on them. I know it is a bit of a pain to move people from where they are congregating, but it is worth the effort to get nice keepsakes.

Since I am rarely in any family photos, I asked one of our friends to take a photo with me in the shot. I prefocused the camera on my daughter, had him stand in the same place I was standing and had him shoot this photo. This not the best background, but since my daughter was having me follow her all over the grounds to get photos, this was the best location for the moment. Even if you are the family photographer, make sure to get yourself in some of the photos!

I shot almost all of my portrait photos at f/4 to blur the background. As always, I was focusing on their eyes to get the best focus. You will also notice that I like to shoot in tight on their faces. I see so many people taking photographs of their kids from head to toe. I prefer to see more of their faces and smiles.

This photo was taken very near 8pm as the sun was setting. I decided to turn off my flash and use the golden light from the setting sun to light Ali and her friend, Jamie. If you compare this photo to the previous photos, you can definitely see the different in the lighting.

Beware taking photos in direct sunlight unless the sun is really low like this. Usually this will cause your subjects to squint and not have a natural look on their faces.

Would I change anything that I did yesterday? Yes. I forgot that I had a Canon 5Ds camera and could have used that instead of the Canon 1Dx. Having 50 megapixels would have let me crop in even more with greater detail. Hey, even I make photo mistakes. 

I hope this helps you when you have your next big graduate moment.


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.