Catching the moment

For Christmas I got the National Geographic Masters of Photography Course.  So far I’ve watched sections on Adventure and People in their Environments.   The through line for all the lessons so far, irrespective of the overall subject matter, is to focus on finding the moment.  One of the instructors said that the difference between a photographer and someone taking snapshots is the amount of time that is spent on a subject.  A photographer will work the angles and take a lot of shots in order get the one that captures the moment and tells the story.    Another instructor advised to always have the camera ready, because if you have to get it out, turn it on an check your settings, the moment will have passed.

All of them also emphasize the human element, which does not always mean you need to see a face.  Sometimes posture or hands or shadows tell the story.

After watching these lessons I started thinking back through my photos; which of them told the story and captured the moment?   Here are those I think succeeded the most:

This is my all time favorite shot of the kids at Wayfinders.  I took hundreds of photos that day, but this one was definitely the result of having my camera at the ready.  I turned around to see all these kids sprinting toward me – if my camera had been at my side or turned off, I’d have missed it.

Fashion week in NYC is a smorgasbord of photo ops, but most of the time the models are posing for the photographers.   I got into the habit of having my camera ready but not photographing until the model would ‘break’ and relax; this is my favorite of those.   This woman was very serious while posing, but as soon as the photographer (the guy with the bald spot on the left) was done, he said something and she burst out laughing.

I like this one more for the color palette and composition, but it also tells the story of Lincoln Center during Fashion Week; the dancers fade to the background (those young girls are definitely ballerinas) and the models take the spotlight.

This is a photo that I almost didn’t take.  Maya and I had been watching for a few minutes, photographing the woman singing, but we were on the steps in front of her.  The light was bright and harsh and we were leaving when I glanced back and saw the boy looking at her. He was standing just out of the direct light, so it lit his face without washing him out, and from the back her posture was more expressive than any photo I took where you could see her face.

This is George.  The best portrait I’ve ever taken, by far, because his entire personality is in that expression.  Enough said.

On the beach in California.  One of my favorite photos ever, because of the juxtaposition of the woman lying on the sand looking at the three women protecting themselves with umbrellas.  You can make up your own story for this one…

These boys were fantastic.  They were following a decades old summer tradition of diving off the bridge and pier into the water of the channel near St. George Bermuda.  I love this shot because of the way the two boys who are diving look loose but in control, doing something they’ve done a million times.

This photo was taken at VidCon in Anaheim, and I still can’t quite believe I got it.  Talk about proof that you should keep shooting and have your camera ready!  I didn’t even see the singer point at me, because at that moment the shutter released and it wasn’t till I stopped shooting a few minutes later and went back through the images that I saw it.  These guys just oozed charisma and really knew how to work the crowd.  (Obviously.)

So there you have it.  Those are the photos that (to date) best embody the lessons I’ve watched so far in the NatGeo Masters of Photography course.  They aren’t perfect and looking at them now I see how they could have been better, but it’s a start.

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Being social, in my ideal world

Years ago, my friend Anna and I fantasized about starting a modern day literary salon.  We envisioned renting a space in the then still somewhat dingy meat market and decorating it with comfortable chairs, sofas and tables.  Lighting would be soft and complimentary and there would be soft drinks, wine and coffee.   We didn’t get far enough in our plans to discuss the particulars of membership, but I always kind of thought it would be invitation only to start, and then when word  of mouth got around, people would ask to join.

Would there be membership fees?  There would have to be in order to maintain the place unless a wealthy benefactor came forward, of course(!).

Three or four days a week, in our dream version, we’d be there and friends (members?) would drop in at their leisure and hang out, discussing books or films or gossiping or whatever.  Maybe we’d have live music at times.  There could even be….networking.    But no cell phones or laptops allowed.   The socializing would be old school – face to face and with no technological interruptions.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot again lately.   I wonder what it would take to make a salon successful these days.   Location?  Yes.  The ability to tear ourselves away from whatever pressing Netflix show, online Google hangout, Facebook status update or ‘urgent’ daily scheduled activities fill our hours?  Absolutely.  But also, and this is key, it would have to be run by someone for whom others will make the effort to be social.

Anna was/is that person.  I, for reasons I’ve never fully been able to establish, am not.  (There is a reason that “Elaine’s” –  the famed Upper East Side restaurant that was, in fact, a kind of salon for the NY literati for 48 years – lasted only 6 months after Elaine passed away.   She was the hook, the glue, the intangible reason everyone wanted to be there.)

Barring an actual salon, I’d settle for a semi-regular, drop in style hang out of friends & acquaintances.  I’d even have it at our place, but I suspect it would fail miserably.   In my experience, unless there is an actual occasion like a birthday or holiday, no one shows up.  Also, it needs to be planned well in advance and a “drop in if you can” type invitation would automatically mean that no one could.

Is this a widespread problem?   I certainly hope so, for purely selfish reasons!

Solution?  Truly, I haven’t got a clue.  Organizing a get together is often an exercise in frustration and I’ve just about given up on ever doing it again.

Except that in the back of my mind I think, “But what if this time it works?  What if that regular, salon-style hangout is just one invitation away?”

Either I’m a glutton for punishment, or hope really does spring eternal.

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Christmas in New York

The Christmas season in New York is nothing if not spectacular.  Go big or go home seems to be the predominant theme in decorating, particularly on 5th and 6th Avenues from midtown to Central Park South.   Cartier gift-wraps its entire 5th Avenue building in a red ribbon and a bow, and of course everyone knows about the tree at Rockefeller Center.

The decorations, glamorous and over the top as they may be, are difficult to photograph.  Or at least, to photograph well.   One problem is the throngs of tourists which make almost every shot a comedy or tragedy, depending on your point of view.   The other is the scope.  It’s difficult, within the confines of a city block, to capture the scope of many of the decorations in a way that will read in a photo.  (Unless of course you have a large frame camera and access to upper floors or rooftops, in which case maybe it’s not so difficult.)

Yesterday Ben & I walked over to 6th Avenue to try and capture some of my perennial favorites.   The results were mixed, and it was only after applying a dose of “LoFi” filters that I got something close to my mind’s eye view.

When you see these on 6th Avenue, Christmas is near.

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The season begins

Here in NYC, although stores start putting up Christmas decorations right after Halloween, the real sign that Christmas is near is the arrival of the “tree people” as we so affectionately call them.

All over the city, the wooden frames that will hold the trees start going up the weekend before Thanksgiving, followed soon thereafter by the people who sell the trees.  We’ve seen the same two girls (who live in Montreal for the rest of the year) selling trees near our building for 4 or 5 years now.   Before that it was a couple who would drive in from Alaska every year.   The trees start arriving the day or so before Thanksgiving, and all the tree stands will be fully stocked until Christmas Eve.

As soon as the trees arrive, it feels like the season has begun.  This year we welcomed the trees with wet snow, adding to the seasonal feel.

Although I don’t love Christmas decorations the day after Halloween, or Christmas music 24/7 starting the day before Thanksgiving (I mean who doesn’t love Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” but do we really need to hear it 587 times between Thanksgiving and Christmas?), as soon as the tree people arrive in the city, I’m in.  Christmas is coming!  Hurray!  The smell of pine forest every time I go to get my coffee is a fantastic bonus.

So here is a little “Christmas Bokeh” (bokeh is the name for what lights do in photography when they are out of focus), courtesy of our local tree stand.

Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Holidays!

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On the street in snow

This was a day of all weather.  It went from a fairly warm 50 degrees in the early hours to wet snow and, rain and then wet snow with temps in the mid thirties .

Not the ideal weather for walking around taking photos, but on the other hand, weather often makes for the best photos.

The shot I chose to represent the day was taken less than a block from our building in fairly heavy snow/sleet, but as with falling leaves it is often hard to catch the motion of the snow in the air (at least I’ve never been very successful at it.)  I started moving the camera with the snow, trying to catch the rush of the flakes as well as the people going by, huddled under umbrellas in various states of winter dress.   Two days ago it was 70 degrees and somehow pulling on the parka this morning seemed unnatural, even with temps in the mid-30′s.

I took over sixty frames of people going by.

This one made the cut.

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Classic East Village

20 years ago Joshua and I lived in the East Village, a few blocks from where today’s photo was taken.  Mosaics like the one in the photo can be found all over the East Village (except near Astor Place, where the artist recently removed them before developers could have them torn down) and have been there for as long as I’ve lived in New York.

I like this photo because it could have been taken 20 years ago.  But instead it was taken today.

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Before and after

Recently I’ve been learning how to use Photoshop again, after years of working only in iPhoto to make basic adjustments.  I’m not a big fan of wildly altered photos, unless they are so stylized that it’s obvious and not just a photographer trying to make up for their own errors in settings.   However, since I want to start shooting raw images (if you don’t know what that means, it basically means that the camera does not process the image the way it normally would, and you have to format it once you offload into Photoshop.  Raw images cannot be offloaded into iPhoto – it doesn’t know what to do with them), I need to get more familiar with Photoshop.

To do so, I’ve been choosing random photos, uploading them into Photoshop and making changes and edits just to familiarize myself with the multitude of available functions.

Sometimes it’s a success, and other times I ditch the whole thing and either start over or move on to a different photo.

In early November I took a bunch of photos while at the Great Hill in Central Park.   One of them – of my friend’s son – looked like this:

I liked it, but it is very dark, and I thought it would look better in black and white.

Here it is again, after a few changes in Photoshop:

The fun thing about it is that this was taken in full sunshine, but looks like he is sitting in a spotlight.

Not perfect, by any means, but a good step in the right direction.

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Ducks on display

I don’t know why ducks are so much fun to photograph.  They’re just ducks, after all – never one of my favorite animals.  But everything about them works in photos; the colors, their behavior and often the surroundings they are in…

Today was a gorgeous day in Central Park – a balmy 52 degrees, and it showed.  People thronged the paths and played football in the Sheep Meadow.  Wollman rink is open for ice skating and it too, was packed.   I took photos of it all, but spent the largest chunk of time sitting on a rock watching a small group of ducks take part in what seemed like a duck spa outing.   They were all preening and bathing and flapping around, in between stints of serene floating on the water.   It was great.  Here are my faves:

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Back to photos

I’ve decided that I’m going to start posting my photos of the day here again, because honestly sometimes Facebook just doesn’t cut it.   It doesn’t matter how many hours you spend on a particular photo, it won’t get as much attention as that snapshot of my cat doing….anything.    People will come out of the woodwork to like a photo of a cat.   Don’t get me wrong, my cat IS “like”-able, but still.

Case in point.  A couple of weeks ago I posted this photo of Wally:

Cute, right?  (We call this his Roman emperor pose.)    It was a slow Facebook day so only 25 people liked it, and two commented.   But who cares –  it was snapped on a second’s notice with my phone.

And it’s my cat.

Then there is this photo, taken the day before yesterday at Grand Central Station:

I spent a good hour positioning myself on various stairways, trying to capture the essence of this crazy, gorgeous building.   This photo was my favorite, because you get the feel of people rushing by, blurred in their haste, but there are also people buying tickets at the ticket windows, or standing and chatting with a friend.   Also, I love that the two soldiers are standing in the light – appropriate for these men, on duty as our guardian angels.

It’s  a photo you can look at for a long time, which is always my favorite kind.   Can you spot the Muslim woman?   The two clean cut men in business suits?  The guy who would probably be walking faster except for that coffee in his hand?   Do you see the restaurant?

On Facebook it garnered ten likes, no comments.

I know this is a reflection on me far more than on Facebook.  Facebook is not there for reflection or depth.  Facebook is there to tell you that your friend is currently having dinner in the West Village and look at the size of those margarita’s!!

But that’s why I’ve decided to start putting my photos here again, as well as on Facebook.   A smaller audience, probably, but made up of lovely people who don’t mind reading a paragraph or so about the photo I took that day.

Even if Grand Central Station is not as cute as my cat.

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It’s an obsession

Yesterday on Facebook I wrote that you know photography has become an obsession when you have a nightmare in which a friend survives a fall from the Empire State Building, but the upsetting part is that your camera malfunctioned and you missed the shot!

I left out that in said nightmare my friend was dressed in a Santa suit.   It didn’t seem relevant to the main point of the post, but there it is.  You may analyze at will.

This morning I woke up with the lyrics of an 80′s pop hit buzzing through my head.   You all remember this one, I’m sure.  It dates back to 1985 and synthesizers factor heavily.  (Also, the video is fantastic – early MTV, big hair, bad costumes, the works).   Here it is for your enjoyment.   Animotion!

So between bizarre nightmares and weird 80′s lyrics, I’d say I’m officially obsessed.   Yesterday, for fun, I spent almost 2 hours down at the southern tip of Manhattan, taking photos of the walkway and NY Harbor. (For the record, this is time that in the past 3 years would have been spent blogging, which explains my recent absence from this site…)  Most people on the boardwalk were focused on the big draw – the Statue of Liberty – but although she is quite photogenic, I was looking for something else.  The photo that most people don’t take because they are so busy looking at Lady Liberty.

It wasn’t 100% successful.  I didn’t get the photo that screamed “That’s the one!”, but after almost 500 frames, I came away with a few that weren’t bad.   Part of the obsession thing is never being satisfied, right?

This definitely qualifies.

And one of the Lady, just because.

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