New York Street Photography

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My favourite definition of street photography (and there are many) is:

“Capturing the human element in the urban landscape”

By that definition, there are few places better to shoot street photography than New York City.  Millions of people, from all walks of life, can be found on the streets of this small island every day.   It is the place where famous street photographers like Bruce Gilden, Joel Meyerowitz, Mary Ellen Mark and many others created some of their most famous photographs.  It is alive 24 hours per day and the photographic opportunities are endless.   Simply put, you cannot go to New York City and not shoot on the streets!  During my most recent trip I was out at every opportunity:  early morning, in the evening, and mid day between family travels.

This post is part three of a five part series featuring photography from New York City:

All images in this post were taken with the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and a 35mm f/2 lens, and can be clicked to view large.  With that said, let’s look at life on the streets of New York City!

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I have always loved iconic transportation systems.  I love the cable cars in San Francisco, the Metro in Paris, and above all the subway system in New York.  It is a living, breathing part of the city that moves over 5 million people per day.

The photo above was taken while I was waiting to catch a train.  I love the framing lines, the backlight, and the lone person standing on the platform.  Here are a few more taken from the subway platforms:

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It is also interesting to watch life on the trains.  During busy times you are packed in, literally shoulder to shoulder, with other people.  Somehow though everyone manages to remain completely in their own world:

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The only downfall to taking the subway as a street photographer is that you don’t get to observe people on the streets of the city.  As awesome as shooting on the subway is, to really experience New York you need to be out on foot.  New York is a city of diverse communities all thrown together and each has it’s own flavour.  I only managed to spend a few hours in Chinatown this trip, but I love the feel of its streets:

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SoHo, which stands for “South of Houston Street”, is a community in lower Manhattan that is well known for its art galleries, shopping, and upscale dining.   Here are a few images from that area:

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Midtown New York, home to famous landmarks like The Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, offers the street photographer a mix of demographics to photograph:

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And, finally for this blog post, there is Times Square and the Theater District.

Shooting street in Times Square can be more challenging than one would think:   It is very busy and packed full of people.   This makes it easy to find subjects, but also much harder to nail your composition.  If you are the type of candid street photographer who likes to find a great background, set your stage, and wait for the right person to walk through you will need to re-think your game a little bit here.  Wide lenses and putting yourself right in the centre of the action are the way to go in Times Square.  Just immerse yourself.  Shoot close and take it all in:

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People who haven’t seen Times Square at night may look at this next photo and think “hey, that girl is naked in Times Square”!  The truth is the you can find all types of crazy and awesome people in Times Square.  What I really loved about this scene was the Body Worlds poster pointing at the naked girl.  That is something you don’t see everyday!

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This final photo was taken very late at night in Times Square (or, more likely, very early morning).  New York doesn’t stop… it just keeps going!

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If you plan on shooting street in New York here are a few recommendations:

  1. Leave almost all of your gear at home.  You need one camera body and one lens.  You are going to be shooting very close to your subjects, so if possible use a mirrorless camera that can be silenced and bring a wide lens (23mm to 35mm is perfect).  Stick an extra battery and card in your pocket and call it done.
  2. Wear a comfortable pair of shoes.  New York is a city that needs to be walked to experience it properly.  You aren’t going to make many great street photos from the back seat of a cab!
  3. Give yourself time.  I cannot stress this enough, because there is something new around every corner.  Get lost in the city.  Wander.  Explore.  Get off the beaten tourist streets.  When you find a great spot hang out and enjoy it.  Watch life go by, and shoot what catches your eye.
  4. Finally, don’t forget to interact with the people.  New Yorkers are some of the nicest people you are going to meet.  Approaching and talking to strangers can be a bit of an art form, but when you make that connection with someone new it is a great thing.

I hope you enjoyed this quick look at the streets of New York.  In part four of this series we are going to take a look at photo essays from Grand Central Terminal and the Top of the Rock!

Cheers,

Ian

Fujifilm gear pack for New York City

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Hello again!

In my last blog post I shared a photo essay of New York City from my recent trip.   In future posts we are going to look at many more photos of New York, but right now it is time to talk gear.  And,  by talk, I mean totally nerd out.

This post is part two of a five part series featuring photography from New York City:

For many photographers the question of “what gear do I bring on a trip?” is the hardest one to answer.  For me, it all starts with pre-trip research.  Photography is a huge part of my travels, and I want to come back with a photo essay that lets me show the beauty of the places I visit, adds substance to my travel workshops and presentations, and provides content for several books that I am writing right now.

I will often start by sketching out a list of locations (and/or things) that I know I want to photograph.  For New York, that list included:

  • The New York City skyline from The Top of the Rock
  • Grand Central Terminal
  • Chinatown
  • Freedom Tower and The National September 11th Memorial and Museum
  • The Brooklyn Bridge
  • The Manhattan skyline from DUMBO
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Central Park
  • The Bronx Zoo
  • The Empire State Building
  • Times Square
  • Radio City Music Hall
  • Rockefeller Center
  • The New York subway system
  • Street photography

This list, compiled from things learned on previous visits, general awareness of New York, and internet research, gives me a starting point for figuring out what gear to bring.  Once I have a rough list I think about breaking it down into categories of lenses.  I will often speak with other photographers and research focal lengths to do this.   Eventually I will have a list of locations or shots that require wide angle (if any), mid range, and telephoto (if any).

I then ask myself if I can get away with just a Fuji X100t for the trip, which is always my go to.   In this case, however, my shot list broke down as follows:

  • Wide Angle:  Skyline from The Top of the Rock, inside Grand Central Terminal, inside the 9/11 Museum, and shooting up on many of the buildings.
  • Mid Range:  Almost everywhere.
  • Telephoto:  Detail shots from Top of the Rock, The Bronx Zoo, and The Statue of Liberty.

Three lenses it was, which is actually a heavy gear pack for me when I am traveling by plane.  Time to start choosing:

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For wide angle I had the choice of the Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens, or the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 zoom lens.

One is fairly wide and very fast, while the other is extremely wide and, while only having a minimum aperture of f/4, is optically stabilized (and Fujifilm’s OIS is very good).

Grand Central Terminal was the determining factor here:  I knew I needed an extreme wide angle to shoot the terminal so it came down to the 10-24mm.  While I would be shooting in low light at f/4 or higher, the OIS meant that I could handhold at slow shutter speeds to compensate.

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My midrange choice was easy… the Fujinon 35mm f/2 lens.  I chose this lens for the following reasons:

  1. It is one of my all time favourite street photography lenses, and I was going to be doing a LOT of street photography.
  2. It is small, and easily portable.
  3. It fit nicely between the long end of my Fujinon 10-24mm lens, and the wide end of whichever telephoto lens I brought (50mm or 55mm).
  4. It is weather resistant.  This is important as New York is famous for its flash thunderstorms in the summer.  Sure enough, I did get caught in one of these while I was mid span on the Brooklyn Bridge on foot!

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I’ll put this right on the table:  I hate bringing telephoto lenses on vacation.  If the trip isn’t a safari or doesn’t involve specific needs like aerial photography or certain landscapes it is always my least used lens.  Telephotos also tend to be the heavier lenses in your bag.

With this in mind my decision was easy, though not the way I would prefer to go.  I brought the Fujinon 55-200mm f/3.5 – f/4.8 zoom lens.  This is a great lens at its price point, but the Fujinon 50-140mm f/2.8 lens is simply incredible.  Sadly, it is also my largest and heaviest lens so it was instantly out of the running given that I would be walking 10-12 hours per day.

This lens would only be used to pick out detail shots from Top of the Rock, at The Bronx Zoo, and to get a shot of The Statue of Liberty.  The rest of the time it would live in the hotel room.

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Here is my whole kit.  In this photo you can see:

  • The Ona Prince Street messenger bag
  • The Fuji X-Pro2 with the Fujinon 35mm f/2 lens on it
  • The Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens
  • The Fujinon 55-200mm f/3.5 – f/4.8 lens
  • Accessories including extra memory cards, extra batteries, a cleaning cloth, a 10 stop ND filter, and a remote shutter release
  • A charger for my camera batteries
  • An external batter pack with a cable for my phone
  • My iPad
  • An SD cable to import photos onto my iPad for backup purposes

Everything fit in the Ona bag for carry onto the plane, and once I got to the hotel room the iPad, SD cable, charger, and usually the Fujinon 55-200mm lens lived in the room.

And there you have it, my rationale for how I packed my gear for this trip.  I had all focal lengths covered, I had a weather resistant option, and everything fit into a small shoulder bag that did not weigh me down.

Traveling with mirrorless cameras is a beautiful thing.

What will I bring the next time I go to New York?  That is an easy question to answer now that I have the images from this trip:  I will only bring the X100t (or, preferably, its successor).  When I travel back to a location for a repeat visit I usually have the “trophy” shots already, so I focus on the people, the life on the streets, and the little detail shots.  For these purposes the X100t is all I need.

I hope you enjoyed this walk through of how I selected my gear for this trip.  Next up we are going to look at my favourite thing:  Street Photography;  and, believe me, New York did not disappoint!

Until then,

Ian

Photographing New York City

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New York City.   NYC.  The Big Apple.  The City That Never Sleeps.  The Empire City.  It doesn’t matter what you call it, there is no arguing the fact that New York truly is one of the greatest cities in the world.   It has beautiful architecture, it is rich in the arts, the people are amazing, and it holds a significant place on the world stage.  On a personal note New York holds a special place in my heart because it was where I honeymooned after getting married and, having spent a long time working as a paramedic, I feel a connection to the events of 9/11 and the brethren I lost that day when they were working to save people in the World Trade Center towers.

I know that it has been two weeks since I last posted on this site, but that is because I just returned from another trip to New York where I spent a lot of time shooting, showing the city to family that had never been there before, and visiting friends.  This post is part one of a new five part series featuring photography from New York City:

Every time I go to New York I feel like I just scratch the surface of the city, despite spending hours every day with a camera in my hand.  There is simply so much to see that it would take months to explore everything New York has to offer.  In this first post I want to share a series of images that gives a broad overview of the city, and in the next few posts we’ll talk gear and get more area specific.

Get ready for a lot of photos.  Wordpress doesn’t always render images well in the blog post, so please click any of them to view larger if you are having any problems.   That said, let’s get started and look through the lens of my camera at the beauty that is New York City!

The photo at the top of this post is the quintessential skyline shot of New York City.  Dead centre you can see the iconic Empire State Building.  Viewed large you can see the new Freedom Tower behind it, the Statue of Liberty behind that, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc.  This photo was taken from the Top of the Rock, a viewing platform at the top of Rockefeller Center.  I will have more on shooting from this location in a separate blog post.

When I teach my travel photography workshop I talk often about the need to walk a city, to explore, to get lost.  Here is a perfect example of that:  I was walking down 5th Avenue, looking south, when I saw the view seen in the photo below.  I love the architecture, the flag, and how the Empire State Building is framed with the blue sky behind it:

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Had I not been out walking I never would have seen this view.  You really need to give yourself time to shoot places like New York, and you need to be out walking.  I averaged 10-15km per day and wish I could have done more!

Not far from where the above photo was taken you will find the iconic Grand Central Terminal:

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I spent a lot of time shooting Grand Central this time, and it will have it’s own blog post later in this series.  If you haven’t been before it is hard to fathom how busy this terminal is, with 750,000 people per day passing through its doors.  Somehow, however, there is a calm amongst all of that chaos when you stop and take in the beautiful design of this building.

Keep going south beyond Grand Central Terminal and the Empire State Building and you will find the Flatiron Building, another beautiful example of the New York architecture I love so much:

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Continuing south, the National September 11th Memorial and Museum is incredibly moving to visit.  At street level the Memorial is dominated by two one acre reflecting pools that sit on the former footprint of the north and south towers of the World Trade Center:

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These pools and man made waterfalls reflect the loss of life and the physical void left by the destruction of the Towers.   The names of 2,983 victims are etched around the edges, representing those lost on September 11th and also in the earlier 1993 World Trade Center bombing.  This wide angle photo doesn’t pay respect to the scale of the Memorial.  For perspective though, all of those little dots you see around the edges of the Memorial are people.

The actual Museum is located underground.  I will have a separate blog post on my day visiting this location coming up in this series.

Go all of the way to the southern tip of Manhattan Island and you will find the Statue of Liberty:

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I have taken the typical shot of this iconic landmark before, and wanted to make a photo that was a little more original this time.  A trick to seeing the statue is to take the free Staten Island Ferry, which goes past the Statue of Liberty.  When I saw the rays of light bursting from these clouds I dropped back into black and white, boosted the contrast, and got a photo I was happy with.

Going north from Grand Central instead of south you’ll find Central Park, a place of quiet beauty in the heart of this insanely busy city.  This will sound like a strange analogy, but I equate visiting Central Park to going to Disneyland.  Disney has curated the experience of visiting their theme parks perfectly.   As soon as you enter one of their parks it is like the outside world ceases to exist:  The sounds are different, the sights are different, the feel is different.  I have the same experience when I go into Central Park, I find it quiet and calm despite the bustling city life that is happening all around it.

Here is an image taken in Central Park on a cloudy day, looking west towards the San Remo building on a cloudy and overcast day:

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And, an image on a bright sunny day of the famous Bow Bridge:

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In the park you will also find Strawberry Fields, a memorial dedicated to John Lennon:

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The entrance to the Memorial is at 72nd Street, directly across from the Dakota Hotel where, on December 8th, 1980, John Lennon was murdered.  His ashes were spread in this area of the park, and in 1985 Strawberry Fields was dedicated.

I have never been here when the Memorial was not surrounded by people either paying their respects, or fighting for the space to take a selfie.

Selfies.  Sigh.  Anyway…

Wherever I travel I love visiting old churches.  I feel at peace in them, and I love the architecture.  New York is home to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, located near Rockefeller Centre:

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So beautiful, and well worth a visit.

Near the Rockefeller Center are several other iconic images, including Radio City Music Hall:

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…and the Atlas Statue:

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These last two photos show that the name “The city that never sleeps” is well earned…. Daytime, nighttime, you can always keep shooting in New York and I was out late every night well after my family had returned to the hotel.

I spent an afternoon and evening in Brooklyn this trip, an area that I hadn’t photographed on previous visits.  On this day I spent a few hours on a photowalk through Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho and the Financial District catching up with fellow Official Fuji X Photographer Kale Friesen.  After our visit I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge:

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Funny story:  New York is quite famous for their epic, “appear out of nowhere” thunderstorms.  The Brooklyn bridge is about a mile long, so it is very easy and quick to walk across.  When I started crossing it the weather was about 35 degrees Celsius (about 95 degrees Fahrenheit), and the sky was blue as far as the eye could see.  By the time I reached the half way point, the sky was full of dark clouds that opened up on myself and the other people on the bridge.  We got totally soaked, and by the time we reached the end of the bridge the rainstorm was gone.  It was quite comical.  Moments like this are part of the fun of traveling!

Once across the bridge, you are in an area affectionately know as DUMBO, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  This area is a treasure trove of photographic opportunities.  There is one famous spot where the Empire State Building is visible through one of the supports of the Manhattan Bridge:

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From the walkway along the Brooklyn Bridge Park you have wide open views of both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge.  Here is the latter:

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For my final shot of the evening I settled on a classic shot of the Manhattan skyline, framed with a row of pilings in the foreground.  While I waited for the right blue hour light I put a 10 stop ND filter on my lens and shot black and white long exposures:

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And, when the time was right, I grabbed the same shot with the city lights lit up against the evening sky:

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The photographic opportunities in New York are endless.  All you need are a good pair of shoes, your camera, and an appetite to explore and observe.

This trip really reinforced for me my love of shooting travel and street photography with my Fujifilm cameras.   I hope you enjoyed these photos, and I look forward to showing you more in upcoming blog posts.   If you have any questions or thoughts please feel free to comment!

Next up in this series will be a discussion on my camera gear pack for this trip.

Cheers,

Ian