San Francisco Chinatown Street Photography In Classic Chrome – Part Two

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Note:  Part one of this series can be viewed HERE.

I’ve had some random thoughts about photography on my mind for a while now, but they never really came together in my head in a way that allowed me to write about them until today.  The truth is that it was the responses to my latest blog post, part one of new street work from San Francisco’s Chinatown, that made things click in my mind.  I’d like to write about them quickly before I share this photo essay if that’s ok…

Photography is often a solo endeavour for me.  Most of the time, actually.  I usually travel by myself to build my travel portfolio and generate new work for my upcoming book series.  I shoot street photography by myself because I am always moving through the city, watching and reacting.  I write on my own, though my brilliant wife serves as editor in chief.  I don’t work with assistants on weddings or portrait sessions.  Barring the workshops I lead or the presentations I conduct, I am almost always on my own when it comes to photography.

Having said that, the photography world is also full of communities, and I don’t think I’ve ever been part of communities I enjoy more than those surrounding the Fuji X series and the genre of street photography.  This really hit home for me when I published part one of this series on this site, and shared some of the thoughts and images on my Instagram and Twitter feeds.  This series is no different than any of my other work, but over the last week I have had amazing discussions with people from all over the world about the Fuji X series, techniques for shooting street photography, questions about San Francisco, requests for workshops, etc.  These conversations seem to happen on a regular basis now and I couldn’t be more thankful for them.  I am proud to represent Fujifilm as an Official Fuji X Photographer and to participate in the opportunities that this role provides me.  I love that I have the opportunity to interact with artists that I have an amazing amount of respect for.  As a long time educator, I enjoy having conversations with new photographers too, whose passion and excitement is infectious at times.  It is all good.

I am launching a new series of workshops in 2017 that will be expanding to various cities around the world, and I cannot wait to actually meet many of the people, face to face, that I have become friends with through social media, our online Skype mentoring sessions, and other avenues.   Exciting times ahead for sure.

Until then though, here is another series of new street work from San Francisco’s Chinatown.  As with the first series, all of the photos below were shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and a 35mm f/2 lens.  All images are in Fuji’s Classic Chrome film simulation, which works perfectly with the gorgeous light and shadow I had during this trip.

Finally, please keep up the conversations via email, comments here, on Twitter or on Instagram.  Interacting with other artists is such a great thing.  And now, let’s look at some photos!

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I have more from this recent trip to San Francisco to share soon, but next up I’d like to share some stories from my most recent trip to Amsterdam.

Until then,

Ian

San Francisco Chinatown Street Photography in Classic Chrome – Part One

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Every now and then we need to take a time out from our day to day lives.  We need to re-charge, feed our soul, and do whatever it is that makes us happy.  For me, this means getting on a plane and going to San Francisco, a city I photograph often and feel at home in.

I absolutely love San Francisco.  I love staying in the same hotel every time I go.  I love the people.  I love waking up to the sounds of the cable cars in the morning.  I love the food.  I love walking along the ocean, even though I live on the same ocean here in Vancouver.  And, above all, I love shooting street photography in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Unlike many cities that have small cultural communities, the Chinatown in San Francisco is the largest one in North America and the largest  Chinese community outside of Asia.  It has a vibe and a culture, especially once you get off the well travelled tourist streets.   It is a fabulous location for shooting street photography.

I travelled extremely light this trip, taking just the Fuji X-Pro2 with the 35mm f/2 lens on it.  I added a 16mm wide angle lens in one pocket of my jacket, a few extra memory cards and batteries in another, and I was good to go.

I think it is fair to say that most of my street photography is processed in black and white.  Street photography for me is about capturing the moment, the gesture, and the feel of the scene.  I am almost always of the mindset that if colour doesn’t add anything to a street photograph that it is best viewed in black and white.

This trip was different, however, because the light was amazing the entire week I was there.  At mid day the light was hard and bright and there were brilliant shadows cutting through the streets.  Earlier and later in the day the light was soft and beautiful.  The colours in San Francisco’s Chinatown are vibrant, but they were especially beautiful when combined with the light I had this week so I decided to shoot the entire set in Fujifilm’s Classic Chrome film simulation.

I also decided to spend time this trip working on getting closer to my subjects.  Every photograph in this blog post (except for the one in the intersection above) was shot from less than 10 feet away from my subject, and most were shot within 5 feet.   Most were captured using manual zone focusing which allowed me to move quickly through the city streets and react to a scene instantly.  With a light gear pack, manual zone focusing, and brilliant light it was easy to spend hours at a time just walking, observing, and occasionally shooting.   The week flew by, and I came home with a set of images I truly enjoyed making.  More importantly, I am re-charged and ready to tackle a busy holiday season.

This post and the photographs below are the first of two posts featuring new street work from this trip.  I hope you like the images as much as I enjoyed taking them.

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Part two of this series can be viewed HERE.

Cheers,

Ian

Photographing New York City from the Top of the Rock

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New York is a beautiful city.  It is immense, exciting, vibrant and at times overwhelming.  As a photographer it can often be hard to capture the enormity of a place like New York, and one of the best ways to do this is to find an elevated platform to shoot from.  Thankfully these platforms are common in many major cities:  Vancouver has the Lookout.  Seattle has the Space Needle.  London has the Shard.  Paris has Montparnasse Tower, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Arc De Triomphe.  These platforms provide the photographer with  great options to see and photograph the beauty and grandeur of a city.

New York City offers us two main viewing platforms:  The Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock (found atop Rockefeller Center).  Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, many people choose to go up to the top of the Empire State Building because it is so iconic.  The viewing platform at the top of the Empire State Building is a great experience, one not to be missed, but when you make a city skyline shot of New York City you want the Empire State Building IN your photograph!

The Top of the Rock is located atop 30 Rockefeller Center, occupying the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors of the tower.  The 67th and 69th floors have outdoor terraces surrounded by transparent safety glass, while the 70th floor is completely open air.  The experience is curated extremely well for photographers, however, as there are slits cut in the safety glass that you can position your lens through.  Tripods are not allowed, but it is easy enough to brace yourself against the railings or glass to stabilize your camera.  There are no time limits or restrictions on how long you can stay, allowing you to arrive early before sunset and shoot well into blue hour.

Before we get started talking about an evening spent shooting the New York City skyline I’d like to mention that this blog post is part 5 of a 5 part series featuring photography from New York City:

With that said, let’s get started…

When I go to the top of one of these viewing platforms I try to time it so I am on deck 60-90 minutes before sunset.  I feel this provides me with the best opportunity to capture a variety of interesting images because I can shoot through the changing light from sunny blue sky, through the sunset, into the post sunset blue hour, and finally deep into night.  These are popular places though,  and they often have long lines so it is best to pre-purchase your tickets if you can and arrive early to leave yourself plenty of time to find your spot and start shooting.

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When I arrived at the top deck this was the view I first saw.  It is an amazing skyline that puts the Empire State Building on full display, but also has the Brooklyn Bridge, Freedom Tower, and the Statue of Liberty in the background.  It is everything you would want to see in a New York City skyline shot, and I knew it was only going to get better as the light changed.

This photo is taken looking to the south, but you can walk almost all the way around the viewing deck so I wandered over to the north side to see what the view looked like.  It was quite nice too:

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Looking north from the Top of Rock gives us a commanding view of Central Park.  I loved this view, grabbed a few images, but quickly realized that the money shot I was after was definitely going to be taken looking south.

Both of these photos were taken with the Fujinon 10-24mm f/4 lens on a Fuji X-Pro2.  This is the equivalent of 15-36mm on a full frame camera, and is a perfect focal length to capture skyline shots like this.  If you have a wide angle lens and are coming to places like this you definitely want to bring it.  Don’t despair if you don’t have a wide angle lens, however, as you can always shoot 2 or 3 frames with a 35mm or equivalent lens and stitch them together in post.

I knew I had an hour or so before the sunset was going to look its best, so I put the Fujinon 55-200mm telephoto lens on my camera and started looking around.  I already had a few frames of the city skyline with a beautiful blue sky behind it, and nothing was going to change until sunset.  To fill the time I love to put on a telephoto lens and start hunting around the city.  I’m looking for interesting compositions, interesting architecture, little detail shots.  Working your way around a city with long glass while you are waiting for the sunset is a great way to spend some time, and I was able to grab a few frames like these:

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I especially enjoy shooting these detail shots as sunset approaches and the beautiful golden light comes in from the side of the frame.

The sunset this evening was truly beautiful, with the sky erupting in colour as the sun got lower and lower.   Remember to keep shooting through these changes.  Always edit when you are on your computer, not while you are in the moment.  You are better to keep shooting through the changing light and give yourself as many options as possible in post.    Here are a few frames as the sunset progressed this evening:

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Now, there is always a period that happens once the sunset is fading where I slow my shooting down for a bit.  The sky often still looks beautiful during this time, however there are few lights on in the buildings so the photograph looks unbalanced to me.   Here is an example of what I am talking about:

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Those city lights will come up though, and your sky will keep getting darker and darker which saturates the rich blues.  There will then be a short period of time where the city lights will balance with the sky, and you can grab a frame or two like these:

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This is definitely when the no tripod rule can come become “a thing”.  There is a very low quantity of light during the few minutes where everything is balanced like this, and you really need a tripod to capture these scenes properly.

In lieu of having a tripod, however, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Use stabilized lenses.  The image stabilization in the Fujinon lenses I use easily buy me another 3-5 stops of shutter speed when I have to shoot hand held in low light.
  2. Crank your ISO!  Sure, it would be perfect if we could always expose these images at ISO 100 or 200 to maximize how clean our file is but we usually need tripods to do this.  In lieu of that, use your ISO to maintain an acceptable shutter speed to prevent image blur.  I am very comfortable shooting at ISO 1600 or 3200 with my Fuji cameras if I have to.
  3. Have clean technique:  Elbows in and braced.  Proper breathing when you take a shot.  Brace against something.
  4. Use your camera’s timer to trip the shutter, so you don’t shake the camera by pushing the button.

One final important thing many people forget is to put the camera down when it gets much darker than this.  Once your blue hour is gone you already have the great photos in the bank in my opinion, so just take the time to enjoy everything with your eyes.  Breath it all in.  It is magical to see a city at night like this.

Once you are back on your computer at home, edit through your images with a critical eye.  Maybe you shot 100 or 200 frames.  Keep 10 or 15.  Learn to edit your work to only keep your best frames.  From the 2 or 3 hours I spent atop the Top of the Rock I will probably add 2, maybe 3, images to my travel portfolio.  Work hard in the field to give yourself a lot of options, then edit and edit to the point where you are only showing your best work.

For me, I think this was my favourite image from the shoot:

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I love the colours, and I love the dichotomy of old and new that you can see with the Empire State Building in the front, the brand new Freedom Tower in the middle, and the classic Statue of Liberty in the back of the frame.

IN CLOSING…

With a little pre-trip research and a bit of time you can almost always leave a city with a trophy skyline shot that will look beautiful on your wall at home.  I have to say though that as much as I love capturing an image that I am happy with, I especially love the process we have talked about in this blog post:  Getting to the destination, exploring my options, finding my shot (or shots), and then patiently shooting through the changing light.  It is a perfect way to spend a few hours.

I hope you enjoyed this series from New York City.  It is a remarkable place to spend time as a photographer, and should definitely be on everyone’s list if you love photographing cities.

Until next time!

Cheers,

Ian