A Kiss

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is still a kiss…

Due to popular request (two?) here’s how this shot happened.

First off, I’m now back in the mood, meaning that the camera is always around my neck.  I walk down two flights of stairs and look through the glass door and it’s raining lightly.  I like to try and get a feeling of the drops of rain (which are visible in the non-web image and also the girl’s hair is completely matted down)… But okay, so I know that I’m going to want a fast shutter speed and I set the camera to 800 ASA and shutter priority at 1/500th or 1/1000th) with an f1.4 lens (the 50mm on full frame) this is probably going to be fine.

And I also transfer focus lock to the back of the camera for street shooting.

And I just walk out of the house with the camera hidden (because of the weather) under my coat, an umbrella, two bags of garbage, and a package to drop off at Fedex on the corner.  Out the door and turn to the right and I immediately see this couple (from the other side) and they’re having a very emotional moment.  The woman is upset about something and is crying.

I think about raising the camera to my eye – but a) I don’t want to really intrude on her private moment and b) I feel bad for them, whatever they’re going through and I pass by them.  As I walk towards the Fedex store, I turn around once and they are still in that emotional state.  I drop off the package, chat with the owner – I’m pretty friendly with most of the store owners in the neighborhood and to my surprise, when I turn the corner to return home, I see that the couple haven’t moved, and that the mood has completely changed.

I sense now that they are going to kiss.  I’m about 1/2 a city block away and I have the umbrella out now, and am trying to get closer without calling attention to myself.  I remember checking the top of the camera to see what the f-stop is going to be and it reads about f2.0.  I’m also beginning to scout for anything else that I might put in the shot.  Other than the older woman who is walking towards me, and I know her and know she will turn into her building…  And I’m also wondering whether a kiss on the street is even worth the effort or not, and I’m getting closer and they still haven’t kissed.

She’s laughing.  Still, maybe, but I don’t know if I want to waste my one shot on the laugh… and I actually turn my back to them and pretend to take pictures of stuff that’s around… and I’m still not really close enough…  And they’re are somewhat aware of what’s going on around them…  and so I decide this is stupid, I can’t stand on the sidewalk and wait for the kiss.  So I turn and with the camera actually to my eye, and focusing as I walk… and now I’m maybe 6 or 8 sidewalk boxes away… and yes, they do move to kiss and for a moment I’m still not sure… but then I notice that even though they are both short – she is on her tippy toes – and the woman going into the apartment… well it’s very close… and I move even closer and stop and take three shots in rapid succession… and just as I finish I get the feeling that they have noticed me, but at the same time don’t really care… and they turn to walk and we’re actually walking almost side by side now and I can hear their conversation.

She was upset about some mix-up having to do with their lunchtime date…  and they wander off, talking about where they will eat, and I make the left and go back into my building.

I don’t look at the images on the back of the camera when I get upstairs.  The camera sits for a few moments on top of a cabinet and I’m thinking about whether I did get anything worthwhile or not.  After a half-hour has gone by, I load them into Lightroom.  Yes, I did get one laugh shot which as I suspected didn’t work for me.  And one decent kiss, but it’s slightly out-of-focus and will have to be cropped on top of that… and I missed what I wanted with the older woman…  Exposure and general look are fine…

And that’s how the shot happened.  Anticipation. Luck, but not enough luck.  And just curiosity on my part and the fact that they took forever to get the lunch thing figured out.

My Dinner with Matt

Matt usually takes me for a birthday dinner at the Mansion on 86th; usually a few months after my birthday because, well, I’m just not much into eating out.  But on the way back, it’s become a tradition to use him or his camera as a prop of some kind, and to shoot him in the parking garage mirror.  Since he’s shooting film, and it’s night, he’s not going to waste much film on this game; but since I’m digital, it doesn’t matter.

What do we talk about when we get together?  Well, generally some way to build the business – that never goes anywhere.  I’m sure that he’d like me to start a photography lab so that he could have a friend do his printing at a cheap friendly price.

And since I’m doing everything possible to move away (though it isn’t possible) of doing this type of production all day and night, we follow an imaginary path that involves renting space, and hiring people that always ends in the same place – nowheresville.

After dinner, we sit like two old men, outside the restaurant and watch people go by.  Commenting on the shots we’ve missed, or what we’ve gotten.  An ambulance pulls up with lights flashing right at me, and two attendants help someone out of the restaurant and into the ambulance, while I’m taking my pictures.  Matt tells me that my images will be underexposed because of the flashing lights, and grabs for the camera to see what they look like on the back but I don’t give it to him because he’s always teasing me about using digital so why should he get to see the instant stuff.

Get your own digital gizmo if you want instant feedback.  But eventually I hand it over and he’s surprised that the shots come out properly exposed.  Now how did that happen.  When he and I talk about photography, for me it’s like talking to someone from the 20’s.  It’s as if I’ve gone back in time.  You have to remember, he doesn’t even have batteries in his camera.  Doesn’t use a light meter.  Develops film without a timer or a thermometer.  (I’m not kidding).

If I told him that he should at least have a little pocket meter with him, he’d just laugh in my face.  Why would anyone need to meter anything after all these years.

Of course I do miss a few shots because the 5D simply isn’t as fast at focusing at night as the 40D was; esp. it seems with the 50mm.  I have to live with that in exchange for being able to use the higher ISOs.

Well anyway – maybe it that guy ordered the juniors cheesecake, which is what we had and it was like eating an entire cake.  If anyone tried to eat that thing by themselves, they’d need an ambulance.

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The garage mirror (convex or concave… surely I don’t need to look that up).  I’ve going to say concave since it is caved in.

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Ghostly for sure…  and why shouldn’t it be.  We are, after all, just shadows… walking around for a few years before vanishing…

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into an ambulance.

Become Your Dream

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Someday I’ll put all my ‘Become Your Dream’ shots together.  De La Vega lives nearby.  I’m not sure that this one is his… no fish.  Of course the guy, who was making a delivery to a nearby bar sees me.  Not everyone did.  In fact he was the only one that noticed me shooting through the hole.  28mm f11.  I was just a few inches away from the board.  Generally the 28mm is too short for me, but I always have it with me and here it comes in handy.

I also did some shooting at H (3200).  I don’t know if it’s this particular camera, or if my eyes are going, but in a well-lit spot where I tested, I didn’t think noise / grain whatever you call it was bad at all on the 5d.  To my eye, better than 1600 on the 40D.  In other words – you can use it, as opposed to the higher end ASAs on other cameras I’ve had that I would never use.

The Other Side of the Dream

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i love ny

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“Behind every beautiful thing,
There’s been some kind of pain.”

The more pain, the more images are filled with loving sentiments.  The poorer the community, the more churches.  And the lower the person is on the economic scales of the big city, the happier they are to be the center of attention for a few minutes.  Nobody here is going to tell me that this mural is private property.  Unless you are unlucky enough to point your camera at drug runners and lookouts, you will generally find the same sort of welcome you’d find if you wandered into a Mexican village.

It was close enough to lunchtime for me to buy two burritos from her (they are in the big pot that she pushes around in the shopping wagon) with some white rice and leaned against a rusted car enjoying the meal and exchanging smiles with her.

Signing – 2010

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My own sign language skills are minimal, but enough so that I can ask permission to photograph the conversations that go on near the church which has sermons for the deaf.  If the signers seem particularly animated, I stop and ask with faltering language whether I can take pictures… and I have never been turned down.  The only problem is that they usually turn and pose just like everyone else, and I then need to explain in sign language – no, just like before.  Forget that I’m here.

Frankly, not being able to hear the camera go off, they’re better at this than the average person.  Afterwards, I spell out – thank you so much – and just like anyone that sees you make the attempt to speak their language – they are usually very gracious.  Same experience I had in France – where I had been warned about the “snooty” Parisians, but I spoke enough to make myself understood, and that was all it took to feel accepted.

Mailbag

– Item 1.  Teacher of first grade class asked permission to use photographs from the web to give students stimulus for drawings.  Hopefully I’ll get to see what the kids came up with next week.

– Item 2. There were a bunch of people out this morning taking pictures of the snowstorm.  Mostly with point & shoots.  I was on third ave. under an awning.  Just waiting / hoping something would happen.

One guy did yell at me because he thought I was taking his picture (which I wasn’t).  “Don’t put me in the frame.”

– I’m not.

– Well it looked like you were.

– I wasn’t.

– Then how come you were pointing the camera wherever I went.

– Just chance I guess.

– Well so long as I’m not in the frame.  You shouldn’t take pictures of people without their permission anyway.

– Whatever you say, sir.

– Can I see what you took pictures of?

– No.

– Why not?

– Why not… because I don’t feel like showing them to you.  That’s why not.

Of course this is an idiotic conversation but it happens now and then.  Main thing is to size up your potential opponent and he was skinny and well-dressed, and I just couldn’t imagine he’d want to get his nice suit ruined in a scuffle.

I put the camera to my eye and continued to take pictures.  No, not of him, but of whatever caught my eye and then he knocked on the window of the diner (that was closed) near where I was standing.  I hadn’t moved and so could hear the conversation.  It was something about his desire to get a takeout menu.  The guy in the diner said they weren’t putting the menus out because they’d get soaked.

But did they have any dry ones inside that he could have?

No.  The diner guy didn’t know where they were.

Long pause while paranoid menu seeker thinks it over, and then he turns and goes to hail a cab which is impossible in this weather.  Nothing is working out for him.  A guy in a dirty yellow parka might be taking his picture. He can’t get a menu.  He can’t get a cab.  So now he crosses the avenue and disappears into a Korean Deli (open 24 hours).  He walked out a few minutes later with a supersized bouquet of flowers that he can almost hide behind and tries to get a cab from the other side of the street.  No luck.  The flowers aren’t wrapped well  and are drooping.

He must have walked into frame of one of the point and shooters (using flash) on the other side of the street, because now I see him talking to this high-school student guy who had been taking pictures of third ave. in the snow when I first came downstairs.  And the guy with the wilting flowers is yelling at the student. I can’t hear what he’s saying, sort of a high squeaky voice, but I see him gesticulating.

I’m guessing that he wants to see whether he was caught in any of the shots because he’s trying to get the camera away from the kid, and he makes a grab for it and drops the flowers in the snow.

The kid grabs the camera back and gives the guy a push – just a slight push – and the guy slips in the snow and falls on the flowers.  The kid with the point and shoot walks off with some of his friends who have come by to see what was going on and the “don’t put me in the picture” guy with the now crush and wet flowers has become the center of attention.   He slips again while trying to bend over to pick up the flowers and almost falls.  Regains his balance.

Now he heads back to my side of the street and crosses while traffic is coming up third, and he almost gets hit by a car which swerves so as not to hit him and at that point I do put the camera to my eye but just miss what could have been a great shot because when the first car swerved, it causes another car to switch lanes and there’s almost a second accident.

Anyway – the whole thing was pretty strange; and as I say – I’ve really only come across one or two people who were willing to get into something physical because they thought I had taken their picture, though I did once have a cop called on me for taking a picture of an apartment building.  It’s always the stuff you just never expect that turns into something.

What Lens

“I wondered a little when you posted
that you were buying the 5D with a
28mm lens. I had you pegged as a 50mm
man.” – Stephen Bray

Yes, it’s true.  If I only had one lens to use, it would be a good 50mm f1.4 (full frame).  I picked up the 28mm 1.8 because I got a good deal on it (honey they were on sale, look how much I saved) and because it had been a long time since I had used true wide-angles on a full-frame.  And it is useful for scenics.

If you were to go through the images in the store, you’d find that 90% of them were shot with the equivalent (not counting the camera format) of a 50mm, give or take a few mm’s.  It is one of my gripes with camera makers that the first thing they try to sell you as part of the “package” is a zoom lens.  I would rather see them offer a 50mm f1.4 equivalent.  It’s one of the first things I end up talking about when people (friends, cousins etc.) ask me how to “get better” at their photography.

I look at the kit they have, and try to forbid them from using the zoom lens that came with the kit, and going to a normal type prime lens, at least f2.0

This almost always seems like a novel idea.  How will they be able to get closer to the subject?  (You walk closer).

But what if it is a mountain that is far in the distance (I will make exceptions for objects that you can’t get close to, or if you need the perspective of a long lens).  However, this is a different subject, and you are asking about how to get better and I am giving two rules: use a normal and hopefully “fast” lens, and take the camera with you everywhere.  Yes, everywhere.

The two rules are related.  It is going to be more difficult to take the camera with the heavier zoom lens with you everywhere, and since the zoom lens is going to be slower than the prime lens, you are going to end up wanting to use flash more often.

It is a little bit like the advice a friend once got about playing the trumpet.  The teacher refused to give the student a trumpet at all, and had him only blowing into the mouthpiece for about three months to develop the armature before handing him the trumpet.

My own experience, when I went back to photography was to use a camera with a fixed normal lens for close to a year before getting a camera with interchangeable lenses.  It is really an excellent way to get a feeling for what is in the frame, and what walking a few steps forward or a few steps back can do.

I have nothing against zoom lenses; I just don’t think they are a good way to begin.  Once you’ve got a feeling for a normal lens, I would add a semi-long (maybe 90mm or so) lens for portraits, or getting closer.  And after that you are on your own and can buy out the store.

Before I get mail about my prejudice against zoom lenses – let me put it into context – I’m only talking about the beginner, or the student (at whatever stage) that is in need of a kind of optical purification.  I own and will use a long zoom sometimes – but it comes at a point where I understand the consequences, and I can say for sure that I don’t carry it with me at all times and use it when I need a good long lens.

Wide-angles on the street are often used as measurement of street courage.  The shorter the lens, the closer you need to be to the subject, and hence there is a sort of macho thing about using short lenses for street shooting.  However, I don’t believe any prizes are given for street photography with the shortest lens.  The shorter lenses for the candid shooter usually come later in the career; when you need to up the challenge a bit; or you like the challenge of having more bits of the puzzle in the frame.  So, just as the long lens is not for the beginner, neither is the short lens.

– The Art of Photography, Dave B’ck-mahn

Sidewalk, Times Square Rain

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Red Sidewalk with Bike

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When I got to Times Square last night, after two days of rain, it was so bright that while I was still in the station, I thought for a moment it was daytime.  The sign directly across from the IRT stop takes up about a half-block, is about 20 feet high, and flashes various colors at you – so bright that I was shooting at ASA 400 4.0 1/125th (as I say, at midnight).

I don’t know what that sign on the other side of 42nd street was meant to advertise, but it is the largest, brightest sign I’ve ever seen, and it was turning the sidewalk into a multi-colored watercolor painting.  These shots haven’t been “over saturated” – they are straight from the camera – in the “faithful” setting which is fairly subdued.  But I felt at times as if I were walking through puddles of blood, which I don’t think was the intended effect.