Things I Learned (and loved) Shooting New York City at Night – Part One…

New York City is a place full of images waiting to happen at night. Here are some images along with some thoughts and learnings from a pilgrimage I made a few years ago to the Big Apple!

My shoulder still aches just looking at the images. For this particular trip I hulked around NYC with a Hasselblad H1 body, kitted out with both the standard stumpy 80mm F2.8 lens, and the 150 F3.2 which made the bloody think look like a bazooka. The gear is beautiful – all metal – the heavy “I’m a studio camera” kind of metal.

I can tend towards the contrarian though. So, the decision to take what is one of the finest studio film cameras of all time (and the last serious one?) for my street photography was a compulsion rather than a carefully considered thought.

Gear CAN Make a Difference…

The camera and lenses were an incredible motivation to make the most of my time in NYC. It was such a beautiful kit, that it got me out of bed every morning – rain, hail, shine, or hangover – and onto the streets. Look for a camera you can love, not necessarily the newest or most expensive. And stick with it. The H1 was remarkably unsuited for the task, but on my shoulder, it me feel like a complete bad ass out and about.

I was not approached once by subject in a negative way – I suppose with such a large unit, nobody can accuse you of being suspicious or stealthy. I find that only DSLR / SLRS tend to attract attention. Nobody knows what a medium format or rangefinder camera is when you point it at them, but all the bad guy stalkers in movies have a standard DSLR with a zoom. Something everyone can recognise.

When I got the films developed and scanned, I was ecstatic. The camera had dragged the best out of me. It just begged me to take it out everyday. Having such a great camera emboldened me to take my shots as they presented without any kind of hesitation. The camera had me fearing missing the shot to the point where any natural shyness or reticence evaporated.

My camera of choice now is a bit more unobtrusive – a Leica rangefinder. I feel all Robert Capa with this camera. It is a kind of totem – when I touch and hold it, it bestows a kind of extra energy or power to become more than “weekday” Damian!

This Ad for Leica is a bit hokey, but I can’t say it doesn’t have an impact on how I feel about Leica cameras…

 

Hump the Tripod

Well, I suppose I should get to the night shots, seeing as you probably clicked on the article because of the headline…

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The H1 was attached to the tripod pretty most of the time whilst I looked for the right composition. I carried the camera and tripod in a similar way to a soldier marching with a rifle. The only way to get any kind of sharpness was to plonk the tripod down and compose the shot.

When I am running about at night with a smaller compact or rangefinder I find either a Joby Gorillapod or Manfrotto mini tripod do the job well. You can twist the Joby around any pole or rail, and so long as the camera is relatively light, it will hold. Combine it with a remote trigger for the best results.

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Click here to check out the Manfrotto

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And here for the Joby Gorillapods

Learning to value patience as a priceless commodity has always been a challenge for me – I always fail the delayed gratification test they do on kids to see if they will be successful later in life. Essentially, they leave the kid in a room with a lolly, with the promise if they don’t eat it whilst the tester is away for a while, they will get two or more. They get no extra lollies if they eat it whilst the tester is out of the room.

I always eat the lolly.

The H1 made me want to be a better photographer. Looking for the right frame became easier. I spotted this visual metaphor instantly – of course it was on a virtually deserted street, late at night, and it was damn freezing. You can see remnants of yesterday’s snow still on the pavement.

I knew I needed a human subject in frame to complete the image. Patience, don’t eat the lolly. I set up the camera, getting the framing exactly how I wanted it and then parked my ass. It took about fifteen or twenty minutes, but eventually someone came by. Woot. I had set the aperture to keep the shutter open for a few seconds to capture the subject’s sense of movement.

Getting the subject in the right spot with the hand illustration was a bit more luck than technique. If I must tell the truth, I captured three different people over about twenty five minutes to get this one shot that works well for me.

Visual metaphors are fun and can be quite powerful – but I try not focus on them incessantly. It is a bit like taking a great shot of an outdoor sculpture – to own it, you have to add a compositional element. Otherwise you may as well buy a postcard…

More of Shooting at Night soon!

Part Two is Here…

Part Three is Here…

4 Responses to “Things I Learned (and loved) Shooting New York City at Night – Part One…”

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  1. Things I Learned (and loved) Shooting New York City at Night – Part Two… | Inconspicuosity - October 8, 2016

    […] Part One of the Series “Things I Learned (and loved) Shooting New York City at Night” is… […]

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  2. Things I Learned (and loved) Shooting New York City at Night – Part Three… | Inconspicuosity - October 15, 2016

    […] waiting for the right subject to enter the frame. Patience. Don’t eat the lolly (refer to part one for […]

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