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

Here are some more thoughts on Street Photography after dark…

Work the Windows

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Night provides some fantastic framing opportunities – the contrast between the dark of night and brightly illuminated windows is pretty, and nuanced with the inclusion of reflections on the glass. The reflections on this window are subtle, almost like fireflies drifting across the scene.

I think it is a bit easier to take your time to compose a little more, especially if you are in a comparatively dark spot outside the window, as the inside subjects tend not to notice. They are more likely, like in the above image to continue their lives, oblivious to your camera.

The image above, whilst not a favourite composition of mine, demonstrates what is possible leveraging the contrast between the bright area framed of the window and the darker streetscape. The subject matter is intriguing; what are the two subjects doing in there? Why the camera? Why the ladder? The feeling generated is then offset by the everyday ordinariness of the bicycle in the foreground.

I feel as though this image has a lot going for it – interest, quirk, and some great elements. But it just doesn’t deliver emotionally. Can’t quite put my finger on it… Maybe the crop is all wrong?

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Maybe? I was going through a hard core “crop it in the camera” phase and was reluctant to mess with composition a lot on the computer. It forced me to be more thoughtful with framing through the viewfinder, which is a key skill for shooting film. Unless of course you are Bill Gates and shoot like digital!

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This one is much closer to being a great image – except I didn’t get close enough. The subject has high interest – there is a degree of confusion over the subject’s gender in my mind, driven by the almost “painted” look of her face. This may have been caused by the light conditions or other factors – I am not quite sure.

The image offers a metaphoric window into someone’s life at night. The subject’s face is wonderfully framed, naturally.

Again, the cropped version looks a bit more compelling… Despite the shitty quick flat bed scan, and closer crop making the image grainy and less sharp. I also think the autofocus might have been “hunting” a bit on this shot – The chairs and tables look nice and focused.

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Look for Frames

Fan Ho is one of my most favourite street photography “mentors”. Whenever I am looking for a bit of inspiration on what to do, one of his books usually gives me a bit of a kick along creatively. His image of silhouettes framed at night below, was one of my motivators for getting out at night in New York.

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A perfect moment in time, with each of the three frames highlighting a subject.

Ho’s very skilful use of framing to create images is an ongoing theme in his images. Night only accentuates the frames – the huge contrast between garish artificial lighting and the darkness competing with it create harsh, distinct edges. Look for interesting, unusual frames at night.

Walking in the shoes of your mentors, and using their ideas to inspire one of your own can help you learn new ways of seeing things. Before going out at night in NYC, I already had this image in my mind. How could I emulate the image in my own way, and learn to see the world for moment like Fan Ho?

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The image above is my interpretation of Fan Ho’s composition. My exposure time was considerably longer, leading to the blurred motion of the subject in the foreground. The framing is clear, with distinct hard edges. There is a kind of repetition in the frames, like Ho’s, that makes for an aesthetically pleasing outcome.

The rectangular window on the left of frame is a little distracting, but provides a bit of balance visually to the subject walking past. It is somewhat distracting though, looking at the image a few years later.

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Yah, this looks heaps better now! What a difference a bit of cropping can make… I might have to go back in time and talk to “Past Damian” about not being so rigid about the “crop in the camera” rule!

 

Side Note – Removing Clutter and the Beauty of Time Separation.

These images have been sitting on my hard drive, untouched and unloved since mid 2013. Going back to them for this series of articles has given me a chance to look at them again critically. The opportunity to crop the three images to achieve a better visual outcome is obvious to me today. It wasn’t four or so years ago…

Continuing to stretch and push is part of the creative journey. I much prefer these newly cropped images. It has removed unnecessary elements to each of the compositions, making the subject more obvious, reducing distractions.

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Robert Capa

Capa wasn’t talking about cropping. He wanted you to get closer. All three images would have been much more impactful if I had taken the shot from the equivalent distance the cropped images show. The difference in outcomes between cropping, using a longer focal length to zoom, and getting in close with a wider lens is a discussion for another day though!

There is also the benefit of time passing. When I returned from my trip – and scanned a lazy 100 or so rolls of medium format film! – I knew I had some “keepers”. I could see another evolution in my creative capabilities in front of me. The excitement of the outcomes made me overly emotionally attached to images. My short list, looking in the folder now, was 199 images.

Whilst I still get a buzz looking at them, I am able to be much more critical of them. I can see what has worked and not more easily with the passing of time. I am not emotionally invested in them. Like fond memories of an ex girlfriend ten years after the break up, I can see both the good and the bad evenly in each image without getting all worked up about it.

All 199 images are a great reminder of my time in NYC as a tourist, but only five or so are truly good images from a high end creative point of view that I would be happy to submit for an exhibition. Time has passed, making me better able to self-critique them, and my eye for composition has continued to develop, making me a lot fussier!

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

Part Three is here

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

    […] Part Two is Here… […]

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

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