As I continue to read Ansel Adams's Autobiography; I wish I could have met the man.
His words continue to resonate strongly with my personal views of photography. For me, photography is conveying onto micro-chip (alas I miss film) that unique image that appears in my minds-eye. My images are often of interesting angles or lighting, rather then a depiction of a scene.
This, in my view, is the beauty and power of photography.
Gather five photographers to a location and the outcome will be five different unique perspectives. I see this occur in my photography workshops. It's amazing how we see things differently.
With photography; I believe that it is the eye and mind - not the equipment that make the difference.
"If I don't see an image in terms of the subject and it's creative potential, I no longer contest my instincts. I am certain that another photographer's eye might perceive wonders at the scene that evaded me."
I enjoy exploring the world with other photographers, often my students. Observing the images through their minds-eye. Their view of the same subject is different than my own. Not better - not worse - just different, Exactly as Ansel himself commented. Exactly as it should be.
I am currently reading the Ansel Adams Autobiography and found the following quote resonates strongly my photography mantra:
"I never know in advance precisely what I will photograph. I go out into the world and hope I will come across something that imperatively interests me."
Likewise; my images are not planned. I'll pick a destination yet have no idea what I will encounter. This not-knowing mindset drives my photographic passions.
Adams book has inspired me to do more black & white photography, as I did with film many years ago. With Ansel Adams in mind, with a tip of the lens cap, this is an image taken at Yosemite National Park in 1973 - in my early days!
Click to view all of my 1973 Yosemite National Park Images.
Do you love decay? Old buildings, rust & dust? Toss in some history and you have the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Home briefly to Al Capone and Willie Sutton, ESP was closed down in 1971 and left to decay. It is this decay that is a powerful lure for creative photographers.
Walk down the long cell block hallways and explore the various cells. Some still contain old desks, chairs, a barber chair and prisoner belongings. Examine the bricks and locks close up for their textures. Try taking a long exposure with a friend walking through the image - ghostly!
And then explore the exterior in the setting sun, to capture the golden light on the tall imposing rock walls. Imposing, yet not escape proof!
For this location, I strongly recommend a 10-12mm wide angle lens. A telephoto is a nice addition for dramatic affects along the long cell block hall ways. Most of the interior is dark, lite by skylights and breaks in the roof. A tripod is a must (small extra fee). And be sure to recharge your camera battery (and carry a spare) and an extra SD card.
View my images of the Eastern State Penitentiary on Flickr and add the Eastern State Penn. to your photography destination list.
What could be better than wine and waterfalls? Add in rural scenes and automobile racing and you have Watkins Glen NY, at the tip of Lake Seneca. One of the Finger Lakes. Recently, we made an off season visit to this region exploring nearly a dozen waterfalls and wineries.
We stayed at the wonderful Glenora Inn, which is 8 miles north of Watkins Glen, on the west short of Lake Seneca. The rooms overlook the vineyard and lake and offer a nice winery experience. Drive behind the Inn towards the lake and you encounter Glenora Falls. Amazingly it is located in the backyard of a private residence. What a view each morning, and the sounds of the falls at night must be amazing.
Enjoy a visit to nearby Miles Wine Cellars, tasting their wines (quite good) while learning of the tragic tale of a newlywed couple that died shortly after buying the home. And how they have not left this world, haunting the home and winery. Apparently they are friendly. Buy a bottle of their Ghost wine (see our YouTube video of this special - Miles Wine Cellar - Ghostly wine bottle).
Back to the waterfalls; visit the Watkins Glen Gorge for a beautiful hike along the river (which was closed when we arrived due to the dangerous ice). Drive down Main Street in Montour Falls, where you cannot miss the magnificent falls right in town.
Drive up to the top and cross the falls above for a fantastic view of the area.
We highly recommend a side trip the inspiring Taughannock Falls, near Lake Cuyoga. Visit the Thirsty Owl Winery and drive past the very small Black Diamond Diner, made from the cab of a train. Lunch at the Little Venice Ristorante in Trumansburg was a nice surprise.
Lastly, explore the rural side roads to Keaku Lake and (highly recommended) visit to Bully Hill Winery and the Pleasant Valley Winery. Stay for lunch at the Bully Hill restaurant, excellent!
During racing seasons, a visit to the storied Watkins Glen racetrack is a must. We have spent many a summer day and night at this track, camping in the infield. If you love racing, this track offers many unique photographic experiences.
Consider adding the New York Finger Lakes region as one of your photography (and wine) destinations.
One of the challenges in photography is shooting in low light situations. How do you take creative and beautiful photographs in museums, concerts, gymnasiums, restaurants or other places where you don't have (or don't want) a tripod and using a flash is not permitted?
Let me introduce you to the "ISO Escalator" technique. To my knowledge, this is a term that I coined a few years ago when I began to teach students how to leverage ISO to handle low light photography. If you want to learn more about ISO in general, review ISO Settings in Digital Photography, Digital Photography School.
One note on using Flash in low light situations. Don't! Flash kills the mood, may not be permitted and will annoy everyone around you. Also, please turn off Auto ISO.
The concept for the ISO Escalator is to determine the slowest shutter speed that you need for your shots, and yet be fast enough to avoid shaky/blurring pictures. Then determine what the best ISO to use, based on a room or space that is perhaps the darkest situation you plan to shoot at.
Imagine being in restaurant with just the ambient lights turned low for a nice mood. That is most likely your average or worst case lighting. In a Gallery or a Museum, one of the rooms where there may not be ambient light from outside windows.
Once you determine the correct ISO, you should be able to shoot in the space (and adjoining rooms) without thinking about anything but your composition. In our workshops, we teach that it is important to keep photography fun. This technique allows you to have fun, while knowing your photos are likely to come out looking nice, without the typical blur-shakiness we have all experienced.
This is an example of using the ISO Escalator in a reptile room at a Zoo.
Let's get started:
In the example above in the reptile room. I was using a 200mm lens, so I set my shutter to 1/200th - and worked my way up the escalator (now you know why I call it the ISO Escalator). At 3200, the subject looked well lite. I went one more stop (ISO 6400) and thought it was too bright, so I reset my ISO back to 1600 - and focused on composing pictures in this darkened room.
Recap: Try it yourself in your dining room or other interior space, with the lights dimmed.
Let me know if this simple technique has helped you to improve your low light photography.
New York City has many wonderful parks, yet this one is quite innovative - The High Line. Running from Chelsea to West 34th street, this park built along the old NYC Central Railroad spur never disappoints. Thirty feet above the street, this destination offers excellent people, art, flowers and architectural photography. The High Line is approximately 1.5 miles, providing glimpses of different neighborhoods and views of the city.
The High Line opened in 2009, with the latest segment (the third) to West 34th street, opening in 2014. The latest edition is Hudson Yards, featuring the Vessel.
Originally in an industrial area it is now among the most desirable locations to live and work in the city. Spend a few hours and then descent into the city, from one of the a many access points, to explore and dine. One of our favorite destinations is the vast and diverse Chelsea Market.
We offer a photography workshop at the High Line a few times a year. Come along with us or explore this ever changing park on your own.
My mind runs at a pace well over 100 mph. Ideas, to-do lists, daily worries; all seek my attention. At times it becomes too much, so I would grab my camera, take a short drive. I would go to a place nearby and would explore. Even though I been to these places many times, I would see new things, or the same things, differently. I would be in the moment, a Zen like state.
It took a stroke to discover the benefits of mindfulness. As part of my therapy, I would meditate, slowing the world around me. Looking at a star or a planet in the sky, focused on the singularity, reaching a mindful state. I realized that I was being Mindfulness when I separated from all the mental noise and focused on my destination, with my camera.
Attaining a mindful state
If you’ve taken a photography class, you learned about aperture, shutter speed, ISO and other technical aspects of photography. You aim your camera and your mind thinks about the settings, the mechanics of the shot. Worse, you might see imperfections in the composition or you wish you had a different lens or a better camera. In Mindfulness, this is called a mindless state. This can easily overshadow your creativity.
Ideally, you see the photo with your eye and intuitively, aim your camera and shoot. A pro golfer knows where he wants to ball to land, gets himself in position and swings. The mechanics of his shot is instinctual.
Separating yourself from your mindless state can be challenging at first. A technique that I am trying: take a daily walk through your neighborhood, taking one picture a day. Don’t judge, but also don’t necessarily shoot the first picture you see. If you practice meditation, do so before you pick up your camera. I take a walk every day, along the same route. I take my iPhone and when my eye sees a picture, I consider whether I am willing to take it, because I only can take one. If I take the shot, no regrets, the iPhone goes in my pocket for the duration of my walk.
Visualize what you see
The previous example takes discipline and I don’t recommend this for your vacation. However, it illustrates a good practice of slowing down, think about the image you see, before moving the camera into position.
When your eye sees something of interest, your instinct is to aim and shoot. I suggest taking a moment, and visualize your subject or the object. Be mindful of the image, before you depress the shutter button.
It’s normal for your eyes to see something of interest, and instinctively aim your camera and shoot. Often, you may experience tunnel vision, only seeing the object that first caught your attention in the picture. You could be missing a better shot, or a distracting element you only discover when you look over your pictures later. Consider various angles, the lighting and background. Get yourself in a mindful state, let your eyes become the camera lens; experience the image before you depress the shutter button.