Saturday, October 29, 2011

The NYC Thirty Minute Photo Challenge.

I attended the PDN PhotoPlus Expo in NYC Friday with fellow professional photographers Bill Horin, Alex Anton and Bill Banks. This was the second year I went with this group of photo friends, and it was suggested that we hit the show early and then spend some time in the afternoon doing something different.

I am not sure who came up with the idea - not me - but it was suggested that we have some sort of a photo challenge after the show. Not a contest, mind you, but just an exercise to get away from the paid shooting we do and get creative for creativity's sake. We would agree on a subject and that subject had to be incorporated into the images in some way. Not necessarily the main subject of the image, but in the frame in some way. The Empire State building was chosen by the group.

We would be allowed one lens, one body and a half-hour to complete our shooting. I had a tough time deciding what lens to bring. I debated between my 17-35-mm., 70-200-mm., and my newly-acquired 50-mm. I was going to go with the 70-200-mm., at first, and shoot tight, maybe some people portraits. After thinking about it, I went with the 50-mm., I think, mostly because I wanted to keep it light. I didn't want to be lugging around a heavy camera all day. Plus, the 50-mm. is the sharpest lens I own.

We split up and went our own ways. After taking some shots, I started to regret being locked into a fixed 50-mm. lens. Things were not fitting in my frame. This was going be harder than I had thought. I was going to have to actually think and plan my shots and look for ways to make shots that fit in my frame.

I walked around the building looking for things I thought would be cool. I thought that getting the building in a reflection would be an interesting shot, but I was not seeing it. If I did see a reflection, it was only a sliver of the building. While this would be in the spirit of the rules, I wanted the viewer to know what they were looking at when seeing the image. I needed something reflective that also had a curve to it and would mirror more of the building.

A car window would do the trick, but it would have to be in the right spot and should be something that says NYC. A taxi cab would be awesome. I started to look for one that had stopped at a light. Looking at the windshields, it just was not working. Then a NYC Transit bus came by and the reflection was almost perfect. I just had to work the angle so the reflection was in the right spot. This was not easy in the limited time the bus was stopped at the light, but I got a decent shot. I tried to work it some more with other buses, but they just didn't line up in the right spot in my time to shoot.

The light was really nice Friday. There were bright, blue skies and even the shadows had nice light. I saw plenty of flags around the building and thought that with the blue skies, Old Glory and the Empire State Building, how could you go wrong. I found one hanging on a building across the street and found a way to frame it and the building with my 50-mm. Nice, I got another decent shot.

All around the building there are a million tourist shops selling NYC bobbles and post cards. I thought it would be cool to get a Empire State Building postcard on the rack with a portion of the building in the background. Easier said than done. I found one that was in similar light, open shade. I worked the shot for a little bit, trying different f-stop, shutter speed, ISO combinations and found one that worked. While the real building is out of focus, the postcard is sharp and you get the idea of the building.

I wanted a shot that showed the throngs of people walking across the intersection with the building in the background. This was one of the shots that frustrated me because of my 50mm lens choice. If I had my 17-35mm lens, no problem - everything would fit. But it was not happening with the 50mm. I was holding the camera on the ground and pointing it up towards the building and getting zip. I finally gave up and moved on.  When I was back at Bill Horin's going through my take, he said, "What is that one?" It was a woman staring at me in a sliver of the frame as another woman walked by me. She is looking at me like, "WTF is this guy doing, up skirt shots on a NYC street?" I was not. Bill liked it so we worked it up as one of my five.

I still wanted the shot that said busy, NYC street. I went to the entrance to the Observation Deck. I was thinking old school street photography, with the motion blur of people moving and went with a longer shutter speed. I held the camera down by my waist and was shooting from there. Checking my framing after I would fire off a few shots. I would then change my position as necessary. It's a combination of Hail Mary shooting, skill, and luck. Funny thing was after checking the images on my rear LCD, I was going to go with a different image. I had not noticed this one with the family waiting to enter the building. I now had my five.

When this idea for the photo challenge was originally proposed I was not that excited. The idea of shooting images on my day off was not that appealing to me. Plus, I was nervous about shooting with Bill and the other shooters. Yes, I still get nervous about certain shoots, especially ones where I am shooting the same subject as one of my mentors. Boy, was I wrong about not wanting to do this. It was an awesome experience. It got my creative juices flowing. There was great light, and I was happy with my shots. I am going to try and start shooting more for me from now on. I used to shoot just for me in the beginning and had lost my way. After NYC, I have found the path again.

Check out Bill Horin's ArtC blog at for his insights on the day and images from Bill, Alex Anton and myself.


Pam said...


Paul W Gillespie said...

Thanks Pam and you are one of the first commenters in months.