Category Archives: New York

New York is a stage

I’m passing through New York with an appearance at PhotoPlus Expo on behalf of my sponsor Carl Zeiss, for whom I am a Camera Lens Ambassador. PhotoPlus is at the Javits Center. I am enroute to Barcelona, Spain, where I am headed tomorrow. My timing in New York overlaps with Halloween, and it seems that all the world’s indeed a stage!

Bethesda Fountain © Harold Davis

Bethesda Fountain © Harold Davis

So yesterday to get some air after being at the convention center all day I walked up to Central Park, and shot this image of the plaze behind Bethesda Fountain by moonlight. It does indeed look like a stage, but a deserted one at night!

Avenue 6 1/2

Harry Potter has his platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station and New York City has its Avenue 6 1/2. As you might expect, Avenue 6 1/2 lies between 6th and 7th Avenues. It runs from 57th street south to 51rst street. The image shown here was taken in the atrium that forms the block between 51rst and 52nd streets on 6 1/2 Ave, and is one of the many places in New York City that my tripod and I managed to get ejected from.

Time Machine by Harold Davis

Time Machine © Harold Davis

How this image was made: I used my 10.5mm digital fisheye lens, and shot nine exposures from 4 seconds to 1/125 of a second. Each exposure was made at f/13 and ISO 200. As I’ve noted, I used a tripod to keep the image sequence aligned. The images were processing in Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop.

Want to learn to make this kind of image yourself? Check out my book Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography, and consider attending my HDR Bootcamp workshop.

Midtown Babylon

Midtown Babylon is a digital collage created using thirty exposures shot through the window of my hotel room on a recent trip to New York City. I’ve printed it on canvas, and the substrate seems to work well with this image—better than photographic paper would as I was striving for a painterly effect.

Midtown Babylon by Harold Davis

Midtown Babylon © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

Like Storm in the Upper Bay and Ghosts of Grand Central my thought with this image is to convey some degree of the complexity of my feelings about New York—the place I grew up, and a city that I love and that drives me crazy simultaneously.

Certainly, no disrespect is meant regarding the recent hurricane. My hope is that my friends stayed snug and warm, and that things get back to normal as quickly as possible, if New York City can ever be said to have a “normal.”

When is a river not a river?

It is called the “East River” but—technically speaking—this body of water is actually a tidal strait. The East River connects the Long Island Sound with New York harbor, and the Atlantic Ocean, via the Narrows. Subject to the vagaries of the tides, the not-a-river East River puts the “Island” in “Long Island.”

East River by Harold Davis

East River © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

In New York City I visited a very old friend of mine who lives high up and far to the east in the 70s. This image is shot from my friend’s balcony. I had to brace my camera and tripod against a very stiff breeze. This exposure was made at 24mm for 25 seconds at f/7.1 and ISO 200.

In post-production I worked to paint in the lights which were reflected in the East River. Without some enhancement that tidal strait would have looked mighty dark and dull!

Storm in Upper New York Bay

The day I had for shooting on the water in New York was the one day it rained. But light during stormy weather can make for interesting images. Photographer Hank Gans and I braved the storm and proceeded as planned despite the seriously squally weather.

Storm in New York Upper Harbor (with texture) by Harold Davis

Storm in New York Upper Harbor (with texture) © Harold Davis

This image shows upper New York Bay, often simply called New York Harbor with the lower Manhattan skyline in the background. Upper New York Bay is fed by the Hudson River, which is connected to the shipping channels out to the Atlantic Ocean via the Narrows and Lower New York Bay, and to Long Island Sound via the East River (which despite the name is actually a tidal strait).

In this image you can see a Staten Island Ferry plowing through the waves in front of the inaptly-named Freedom Tower, which is going up near the World Trade Memorial.

Storm in New York Upper Harbor (black & white) by Harold Davis

Storm in New York Upper Harbor (black & white) © Harold Davis

The three versions of Storm in Upper New York Harbor in this story are shown in reverse of the order in which I made them during post-production. The actual RAW image file is fairly flat, so I processed the color image to add contrast and drama (below).

Once I was happy with the color version I used Nik Silver Efex 2 to convert the image to monochromatic (above). At that point, I thought I was done—but the idea of playing with textures called out to me, hence the painterly version at the top of this story.

Storm in New York Upper Harbor (color version) by Harold Davis

Storm in New York Upper Harbor (color version) © Harold Davis

Ghosts of Grand Central

Wandering around New York with my camera after an absence of many years was in some ways a dissonant experience. I grew up in New York City, but the New York of today is not the New York I remember from the years of my youth and as a young adult.

Of course, one can’t go home again and the only thing constant is change. But somehow this visit to my old stomping grounds made me feel particularly spectral, as if the photographer Harold of thirty years ago was also present and sensing my contemporary presence. To the Harold of the past I would have seemed like a ghost, inhabiting a future world that would have been almost unimaginable.

Past and present merged as one, and I tried to express this very odd feeling in my image of Grand Central Station and its ghosts.

Ghosts of Grand Central by Harold Davis

Ghosts of Grand Central © Harold Davis—Click for larger image

How this image was made: When I walked through Grand Central Station I knew that I wanted to show this vast public space filled with people, many of whom would be partially blurred and therefore “ghosts.” Obviously, to achieve this effect I needed a long exposure.

The first hurdle was that when I took out my tripod a gentleman in camouflage khakis carrying an automatic weapon came over and told me I couldn’t use it. This was in keeping with much of my experience trying to photograph in New York—pulling out my tripod often led to its prohibition.

So I found a balcony railing on which I could rest my camera.

The next problem was that there was too much light for a long exposure. I solved this issue in two ways. First, I added a neutral density filter that cut the amount of light coming into my camera by a factor of 8. I then made a series of exposures at 4 seconds, f/22 and ISO 100.

The second way to extend the exposure was to rely on stacking. Stacking is a post-processing method for effectively extending the length of an exposure by aggregating shorter exposures. A common use is to extend the effective time of night exposures to create circular star trails as in Stars My Destination.

By extending the exposure time using a small aperture, a neutral density filter, and stacking I accomplished the intermittent blur I was looking for. People who stood still appeared solid and “real,” while those who were moving became spectral and blurred ghosts.

In this image I used the technique of stacking a little differently from stacking star trails, in which one wants the brightest pixel in a stack to be the one selected: In Ghosts of Grand Central I made two stacks, each consisting of six images, for an aggregate exposure length of 24 seconds. In one of the stacks I elected to choose the darkest pixel at each point. This is accomplished in the Photoshop Statistics action by setting the stack mode to Minimum.

The second stack used the Range stack mode, which is a statistical method that renders the spread between the darkest and lightest pixel at every point.

I combined the two stacks using a gradient, so the background of Grand Central Station (created with the Minimum stack) looked fundamentally as it does in “real life. But the foreground and floor of the space, created in the Range mode, was spectral and ghostly with some figures rendered normally and others as negative space.

Lush and Faux

In New York’s Central Park the lush—but artificial—landscapes make the cityscape look almost pastoral in its beauty. Central Park is the landscape architecture masterpiece of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, created in the mid 1800s.

Central Park by Harold Davis

Central Park © Harold Davis

Almost everything about the landscape of Central Park—lakes, meadows, hills, and rocks—was artfully and artificially created and placed. The result is an apparent pastoral paradise in which glimpses of the city only seem to enhance the lush natural landscape. The building shown reflected in the man-made lake in this image is the tower of the luxury Sherry Netherland Hotel, located along Fifth Avenue at the southern end of the park.

When designing Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux turned to the Yosemite Valley floor as a source of inspiration (Olmsted had visited Yosemite a few years before beginning the Central Park design). Compared to the wilderness landscape, Central Park seems faux (if you’ll pardon the rhyme with “Vaux”)—but certainly a wonderful enhancement to life in New York.

How the image was made: This is five exposures taken with my camera on a tripod. Each exposure was shot at 18mm, f/13, and ISO 200. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/2 a second to 1/320 of a second. I used Photoshop and Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 to create a single composite High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.

New York Night in HDR

On a rooftop high above New York the lights of the city sparkled in the night. From so far above even the noise of the city was muted—all I could hear was an occasional siren far below, echoing in the strong wind.

New York at Night by Harold Davis

New York at Night © Harold Davis

To make this image, with my camera on a tripod, I used manual exposure control to snap five exposures. I used my 10.5mm fisheye lens. Each exposure was at ISO 200 and f/3.5. The shutter speeds ranged from 2/5 of a second to 15 seconds.

I was on the road and didn’t have much time for elaborate HDR post-processing, so I simply fed the images through Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 at the default settings, with the results you see above.

In fact, as the author of Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography, one kind of HDR or another informs most of my photography.

Want to learn my HDR thoughts and techniques?

I am giving my much requested all-day HDR Bootcamp workshop on Saturday, Jan 12, 2013, in downtown Berkeley, CA. The workshop tuition is $195.00. Click here for information and registration.

Here are some comments of participants from my previous HDR Bootcamp workshop:

  • “Great day to learn how to better take and process single and bracketed images for maximizing dynamic range.”
  • “Excellent. Great new material and clear explanations of techniques and new software.”
  • “Harold offered an excellent overview of HDR technique. He took the time to ensure that each of us was able to follow along in making HDR images manually and then in processing them in several different software programs.”
  • “Incredibly helpful workshop. I feel like I now have the knowledge to do HDR the right way.”
  • “This ‘Bootcamp’ was well organized , well paced, good value-added content. I enjoyed it and got a lot out of it.”

Click for the Jan 12 2013 HDR Bootcamp All-Day Workshop information and registration.