New York City, 2007




New York is probably the most photographed city in the world, the home of street photography. Exactly why I get a buzz from the city is difficult to say, but consideration of some photos taken during a short visit in November this year is the best way to approach an explanation.

 wet streets

Yellow cabs are part of the landscape here. Perhaps the modern car shapes are not so interesting as those of the '60s and '70s but they are still distinctively American, excepting the awful Japanese people-carriers that a few cab drivers have now. The humble fire-hydrant is easily ignored but their curves make a nice counterpoint to the boxy apartment buildings. The image wet streets is taken in heavy rain and poor light. The slow shutter has the benefit that the moving cab is blurred, and the rain gives us reflections off the tarmac, confirming the saying that there is no bad weather for photography. After capturing this I noticed on the preview screen that the patterns on the hydrant were lost in shadow. I returned to the same uncomfortable position ( I was kneeling on the wet sidewalk ) to get a better exposure for the hydrant and merged the frames.


steam rising

Another characteristic sight are the red stripy steam pipes. Steam also rises ominously from manholes. The image steam rising is taken early morning near the limit of low-light shooting. The reflection of cars' red rear lights on the left and right of the frame would be lost in full daylight. I'm sorry to say I don't often get to my shooting location this early ( it's just after 7am ), and it happened this time because I was staying in Manhattan and the hotel is just minutes away; and also because I was waking up on London time. Resolution for photography in 2008 : get up earlier.


shelters, Coney Island boardwalk

A hour from midtown Manhattan on the subway, at the end of the line on the far side of Brooklyn, is the beach resort of Coney Island. For some reason the once-busy resort went out of fashion, and at this time of year it's even quieter because the rides are closed. I suppose most holiday-makers can afford to fly to Florida these days. I was a bit disappointed to find the place shrouded in mist since it had been reasonably clear in Manhattan. But I think the mist helps this shot of shelters on the boardwalk, separating the main subject though aerial perspective.



couple in a boat, Central Park

Each time I visit New York I spend some time in Central Park. The pace is slower than on the streets but nevertheless things are always happening. There is a skating rink, a baseball ground, a jogging track around the reservoir, horse-and-trap operators, lots of dog-walkers, as well as fine landscaping and in November, fall colors. I spotted some rowing boats visible through the trees around the lake. Moving to a clearing I was able to take uninterrupted shots, but then I envisaged the image above and returned to the trees to provide a natural frame. With a frame around a moving subject there is only one chance to get the shot. A fraction of a second later and the bow of the boat will pass behind the trees; the oars will be poised for a stroke only for an instant. Both emphasise the feeing that the image is something glimpsed.


God Bless America

fire truck, lower Manhattan

Judging from the number of flags flying in Manhattan, you might think this is the most patriotic city in the USA. However I have noticed the stars and stripes displayed with pride and exuberance in many parts of this country. You only see huge numbers of union jacks in Britain for a royal procession, and the flags are thrown away as soon as the event is finished. One expects to see a British flag flying from the highest turret of a castle; but in America you are just as likely to see a flag in the garden of a modest family home. I like the American way better.


stars and stripes in Manhattan


Walking the streets

For this visit I was carrying a Canon 5D, and four lenses : the 17-40L, 24-70L, 100-400L and a 50/1.8. Also in the bag were some filters, spare memory cards and a spare battery. And I keep the passport, map and other essential papers in the camera bag.  I like to keep the bag with me at all times for security and also in case any of the camera gear is needed. It doesn't sound much but it's a quite a burden to carry around. I think the weight contributed to me tiring faster than I had expected - after a few hours on the streets and subways I was glad to get back to the hotel for a rest. So I tended to shoot all morning, rest and eat in the afternoon, then go out again for a couple of hours as it was getting dark carrying the tripod as well.

on Brooklyn Bridge

This view of Brooklyn Bridge was the only time I needed the 17-40L. It is shot at 17mm with a 10 second exposure. I was there to photograph the bridge but I also stood in front of the camera for a couple of frames - I didn't realise I could stand dead still for that long. The 24-70L was the most used lens, followed by the telephoto. The 50mm was used hardly at all and has in effect been replaced by the zoom. I can use the 24-70 confidently at f2.8, it is just a touch soft wide open but the images have a beautiful quality. I just can't get the shots I want with a fixed focal length, I don't think this is me being lazy, it's because focal length is a key parameter of the image and there is always an optimal setting for it, and it's rarely 50mm.

Visit the gallery for more images from this trip. for photography