Exploring NYC, Part 3: Faces of the City

Over the last few years, I have taken an interest in a form of photography dubbed "street photography." Unlike other photographic disciplines with obvious sounding names (wedding photography / newborn photography), the name "street" does not convey a clear meaning of the art form.

Waiting for an opponent. Two people playing chess outside a park in Manhattan island. Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Waiting for an opponent. Two people playing chess outside a park in Manhattan island. Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Catching a ride. A young girl rides on her father's shoulders over the crowds of tourists visiting Rockefeller Center during the holidays.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Catching a ride. A young girl rides on her father's shoulders over the crowds of tourists visiting Rockefeller Center during the holidays.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Street photography might be more aptly dubbed "genuine photography" - the goal is to capture everyday scenes and interactions in a new and fresh way to highlight the beauty in our routine life.  When I am shooting the streets, I am looking for genuine interactions; faces, reactions, expressions, moods, and emotions that are genuine and not prompted by the presence of a camera.

Think about it.... when someone holds up a camera to your face, the first natural reaction is to smile and say cheese. But does that smile truly express your emotions and feelings in that moment? Unlikely.

I spy.  A woman looks out from her window on the busy New York streets below. Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

I spy.  A woman looks out from her window on the busy New York streets below. Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Selfie.  A woman dressed up in her finest fashion prepares her selfie in Times Square.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Selfie.  A woman dressed up in her finest fashion prepares her selfie in Times Square.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Crowd Control.  A NYPD officer directs traffic and keeps the crowds safe as thousands of holiday revelers descend on New York's most popular attractions. Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

Crowd Control.  A NYPD officer directs traffic and keeps the crowds safe as thousands of holiday revelers descend on New York's most popular attractions. Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

As a street photographer, I want to capture the subject's emotions and state of being without having the camera enter the equation and effect the expression. In order to do that, I often need to be stealthy and discrete.

A large camera is off-putting. People don't want a stranger shoving a camera in their face. Which is why I use a Leica rangefinder (specifically, the M10) for my street shooting. The small and discrete nature of this camera lets me attract less attention, thereby increasing the odds of going unnoticed by my subject.

Coffee Jolt.  A kid carries two cups of coffee while walking with his parents around the 9/11 memorial.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Coffee Jolt.  A kid carries two cups of coffee while walking with his parents around the 9/11 memorial.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The Eye.  A passenger looks out of the window on an express train to Wall Street.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The Eye.  A passenger looks out of the window on an express train to Wall Street.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Philosophically, I want every picture I take to be a flattering one. I try to avoid any photograph that could embarrass or humiliate my subject. For instance, I don't photograph the homeless or disabled persons, with few exceptions. 

Ideally, when I am taking street photographs, I am invisible. The person never knows that I took their photograph, or if they do, they are not embarrassed. If someone sees me taking their photograph, I will smile and wave, showing that I'm not a threat. Sometimes I'll tell someone they were beautiful and interesting to me. Surprisingly, most people respond very well to this, and I have never had anyone get mad because I took their photograph.

BFFs.  Two women pose for a photograph in Times Square. I "plucked them out of a crowd" by using a longer focal length and narrow depth of field, thereby blurring the people around them and focusing the attention of the photograph solely on their faces.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

BFFs.  Two women pose for a photograph in Times Square. I "plucked them out of a crowd" by using a longer focal length and narrow depth of field, thereby blurring the people around them and focusing the attention of the photograph solely on their faces.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Stroll.  A man walks in front of the United Nations building. The harsh light and strong shadow became the sparkle that drew me to make this image.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Stroll.  A man walks in front of the United Nations building. The harsh light and strong shadow became the sparkle that drew me to make this image.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

As a photographer, I find street photography offers a unique challenge over some of the other photographic disciplines. When I am making landscape images, I often plan the photo, sometimes to a scientific extreme. But as a street shooter, I take whatever I get and roll with the punches.

If it is sunny outside, I have to work with that. If it's raining, I work with that. 

The impromptu and impulsive nature of this type of shooting means I often "follow my nose" - if the light looks particularly good one direction, I'll walk that way. I walked 14 miles in New York one day without having any real plan - I just wandered Manhattan looking for things that caught my eye.

I remain hyper aware of the location of the sun and will switch to another side of the street if the shadows and light is better there. My head is on a swivel, constantly looking for that sparkle.

Street Blown.  A woman's hair blows around in the wind caused by cars rushing past on the street nearby.  Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

Street Blown.  A woman's hair blows around in the wind caused by cars rushing past on the street nearby.  Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

Patience.  A cyclist waits for the crosswalk sign to turn in his favor.  I was drawn to the fact that his face was covered, so the only place from where I could draw expression was his eyes, and he rewarded me with a very expressive moment.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Patience.  A cyclist waits for the crosswalk sign to turn in his favor.  I was drawn to the fact that his face was covered, so the only place from where I could draw expression was his eyes, and he rewarded me with a very expressive moment.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

"Sparkle" - that is what I am looking for as I walk. Sparkle is the photograph. Sparkle is the emotion, the color, the contrast, the shadow, the expression...the thing that pushes me to take the photograph. 

As a street photographer, I am instinctive. When I see sparkle, I shoot. If I wait too long and think about it, I have lost that moment of sparkle. 

When someone looks at one of my images and comments "I never would have seen that" or "how did you catch that," I know they see the sparkle. They are looking at the print and see the sparkle that pushed me to create the image in the first place.

Lost.  This is one of the very rare exceptions I have ever made to my rule about not photographing the homeless. This particular gentleman had positioned himself in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing pedestrian traffic to divert around him and creating a bit of a traffic jam. I wanted to capture the reaction from other people to having to divert around him and the story of what his day must feel like as thousands of people pass him by.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Lost.  This is one of the very rare exceptions I have ever made to my rule about not photographing the homeless. This particular gentleman had positioned himself in the middle of the sidewalk, forcing pedestrian traffic to divert around him and creating a bit of a traffic jam. I wanted to capture the reaction from other people to having to divert around him and the story of what his day must feel like as thousands of people pass him by.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Smile.  A man smiles as he reads something on his cell phone while riding the subway in New York.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Smile.  A man smiles as he reads something on his cell phone while riding the subway in New York.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Street photography can also be about story telling. Not every image has a story, but sometimes the story is the sparkle. For instance, take this pro-Tibet rally I saw in New York. Thousands of people were marching across Manhattan to the site of the Chinese Consulate peacefully carrying signs and flags supporting Tibet. 

At one point, their march passes in front of the McDonald's restaurant near Times Square. I immediately saw a story, and began photographing that story.

I was moved at the juxtaposition of American consumerism and the protected right of speech. Here are some people peacefully exercising their First Amendment right to free speech in front of one of America's biggest corporations. To me, this captures the essence of what makes America an incredible country -- there are so many places in the world where this scene would not be allowed, and the combination of the two created an emotional sparkle.

Pro-Tibet rally participants march in front of one of America's icons of global consumerism.... McDonalds.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Pro-Tibet rally participants march in front of one of America's icons of global consumerism.... McDonalds.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

The pro-Tibet rally walked through Times Square demanding peace.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

The pro-Tibet rally walked through Times Square demanding peace.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Stage. Rally goers assembled for a speech near the Chinese consulate.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Stage. Rally goers assembled for a speech near the Chinese consulate.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Street photography often involves people, but there are some images I'll photograph without humans that still tell a human story. Usually, I try to convey human interaction with the environment in the non-people prints. These images may be more abstract and invoke the idea of people without clearly showing any in the scene. Sometimes they capture an irony or something so familiar that we stop noticing its existence. 

A Dinosaur.  A bank of pay phones that see very little use in Grand Central Terminal.  Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

A Dinosaur.  A bank of pay phones that see very little use in Grand Central Terminal.  Leica M10 with 50mm Summicron f/2.

Ready and Waiting.  A FDNY truck sits at the ready to respond to any incidents around the city.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

Ready and Waiting.  A FDNY truck sits at the ready to respond to any incidents around the city.  Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron f/2.

The Commute.  I purposefully blurred this image by jerking the camera in a violent pan as the taxi approached. The goal was to create a shot that captured the blur of commuting and traffic in a city as busy as New York.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The Commute.  I purposefully blurred this image by jerking the camera in a violent pan as the taxi approached. The goal was to create a shot that captured the blur of commuting and traffic in a city as busy as New York.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The Message.  A simple chair might not have had the sparkle to catch my eye, but this chair, with the "No Crying Allowed" message caught my eye.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The Message.  A simple chair might not have had the sparkle to catch my eye, but this chair, with the "No Crying Allowed" message caught my eye.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

In some ways, everything I just described about street photography makes it sound like there is a good amount of "pray and spray"- but the art is anything other than. Pray and spray is a phrase used to describe what happens when I photographer just holds down the shutter and aims the camera recklessly in the hope of capturing a good shot.

Look carefully at my photographs and you'll see that isn't possible. Scroll down and look at the three images below (then come back).

Notice anything in them? Only the subject is in focus. Everything else has a smooth soft blur. That blur, which is referred to as bokeh (a Japanese word), is where the art comes into play. As a photographer, I drew your eyes to the subject- to a pre-determined spot - by precisely choosing what area of the print will be in focus. Don't believe me? Scroll down and look again.

Steps of Time.  Two friends take pictures on the staircase in Times Square. I loved the attire and face of the individual holding the cell phone, so focused the attention of the viewer that direction by having the rest of the image slightly out of focus.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Steps of Time.  Two friends take pictures on the staircase in Times Square. I loved the attire and face of the individual holding the cell phone, so focused the attention of the viewer that direction by having the rest of the image slightly out of focus.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Sharing a Snack.  A mom and son enjoy a Sunday morning snack at an indoor food hall in New York. The scene is very busy with elements that could distract from the story of the shared meal, but selective focus and bokeh help me isolate them and tell the story the way I want.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Sharing a Snack.  A mom and son enjoy a Sunday morning snack at an indoor food hall in New York. The scene is very busy with elements that could distract from the story of the shared meal, but selective focus and bokeh help me isolate them and tell the story the way I want.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The View.  A boy is carried on his dad's shoulders to see the holiday tree in Rockefeller Center.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

The View.  A boy is carried on his dad's shoulders to see the holiday tree in Rockefeller Center.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Each of those photographs has a super thin area of the image in focus. Now consider that the camera I use is a manual focus system - there is nothing automated or automagic about it. If I do a poor job of quickly focusing the lens, then my photograph is missed. I usually get one chance - a split second - to turn the focus ring on my Leica lenses to capture that sparkle.

I won't lie - it's hard. I miss more than I catch. But the more I go out and shoot, the better I get. I have a lot of close misses - photographs I'd love another chance to take. But that's not how this works. 

In some ways, the thrill of getting it right is my drug.

I'm addicted to the elation that comes from seeing a perfectly focused shot with the story I wanted captured. That feeling drives me back to the streets, looking for my next fix.

Stormtrooper's Have to Eat.  This man was dressed in a Stormtrooper costume, but had stopped at a deli to get a snack.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Stormtrooper's Have to Eat.  This man was dressed in a Stormtrooper costume, but had stopped at a deli to get a snack.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Patience.  A police officer waits patiently for the light to chance before she begins directing more traffic over the intersection. The harsh light and strong shadows gave this scene the sparkle I was looking for.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Patience.  A police officer waits patiently for the light to chance before she begins directing more traffic over the intersection. The harsh light and strong shadows gave this scene the sparkle I was looking for.  Leica M10 with 90mm Summicron f/2.

Exploring NYC, Part 2: A Day in the Snow

Few things are as magical as a visit to New York City during the holidays, when stores put on extravagant displays, Santa is available for a visit, and holiday markets pop-up across the city. Add a fresh heavy snowfall into the equation, and you have a truly memorable winter wonderland in the city.

A New York City Police Officer prepares this police horse for a ride in the snow

A New York City Police Officer prepares this police horse for a ride in the snow

A couple seeks refuge underneath an umbrella during the snowfall

A couple seeks refuge underneath an umbrella during the snowfall

Photographing snow can be a bit of a challenge. Bad weather always makes for a great photograph, but it's not as easy as just stepping outside, taking a quick image, and having success. I walked over 10 miles in the heavy snow to get these images, and faced several technical challenges along the way.

Snowfall blankets a quiet New York City intersection

Snowfall blankets a quiet New York City intersection

A man strolls through the snow in Central Park

A man strolls through the snow in Central Park

First was the challenge of keeping the camera dry enough. The Leica M10 is technically not weather sealed, but it is pretty hardy. Unfortunately the temperature outside was just warm enough that the snow melted almost instantly when it made contact with my body and the camera, making my hands and the camera very wet (never mind that it also made me very cold!). After several hours, this caused the viewfinder to fog completely.

During periodic breaks indoors, I wrapped the camera in a dry shirt with the hopes that it would help dry out the camera's viewfinder. That worked to an extent, but the remaining moisture would condense anytime I subjected it to a temperature change stepping between the outdoors and indoors. 

A man emerges from the 14th street subway station

A man emerges from the 14th street subway station

Steam rising from street vents adds to the dramatic effect of the snowfall on this New York street

Steam rising from street vents adds to the dramatic effect of the snowfall on this New York street

Second to keeping the camera dry is the challenge of keeping the lens dry. I was far more successful in this endeavor because I kept the camera oriented in my hand so that the lens was either facing downward, or facing downwind of the snow. I never - EVER - use a lens cap when out taking photographs, and certainly was not about to miss a shot because I had covered the lens. 

Taxi cabs lined up on the streets of Times Square during a late evening snowfall

Taxi cabs lined up on the streets of Times Square during a late evening snowfall

A streetsign covered with snow outside Times Square

A streetsign covered with snow outside Times Square

Finally, capturing snow can be a challenge. In a close-up photograph, snow can appear like a blur, rather than a snowflake. The trick was for enough of those blur's to be present in the photograph that the viewer would understand it was not a mistake, but that it was a snowflake.

I don't know how much snow fell in New York on this particular day as it never accumulated beyond a slush on the streets, but it certainly made for a beautiful day of photography.

Two women - presumably en route to a holiday party - stop for food from a street vendor in the late evening snow

Two women - presumably en route to a holiday party - stop for food from a street vendor in the late evening snow

Exploring NYC, Part 1: World Trade Center

Like all Americans old enough to remember the events of 9/11/2001, I have a very vivid and raw memory of that morning. That day would come to define some of my life's most important decisions; would drive me to a career in public service and safety.

A flower in the memorial to the World Trade Center. The shadow of One World Trade casts across the memorial.

A flower in the memorial to the World Trade Center. The shadow of One World Trade casts across the memorial.

This photograph is very powerful to me. I was standing outside the museum and noticed a jetliner flying over One World Trade. My mind started racing with thoughts.... anywhere else in the world, seeing a plane fly over a building is so routine, that it hardly registers. But here, it seemed raw. This is a view similar to the one thousands saw on 9/11 - but with a very different outcome. I took four images of the plane's track over New York City and combined them in this composite. 

This photograph is very powerful to me. I was standing outside the museum and noticed a jetliner flying over One World Trade. My mind started racing with thoughts.... anywhere else in the world, seeing a plane fly over a building is so routine, that it hardly registers. But here, it seemed raw. This is a view similar to the one thousands saw on 9/11 - but with a very different outcome. I took four images of the plane's track over New York City and combined them in this composite. 

The 9/11 memorial and museum only opened in the past few years, and while I have seen the outdoor memorial ponds before, I never had a chance to visit the museum until this most recent trip to New York City. 

I was a bit conflicted about taking photographs in such hallowed ground.

Artists painted 3,000 cards a slightly different shade of blue - each one painting the color of the sky they remember seeing on 9/11. These cards now hang on a wall as a reminder that the memory of those lost on 9/11 cannot be erased.

Artists painted 3,000 cards a slightly different shade of blue - each one painting the color of the sky they remember seeing on 9/11. These cards now hang on a wall as a reminder that the memory of those lost on 9/11 cannot be erased.

September 11th isn't a tourist attraction. The artifacts and memories captured in this museum mark millions of lives changed in the span of a few terrible minutes. I don't want to disrespect the memory of the over 3,000 innocent people killed on that day by turning 9/11 into a photography spectacle. 

A visitor to the memorial paying tribute to some of the victims from 9/11.

A visitor to the memorial paying tribute to some of the victims from 9/11.

A message from supporters of Ladder Company 3; this was part of a fire truck that was smashed when the towers collapsed. 

A message from supporters of Ladder Company 3; this was part of a fire truck that was smashed when the towers collapsed. 

But after a few minutes in the museum, my opinion changed. September 11th was the most terrible of days, a day that we cannot forget. Walking through that museum reopened the emotions from that day that I had long since repressed. I was flooded with sobering memories of what happens when we become complacent and when freedom is not allowed to prosper around the world.

A section of steel from inside the World Trade Center. This particular piece came from the area where the first aircraft tore into the tower, gashing a hole in one of America's most iconic buildings.

A section of steel from inside the World Trade Center. This particular piece came from the area where the first aircraft tore into the tower, gashing a hole in one of America's most iconic buildings.

Names and organizations listed on the memorial wall surrounding the pools in the memorial.

Names and organizations listed on the memorial wall surrounding the pools in the memorial.

Recognizing that many viewers to my website will never have a chance to visit the museum in NYC, I decided to make a handful of photographs that could help convey the emotions and experience I had walking through the museum. 

Four tie-down points. The museum is underground and some of the foundation walls that made up the twin towers are incorporated into the structure of the museum. This part of the foundation remains in the original location. It is one of the few pieces of the towers that still remains as it did on September 11th.

Four tie-down points. The museum is underground and some of the foundation walls that made up the twin towers are incorporated into the structure of the museum. This part of the foundation remains in the original location. It is one of the few pieces of the towers that still remains as it did on September 11th.

Less than a block from the World Trade Center is a fire station home to ladder company 10. Six fireman from this company died rescuing others on 9/11.

Less than a block from the World Trade Center is a fire station home to ladder company 10. Six fireman from this company died rescuing others on 9/11.

I cried twice in the museum. Once while looking at / listening to a selection of voicemail messages left by passengers of those doomed flights to their loved ones. People who left a final message, knowing their fate. I crumbled under the idea of ever having to do something so brave. My second breakdown happened in front of a projection of "missing posters" hung by friends and family searching for their lost relatives. Many of these posters carried a deeply personal message, and my heart broke for every family that had to write a sign like that. One particular sign that pulled me was from a daughter looking for her daddy.

Memories attached to the "last column" - this was the last piece of steel removed from the site. Prior to it's removal, it became a shrine of sorts, with family and friends affixing messages, photos, and flowers to the beam.

Memories attached to the "last column" - this was the last piece of steel removed from the site. Prior to it's removal, it became a shrine of sorts, with family and friends affixing messages, photos, and flowers to the beam.

The top of the last column, with messages and photos to loved ones lost on 9/11.

The top of the last column, with messages and photos to loved ones lost on 9/11.

I could not photograph these things. I could not bring myself to make artwork from the pain of those families. Instead, I chose to photograph objects that were more symbolic of the tragedy.

May we never forget. 

A close-up of some of the memories written upon the "last column".

A close-up of some of the memories written upon the "last column".

Photo Essay: USS Intrepid & USS Growler

There aren't many places around the United States where you can walk aboard a retired US Navy aircraft carrier or US Navy submarine from the cold war era -- probably because some of those vessels are still in service today! But New York City has become the permanent resting place for two ships who served their country valiantly and I had a chance to tour and photograph both last weekend.

The USS Intrepid was commissioned in the fall of 1943 - as World War II raged. She served in the Pacific theater during World War II, sustaining attacks from Japanese kamikaze fighters. After the war, she continued her service in the Atlantic and supported operations during the Vietnam war. One of the most notable accomplishments for the Intrepid includes being the recovery ship for astronauts in the Gemini and Mercury program.

The USS Growler (SSG-577) was launched in 1958 during the height of the cold war. Her mission was simple - to carry the Regulus nuclear missiles that would be launched at the Soviet Union in the event of nuclear war. Thankfully her weapons never had to be used and after a short 8 years of service, she was retired. 

Both of these vessels now reside at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City where they serve as living museums. I knew I wanted to photograph both ships to capture as much of their story as possible during our short visit. All of the photographs were taken with the Nikon D800 and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. I wanted these photographs to be in black and white - it can be a very powerful medium for describing the age of these vessels. With that all said, enjoy the photo essay by clicking through the slideshow below:


Quick Shot: World Trade Center Memorial

This weekend I travelled to New York City to spend a weekend taking in the sights and sounds of the Big Apple before our upcoming move to the United Kingdom. Our trip was complete with all the normal sights - Times Square, Lady Liberty, B&H Photo (ok, it's a sight for photographers) and the World Trade Center Memorial.

Although I've been to NYC post-9/11, it was before the memorial pools had opened, so I was looking forward to seeing the completed memorial and paying my respects. Like many Americans, 9/11 represents a turning point in my life - I probably wouldn't be where I am in life today without that fateful day. Words cannot express the emotion experienced at the 9/11 memorial.

I wanted to photograph the memorial in a way that showed off the former WTC towers, but also highlighted that New York has continued to grow and thrive post-9/11. I knew that any image I took was going to be in black and white, I just needed to find the angle that I liked. As I walked around the pools, I looked for a location that let me tell the story of 9/11 while also showing how NYC has re-built from these attacks. When I arrived at this point in the pool, where the words "World Trade Center" appeared on the memorial, I knew I had my spot.

I shot on a tripod with a neutral density filter to get a long exposure to capture the flowing water. The final image was edited in Nik Silver Efex to create the black and white photograph you see here. 

Creating this photograph was a very emotional experience and I hope this photograph reminds you to honor and remember the victims of September 11th, 2001.

The 9/11 Memorial at the site of the World Trade Center in New York.