Light, lines and moments…

girl in the lightlr

I tell my students that photographs can be reduced to light, lines, and moments. Everything else is derivative.The more I study photographs from the past century — the incredibly short lifespan of our art so far — the more convinced I am that everything’s been photographed, that our challenge now is to manipulate light, lines, and moments in the frame in a way that expresses our unique view of those so oft-photographed subjects.

David Duchemin

I often find myself resonating with the writings of photographer David Duchemin in his books and on his blog, but this quote in particular really hit home.

Don’t you find yourself thinking sometimes that everything has been photographed — and way better than you can do it — so what’s the point exactly?

Well, as Duchemin says, it has. So I find it incredibly helpful to think in terms of light, lines and moments when I have my camera with me and we’re meditating together on what we see.

It is a rare, rare thing when they all come together — light, lines and the moment — but once in a blue moon they might — and you have yourself an image that speaks louder than any words.

This image is one of those for me. When I was photographing at the Bethesda Terrace in Central Park, a young woman busker in a medieval-type dress with a tousle-haired toddler pulling at her skirts moved into the archway facing the staircase to start singing.

She had the voice of an angel. I think she was singing Gregorian chant because the words were not intelligible to me, but that didn’t matter. It was a moment when time stopped. I raised my camera to my eye and clicked.

This image, which is now framed on my wall, brings it all back every time I raise my eyes to look at it.

On the move in New York City…

 When I’m in New York, I just want to walk down the street and feel this thing, like I’m in a movie.
Ryan Adams
peopleon the move

Under Bethesda Terrace

One of the things I love most about New York is the energy and movement. Walking, cycling (if you’re insane), driving (if you’re insane), riding buses, subways, taxis and carriages — even sailing — people around you are always going somewhere. And if you only have a few days, you want to be going somewhere — everywhere — too!

Laid out on a grid system, New York is one of the easiest large cities in the world to get around in. We generally walk, and walk and then walk some more. But I’ve also figured out how to get to places like Brooklyn and the Cloisters way north near Harlem by subway and bus without too much trouble.

And here’s what happens when you stop for a moment to figure out where you are and where you’re going next — a New Yorker stops to ask if they can help you find something.

It happened twice this trip and it’s happened every single time I’ve travelled to New York previously —  all 11 or 12 trips!

I agree with Bill Murray:

My favorite thing about New York is the people, because I think they’re misunderstood. I don’t think people realize how kind New York people are.

This time a kind woman approached us in Central Park as we were finishing up our photography for the day. And a sweet male cyclist came up to us as we were stopped in Times Square looking at the Jumbotron.

Yes, New Yorkers are always moving, but some do take time to stop to help travellers.


Central Park in Black and White and in Colour

central park boaters copy

Last fall, I did a 7-part series in this blog featuring images of New York. It’s such a visually rich city and I had such a good time shooting it that I was thrilled to have the chance to make another trip this fall.

Last year I signed up for a photo safari called “Iconic New York.” It was a great fun to discover key spots in Midtown Manhattan with fellow photographers and get tips to improve my photo skills. You can read more about it here.

Me and my sister on the Bow Bridge. Photo by Rob, Photo Safari leader.

As I was going to be travelling with my sister Elena this time, who enjoys photography as much as I do, I suggested we sign up for another safari — this time in Central Park, a place we both love.

Ever since my very first trip to New York back in the early 80s, I’ve been an enthusiastic fan of Central Park. I appreciate its enormity, its diversity, its intelligent and beautiful design and the way it is open and accessible to everyone.

Public green spaces are vital to liveable city life — and Central is one of the most exceptional examples in the world of how that works. New Yorkers love it — and so do visitors from all over the world.

Our group met at the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace and concentrated our first shots around that area. Leader Rob, a professional photographer, offered useful pointers and suggestions before and after we made our images. I particularly enjoyed discussing composition with him. He gave us demos and also gave us plenty of time to wander on our own.

There were four of us in the group, which turned out to be very congenial — two Canadians (my sister and I) and a man from Australia and a woman from New Zealand.

We then gathered under the arches and practised shooting in low light and high dynamic range situations.

After that we moseyed on to the Bow Bridge, which proved to be a great vantage point for shooting the boaters on the Lake and the Loeb Boathouse. The day had been forecast to be rainy, but we did not get one drop. It turned out to be gorgeous with lovely light.

Before we parted 2 1/2 hours later, we also spent some time in the famous tree-lined Mall.

Elena and I spent the rest of the day continuing to explore areas of the park we hadn’t been before (such as the Ramble) as well as returning to spend more time around the Bethesda Fountain.

This is where I made some of my favorite images — and happened to look up just at the right time to catch a young couple ready to kiss. It was a “decisive moment” as Cartier-Bresson would say.

The whole area was packed with people taking pictures and enjoying themselves and the excellent free entertainment. It was obviously a magnet for romantic wedding pictures as everywhere we went we saw brides and grooms posing together. To get my images with fewer people in them, I had to be patient and wait for just the right time.

The colours in stone and tile work under the Terrace are beautifully soft and subtle, which makes for lovely colour pictures, but the stone arches and interesting architecture and light also suits black and white photography perfectly.

So I did both.

It was a still a bit early in the season for the really vibrant fall foliage (not to self: go a bit later in the fall next time), but there was enough of a change to make the background scenery pop a bit.

I found that alternating between my wide angle zoom (24 to 85 mm) and my telephoto zoom (70 to 200 mm) gave me a good variety of focal lengths to capture the images I was drawn to.

These are only a small group of my images of Central Park, as you can imagine. I just may have to do another post on this very special place!


I surprised myself by being fast enough to capture this “decisive moment”.

arches band

The Terrace arches in black and white.


With their beautiful light, couples flock to the Bethesda Arches for wedding pictures.


These giant bubbles must have looked magical to the little ones. Hey, they looked magical to me!


The Loeb Boathouse reflected in the waters of the still Lake.


My sister focusses her camera on some of the beautiful details of the Arches.

sherry and rob

Elena took this one of me and Rob discussing a shot.

The New York Series…Part 2

parkbridge1000 copy

Yesterday I posted an overview of Central Park in autumn shot from the Top of the Rockefeller Plaza. Today, let’s go into the park and enjoy some more intimate views…

Before I left for New York, I made a shot list. I knew that there was so much to see and capture in New York City that I might get overwhelmed if I didn’t at least have an idea of what I was hoping to photograph. It turned out to be a good idea for me. I didn’t get everything on the list and I got lots of shots I didn’t plan to, just by being open to what I was drawn to in the environment, but overall I feel that doing some advance research was well worth the effort.

Let me give you an example. I knew I wanted to shoot Central Park. But where? As was evident in yesterday’s shot, the park is huge and you could walk around in it for days…I knew I didn’t have a whole lot of time and I had plenty of other places on my list, so I decided to be selective.

I figured New York, being south of where I live, was still likely to have colourful leaves on the trees. So I googled fall foliage in New York and discovered that the fall colour was likely to be at its peak last week. Good start!

Then I went to one of my favorite photo sharing sites — 500 px — and did a search for Central Park. This site is chock full of wonderful high-quality images that provide great inspiration. The search function works really well (much better than flickr)  because it can filter by date and also by popularity.

Lo and behold I saw a stunning image of a beautiful stone bridge covered with red ivy. I could see that it had been taken only a few days before so that confirmed that the colours were still quite glorious.

I could also see that it was called the Gapstow Bridge. I love stone bridges (covered with ivy especially) and this is a beauty. It did not take long to find out that this particular bridge was in the southeast corner of the park, not far from the entrance. Bingo! I had a great destination all picked out.

Once I got into the park, I had to ask directions to the bridge, but it was only a short walk and there it was! I was in my element running back and forth trying to capture the bridge from a variety of perspectives with a few different lenses. It was obvious that it had a completely different personality and feel shot from different vantage points. It was late afternoon so the sun was providing fairly nice light.

I am more comfortable with intimate landscapes than really large ones, so that is what I tend to shoot. But it was good practice to try to capture some wider shots as well.

woman walking on bridge1000framed

I had to work around the people who were walking across the bridge and feeding the ducks at the water’s edge. Sometimes I like to have people in my shots, but I did want to make sure I got some of just the bridge.

I probably could have stayed there a good while longer, but the Metropolitan Opera’s performance of Tosca was on the agenda for that evening, so I had to reluctantly wrap it up. (Little did I know then that by the end of the night I would become a raving fan of opera and especially Roberto Alagna! If you’re curious why, click here to hear.)

As I walked out of the park, I managed to get a few shots of the park’s trees with the New York skyline behind.

I just love images that show the natural and built worlds side by side, which stands out so clearly at the edge of Central Park. Such a study in contrast.

If you’re going to New York and don’t have days to wander at will, a bit of advance research can really save you a lot of time.

skyscrapers from central park1000col

buildings behind park1000framed

The New York Series…Part 1

forpost 2000

I’ve been to New York City a few times before — 12  to be exact — but this was the first trip I had a good camera — and it was autumn in the city. That made for a great combination!

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I took hundreds of photographs. I plan to spread some of them out over a series of  blog posts.

I’m starting with this image since Central Park is one of my favorite places in the world.

I wanted to see what it looked like from a great height in the fall with the trees leafed out in their beautiful colour, so I took the elevator up the 67 floors to the observation deck on the Top of the Rockefeller Plaza on a sunny perfect fall day.

What a vista!

In this photo, you’re looking north and you see the west side of the park and the buildings of the Upper West Side.

A few years ago, my mother and sister and I took a guided walking tour of Central Park, which we thoroughly enjoyed. Up until then, I simply had no idea what a massive accomplishment this park is and how unique it is.

Central Park was the first public landscaped park in all of the United States.  In 1853, the state legislature first set aside land for a major public park. City commissioners spent $14 million for the land and the construction of the park, which extended from 59th Street to 106th Street, between Fifth and Eighth Avenues.

The designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were chosen in public competition in 1858. The park was developed over a span of 16 years.

(Olmsted is considered the father of landscape architecture and he went on to design Prospect Park in Brooklyn and many other North American parks, such as Boston’s Emerald Necklace, Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, Mount Royal in Montreal, and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Here are ten lessons for landscape design you can pick up from him.)

Central Park occupies 843 acres in Manhattan, 6% of its total acreage. You could fit 16 billion New York apartments in the park.

The park includes seven water bodies totaling 150 acres (some of which you can see above), 136 acres of woodlands and 250 acres of lawns. There are 58 miles of walking paths and 4.25 miles of bridle paths.

It also boasts more than 26,000 trees, 36 bridges and arches and nearly 9,000 benches.

It surprised me to learn that there are 215 species of birds in a 6.1-acre sanctuary, many rare to the area including the peregrine falcon.

The 25 million people that visit every year can also enjoy 26 ballfields; 30 tennis courts; 21 playgrounds; one carousel and two ice-skating rinks, one of which is converted into a swimming pool in the summer.

Stay tuned for more images inside the park…