I often write about the challenges of finding nature subjects in an urban environment. Of course, even the largest concrete jungles aren’t all concrete. There’s always a local park or a botanical garden somewhere nearby. Places like these are perfect locations to capture unique compositions of natural and man-made subjects.
Most adults don’t think of young people as nature photographers, or of there being lots of wildlife in a big city. Wrong on both counts! Dhruv Cohen is a high school student who lives in Washington, DC, and is interested in biology and mathematics. He’s also an avid bird photographer. And he has a lot to say about photography, wildlife, and the experience of being out in nature with a camera.
In last month’s Photography 101 article, I discussed what I consider to be one of the most fundamental basics of photography: apertures and shutter speeds. Following closely behind in terms of importance are focal lengths. Simply put, the focal length describes the angle of view of a lens, as compared to natural eyesight. It’s a measurement (expressed in millimeters) of how much of a scene it captures. A long focal length lens, such as a 200mm lens, captures a narrow angle of view, or an enlarged view of the subject. These types of lenses are known as telephoto lenses. A short focal length lens, such as a 28mm lens, captures a much wider angle of view, making the subject appear smaller. As their angle of view implies, these types of lenses are known as wide angle lenses. Lenses that encompass multiple focal lengths are known as zoom lenses. They are easily identifiable with ranges such as 12-24mm, 24-70mm or 100-300mm. A variety of focal lengths can be achieved simply turning or sliding a ring on the lens.
Perhaps you were intrigued by the photos you saw in magazines. Maybe you wondered why your own photos never came close to matching them, or even the scene you just photographed. It might simply be that you’re just curious about the purpose of all those strange-looking buttons and dials on your new camera or lens. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided to get a little more serious about photography and you’re interested in elevating your skills to another level. If that’s the case, then this article was written just for you.
If you’ve ever tried to shoot nature photos within an urban environment, you’ve undoubtedly asked yourself questions like these at one time or another. I often write about the difficulties of pursuing a career as a nature photographer in a large metropolitan city. It’s not always economically or logistically possible to escape city limits and venture into the wild to capture true nature. You sometimes have no choice but to shoot nature wherever you can find it—amidst all the inherent distractions of a concrete jungle.
I used to go to great lengths to avoid any man-made objects in my nature photos, believing that any hint of urban artifacts would lessen the impact of the natural subject. This would be true if the objects were only in the shot due to careless oversight. However, it’s an entirely different story if their inclusion is deliberate and done for creative purposes.
Cities come alive with color in the spring. You probably won’t have to go far to find a beautiful flower display. Instead of attempting to isolate it from its surroundings, try to incorporate the natural and the artificial worlds.
Looking down Park Avenue
In New York, colorful tulips adorn the median of Park Avenue for several miles. With the traffic zooming by just a few feet away, it’s amazing that they survive. Yet, not only do they survive in this inhospitable environment, they flourish. And for a couple of weeks during the season, they really put the “park” in Park Avenue. Countless tourists photograph these flowers each year, but very few hang around until twilight. That’s too bad (well, it’s great for me since I practically have the whole place to myself), because the city and traffic lights add a lot of vitality to the scene. Instead of waiting for the traffic to clear out of the shot in the photo above, I waited for it to enter. I wanted to use the light trails from passing vehicles as a dynamic framing element for the tulips, as well as a way to help draw the viewer’s eye into the shot. I chose this particular spot in between two glass towers for more symmetry and more colorful light reflecting off the windows. Lastly, I used a 16mm fisheye lens to emphasize the “tunnel” effect of the scene. Continue reading →
New York is a city known for its attractions: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Bronx Zoo, the Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall. Waterfall? Yes, for a brief period during the summer of 2008, there was a waterfall at the Brooklyn Bridge, thanks to the imagination of artist Olafur Eliasson.
The Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall was part of a public art project consisting of four artificial waterfalls situated along the East River and the New York Harbor. They were created by pumping river water up and over 100-foot-tall scaffoldings. The Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall was placed under the bridge’s tower. Of the four waterfalls, it was the most picturesque.
Like a typical New Yorker, I suppose, I never really paid much attention to public art installations. One in particular, installed a few years earlier in Central Park, left me more puzzled than anything else. It was known as The Gates–a winding, 23-mile-long row of saffron-colored fabric sheets strewn along the park’s pathways. Personally, I didn’t get it and I didn’t see the fascination. However, a waterfall flowing under the Brooklyn Bridge is something else. There aren’t alot of waterfalls to shoot in New York City, so even though it was artificial, I didn’t want to miss it. Continue reading →
I had almost forgotten what it was like to see vibrant colors in my viewfinder. Despite that and a nasty fall on the ice that took me out of commission for several weeks, I still prefer winter over the insufferable dog days of summer. Yet, as this winter–one of the harshest on record–comes to a close, I’m rejoicing along with many others the long-awaited arrival of spring.
One of the first jewels of spring are colorful cherry blossoms. In New York City, the place to go is Cherry Esplanade in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Every April, two rows of Prunus “Kanzan” trees–a gift from the Japanese government after World War I–adorn this area of the garden in a sea of pink. The month-long cherry blossom season known as Hanami ends in a weekend celebration called Sakura Matsuri.Continue reading →