Byron’s Blog: Self-Assigned Shoot—Urban Geometries

self-assignment

Scene from a typical spring night in NYC. When considering geometries, note that the architect’s vision of the building is ignored because I’m instead concerned with the visual activity around it.

In this photo taken during the Sony a9 launch of 30 photographers crowded around the long jump at The Armory, notice what David J. Schloss is doing—he’s turning away from the scrum and will soon find another location. David taught me that exact tactic, as it was taught to him, and I’m sharing it with you. When shooting at an event, notice where the photographers are crowded and go find another spot. Do that to get a unique take, not get distracted by what they’re doing, and find your own shot.

self-assignment

Another tactic I use, when traveling to a city, is to give myself a specific assignment. The last time I was in Austin, it was sticky-sweet BBQ shots, and in London, street scenes. When I’m in New York, I’m after urban geometries. That’s the use of shapes, lines, colors, tones and lighting to create visually interesting and painterly photos.

If something catches my eye, I’ll grab the frame, and sometimes get the shot I’m after. The New York photos often shared are of skyscrapers and Times Square; believe me, there’s much more going on than that, if you’re in tune with it.

There are moments in the structures around you—a silhouette, contour and profile. In this shot of the Ink48 lobby, a Kimpton Hotel, I noticed the desk clerks leaning over their terminals, busy with bookings, and behind them a lighted art piece resembling a colorful bookshelf. I later learned the hotel was once an ink factory, and the decor was themed around paper and typography. After taking the shot, I imagined the former workers of the ink factory and what jobs they had in that same location.

self-assignment

Just a block away from the Kimpton, toward the Intrepid Museum and the Garment District, this scene presented itself. It’s what walking across a street looks like on a typical spring night in NYC. But, perhaps a film montage before a cut to the important plot-setting scene in a historic office building. Remember that buildings can be the central element of an image without divulging their function and so, too, can the shapes created by their walls. When considering geometries, note that the architect’s vision of the building is ignored because I’m concerned with the visual activity around it.

self-assignment

I took the photo with my daily shooter, the Sony RX1R II. It has a fixed 35mm lens that’s wide enough for landscapes and long enough for portraits without too much distortion on either. The style of the lens is environmental, which helps with finding geometries; because it demands to be a little pulled away, you can’t get too close with it.

The files from the 42-megapixel sensor are clean and I often crop in on a particular subject; it’s good for an unexpected close-up, too, when switched to macro mode, like this one I shared on Instagram. The useable ISO up to at least 50,000 and an autofocus 5x as fast as the first a7R means I’m rarely missing the shot, too. Mostly why I travel with the RX1R II is that the lens on this camera is like my eyes; it’s what I see and capture. The large aperture gives me control over depth of field and the results are always very sharp. One bit of tech in the RX1R II I use is the variable low-pass filter. This isn’t a tech blog, so I won’t go too deep into how the sensor works, but in scenes with a screen or shades, I’ll bracket the low-pass filter to see what works best in post-production; either a shot with a high resolution or with color artifact reduction. The camera takes three shots, with the LPF on, off and set to a mid-range level.

A 35mm prime is also what Bill Cunningham, a New York Times photographer I admire, carried. Bill created a visual history of the last 40 or 50 years of New York, including the total scope of fashion. I can’t say I’ll ever contribute to the eventful past of New York, but I do consider Bill’s work when I’m shooting, especially, around Manhattan and when riding a bicycle like he did.

self-assignment

The other tip about New York is to skip the Empire State and shoot the views from the rooftop bar at the Kimpton. I took this with my iPhone, waiting for the film to develop from the Leica CL.

self-assignment

If the film turns out, and fingers crossed it does, that’s an NYC skyline you don’t typically see—and without long waits in line, expense and all the tourists.

I’ll share more about shooting with Leica in a future post. That’s definitely photographing on the fringes and different than what the majority is doing. Of course, I took photos of geometries with it and where no other photographers were.

I was happy with the assignment and expect to continue with the geometries when I’m in Vegas next week.

You can follow DL Byron on Twitter @bikehugger

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