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For the second week of my Prime Lens Experiment I went to the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, nestled between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. The Gowanus Canal used to be a synonym for pollution and stench. The canal itself still is not a lovely sight, but the cleanup has at least removed any stench and the neighborhood is thriving and changing. I was inspired to shoot there, in part, because the television show The Americans — set in metro Washington D.C. but filmed in NYC — shot numerous scenes there. 

One of the improvements to the neighborhood is a narrow park along the canal running just a few blocks. That’s where I found this grouping of red chairs and a few tables that caught my eye.

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I need to credit my friend Jimmy Denham for this one.He recently posted an image of a forest with a blur effect applied to the top half of the image. I wanted to try it on an urban skyline. So I took this image, changes the crop, and applied the exact same effect. I think it creates a very different feel from Jimmy’s forest shot. There, the application of the blur to organic subjects evokes, for me, a somewhat magical blending of reality and imagination. When applied to the lower Manhattan skyline, shot here from Brooklyn Bridge Park at night, with a set of abandoned pylons in the foreground, it seems more like something created by real world technology, which it is. 

Though I like the effect as applied here, I don’t think this effect will work with many urban subjects. I will experiment with it on a case-by-case basis going forward.

 

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One of the most famous concepts in street photography is “the decisive moment,” a term originated by Henri Cartier-Bresson. It is what separates the small percentage of great street photos from the rest.  The idea is to capture someone in an action, pose or gesture that creates tension, humor, suggests a story, or simply creates beauty.  

When I shoot in the street my first instinct is to look for pairs of people. They are more likely to be engaged with each other, and therefore create that sort of moment. It can happen in larger groups, or with solitary people to be sure, but pairs of people seem to pat off at a higher percentage.  When I saw these 2 young women approach I tracked them as they were rather actively engaged with each other as they walked across the street, and just as I decided to shoot, one of them dropped her purse, and turned back to pick it up.    

 

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I decided to engage in a Prime Lens Experiment for 2019. The First Rule is not to let any of the rules get in the way of taking and posting pictures. The Second Rule is to shoot exclusively with a single focal length for an indefinite period TBD.  To start, I’m thinking I might stick with each focal length for a quarter, but that is not written in stone.  It’s kind of like We35 but with varied focal lengths during the year.

I’m starting with 50mm (full frame or equivalent).  It is a midrange to ever-so-slight telephoto length. In the past I found it a challenging length for things like the street photography shot on display here,* as it lacks the easy width of 35mm or the reach of an 85 or 90mm.   

My very tentative roadmap for the year is to try 90mm in the second quarter, then 28mm, and maybe the old familiar 35 in the 4th quarter. I’ll grant myself flexibility for special events, or photo trips, but otherwise I want to keep to this one fixed lens length at-a-time rule.

The Final Rule: get back to shooting at least once every week, and posting at least as often.   

Regarding this image, it is common for people crossing the street to spread out. Even when the person in front of you is not impeding your progress, it seems that people just naturally want to walk with nobody in front of them. But a spacing this clean, and with the center figure leading all others, is still pretty unusual.

 

*     This is not exclusively a street photography project, and I mention this just as a “for example,” and because that’s what I shot on my first outing in 2019.

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The Expedition Report for this year’s 2018 nXnw trip to Great Smoky Mountain National park in Tennessee is included in the Adobe Spark presentation below. For reference, I also include the links to previous expedition reports and to my friends on the trip below the report.

nXnw 2018 - Smoky Mountain Memories

Previous reports

Palouse 2015
Grand Tetons 2016
White Mountains 2017

2018 Participants

Mike “TheaterWiz” Criswell
John Deas
Jerry “Mayor D” Denham
Jimmy Denham
Robert Lussier
Armando Martinez
Michael McLean
Dave Wilson

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