NYC Subway

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You can choose from a lot of different lenses and cameras combinations. One mean, lean, street-shootin machine combo was the Voigtlander R4M and Zeiss 21mm 2.8 Biogon. I sold them off earlier this year (the lens and body separately of course to increase the value). This was from a roll of film I found lying around that hadn’t been developed quite yet. Seeing these fruits makes me miss her.

She was sold to purchase the Mamiya RZ67 Pro ii; a massive studio-oriented camera that is antithetical to the rapid fire shooting that a small rangefinder will allow. This is also a bid to further remove myself from 35mm film and dive deeper into 120mm. My Hasselblad SWC should be able to provide some of the same types of images (almost same field of view but square format, shallower DOF and different ergonomics). This is making me want to go on a walk!

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I am still in the 35mm film world though. Below is my trusty Nikon F3HP with 35mm lens. A gift from my brother, she’ll never be sold.

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One of the most characteristic things about photography in New York City is that you find these sources of light coming from interesting places.  Glass covered skyscrapers reflect the suns rays down into the subway (try the Bryant park station at 42nd and 6th Ave at 8:00AM).  Scaffolding for construction creates large X’s on the sidewalk from their shadows.  Building outlines create sharply defined steppe shadows that people walk along.  Highway overpasses allow cracks of light to peak through like lazer beams of direction (example from the BQE below).

To capture these pockets of light, you need to first train your eye to find them.  There can be many things to make a photo interesting but one of the main ones is the quality, quantity, direction and contrast of light.  Finding interesting light is a lot of fun… and when you get it you feel like you’ve won the lottery.

So where to find them?  Mid-town is awash with reflections from the skyscrapers!  Lots of uniform blobs of light reflect down onto the street from the windows.  Take this example from 41st street (between 5th and Madison).

The other nice thing to recognize in the above photo is the reflection of other buildings in the glass.  Reflections of other items in your photos can be used in fun ways to juxtapose different elements that are not supposed to normally be there.  The next photo I took in Williamsburg Brooklyn (at the intersection of Ainslie and Leonard).  There are lots of religious paraphernalia on the street and this particular one has a nice reflection of the apartments across the street (with a nice distortion to boot).

Sometimes of course, a reflection can hurt a photo more than it helps it.  The below photo may be one of those instances.  This is a bit too busy for my taste.  Of course with a carefully used polarizer, you can eliminate reflections altogether.  That is for another post.  But if you don’t have a polarizer then moving your subject into an interesting position to take advantage of the reflection can make a stronger photo.  If I would have positioned the tree trunk right behind the woman’s head with the glasses… it would have looked like she had a million tree limbs growing out of her head.

By the way, these two ladies sit at this bench on North 7th and Bedford Ave almost every Sunday.  Good old geriatric predictability :-).

The next shots are an extreme example of “pooling” light in a really deliberate way.  In order so that people do not throw plastic bottles in a newspaper recycling bin, steel tops with a newspaper-formed cutouts cover the bins at Bryant Park.  I noticed the garbage men opening up these covers (they are hinged).  This gave me a cookie cutter perspective of people on the street.  A funky folded newspaper view of the passer-byes.  Just another interesting way of cropping your image to get some captures.

Mentioned earlier, scaffolding can be a great way to chop the light into different patterns.  Most often, these can add directionality to photos as they add lines to your image.  This next shot also illustrates nicely how to take the best advantage of these lines.  Notice how there is a shadow line going down the man’s face (even crossing into his eye).  Since the shadow lines are a main focal point and the man’s face another main focal point… putting them together is only natural!

Of course, New York City is not the only place where pools of light exist.  They exist everywhere.  I have only outlined some of the different ones that are easy to spot.  One of my favorite pockets of light is in Italy at the Colosseum.  While this next shot isn’t perfect, I still really enjoy the Gypsy’s wild dress… and the fact that she is standing in light that is defined by one of the arches of the Colosseum doesn’t hurt either.

Happy shooting.


I really wish shooting color on the subway was easier.  I really do.  I know in your mind, you are asking yourself, “what’s the problem Jeremy?”  Well, the fluorescent lighting of the subway makes the photos come out green.  And now you’re thinking, “Illustrate that for me homeboy!”  Well, I only aim to please.

Here is an un-color corrected photo in the Lorimer station:


Here is a version that I have color corrected (no other manipulations besides more magenta on the white balance):


Notice the difference?  The un-corrected photo looks like it was tinted by nuclear farts.  It’s an awful, vomitous color.  But even the corrected photo still doesn’t look perfect and this just goes to show you that color correction cannot fix everything.  Why is this so frustrating?  Well the red in that photograph just provides a great example of some of the vibrant, saturated and synthetic colors present on the train.  People dress down in lilac purples, sun spotted old yellers and ferrari red bedazzled jumpers.  But capturing it in color… no matter how hard I try… just doesn’t work because of this light.

Here’s a photo of a guy I caught pissing in Union Square:

I just am never happy with the results of color in the subway.  This forces me to really focus on my black and white down in that rabbit hole of a transportation system.  Not that this is terrible… au contraire… I LOVE BnW!!  And in some ways I am happy that the crappy lighting forces me to shoot in monochrome.  Here are some fun ones I have taken recently:

Digital photos are always captured in color but can also be changed to BnW in post.  So remember, if you shoot film in NYC and want to shoot in the subway, shoot black and white!

Snappy Trails!