The Big Smoke
London was called this before they managed to eliminate the famous, coal-fired London smog, so popular with pre-war Directors of Sherlock Holmes and Jack The Ripper films. Fun fact, your humble blogger was born as a consequence of one of these events. My birth was triggered, when my chronically asthmatic mother was hospitalised with respiratory failure, while in the late stages of pregnancy. Luckily we both survived this unfortunate turn of events.
When I lived in New York for a few years, the constant sight of “smoke” pouring from the ground was always curious and visually interesting. This effect comes from 100 miles of pipes which pump heating steam into 1800 buildings throughout lower Manhattan. The steam that we see comes both from leaks and from the effect of ambient water landing on superheated pipes and being evaporated into the air. Summer or Winter, these clouds provided interesting street images, as New Yorkers go about their day, ignoring them.
Although I love trying to capture the strange effects of the night, I have been hindered, as are all photographers, by the relatively weak performance of cameras versus the human eye. However, digital cameras have gradually gained ground on our eyesight, by constant improvements in useable ISO, such that the camera I used for this 2008 image delivers useable images at its maximum, 3200 ISO. My current “go-to” body, the Nikon D850 allows image-taking up to ISO 25,600. Such sensitivities were unthinkable during the era of film, unless the photographer were in the military, a spy or a scientist.
Even now, not all combinations of high ISO and camera sensors are born equal and it is preferable to not tempt the photographic Fates by dialling ISO all the way up to the top.
Choosing Your Settings, Your Equipment And The Moment
The 1/250s shutter speed setting and slightly reduced 2,500 ISO may seem counter intuitive, but they were made possible for several reasons. The first was the overall ISO capability of the camera, but the second was the choice of lens. I most frequently use zoom lenses in the city, principally for the choices that they give in framing distant scenes and objects. They necessarily provide a narrow field of view for nearby subjects, less aperture flexibility and less optical quality than a prime lens. For these reasons, on this occasion I used the 60mm Nikon Macro lens, which is popular for close-up, portrait and copy work. Most importantly, it provides excellent optical quality at its widest aperture of F2.8. After experimentation with the lighting conditions, I was confident that forcing the camera to use a relatively fast speed, along with limiting the D300 to ISO 2,500, would provide good results even though the camera was then limited to an f2.8 aperture.
The final, and most critical factor, was the ambient light provided by the headlights of vehicles stopped in front of the pedestrian crossing. You can see the impact most clearly, image right, in the shadow of the pedestrian that is thrown on the steam.
It only remained to lurk nearby, Cartier-Bresson like, until New York obligingly delivered some interesting denizens into the viewfinder. My needs were met by the arrival of the woman, bundled up for the New York freeze, happily in a very visible jacket, and clutching bags of food or fashion, I know not which.
She seems to have the determined “get out of my way”, focussed attitude of most New Yorkers, perhaps even lonely. The black and white rendering tries to give a Raymond Chandler twist to the scene and harks back to my references to the emotional impact of thriller films of the 1930’s. I hope you liked it.
Camera: Nikon D300
Lens: AF-Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D
Focal Length: 60mm
Drive Mode: Single Shot
Shutter Speed: 1/250s
Auto Focus-Area Mode: Continuous
Exposure Mode: Shutter Speed Priority
Exposure Compensation: 0.0 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 2500
Stabilised on Monopod
Time & Place : 2008, Manhattan, New York.
Copyright Paul Grayson 2021 All Rights Reserved
Keywords: Art, Fine Art, Manhattan, Nikon, Nikon 60mm Mikro-Nikkor, Paul Grayson, Photeinos, φωτεινος
Ah New-York et ses rues...Belle ambiance bien retranscrite et choix judicieux du noir et blanc.
Wonderful and professional capture of "a moment in time". You are such an artist and a good writer! Thank you for sharing your talent.
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