The Big Smoke

March 25, 2021  •  2 Comments

Blog 21 03 26 Big SmokeBlog 21 03 26 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.

Night Photography

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.

New Yorkers

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.

 

Settings 

 

Camera: Nikon D300

Lens: AF-Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D

Focal Length: 60mm

Drive Mode: Single Shot

Aperture: f/2.8

Shutter Speed: 1/250s

Auto Focus-Area Mode: Continuous

Exposure Mode: Shutter Speed Priority

Exposure Compensation: 0.0 EV

Metering: Spot

ISO Sensitivity: 2500

Format: Raw

Stabilised on Monopod

Time & Place : 2008, Manhattan, New York.

 

Copyright Paul Grayson 2021 All Rights Reserved

 


Comments

Eric Bontemps(non-registered)
Ah New-York et ses rues...Belle ambiance bien retranscrite et choix judicieux du noir et blanc.
Bettina(non-registered)
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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