The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Police Day in the Arab Republic of Egypt.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing a wintry night time walk to Brooklyn, one prepared to surmount the Pulaski Bridge over Newtown Creek. As you’d imagine, one spends quite a bit of his time walking back and forth over this crossing. Not only does the bridge rise to a fairly high altitude which allows for spectacular views of Newtown Creek, East River, and the skyline of the Shining City of Manhattan – the Pulaski Bridge walk is actually pretty good cardio.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mentioned in yesterday’s post was the fact that I was employing my “night kit” lenses. Longtime and frequent commenter Georgtheatheist inquired as to the specifics of my kit, and wondered why I carried both the Sigma 50-100mm f 1.8 and a Canon 50mm f 1.8, given that they replicate each other’s range. Accordingly, I’m “lifting the hood” on today’s post, and talking a little bit about how the engine runs here at your Newtown Pentacle.

Short answer is this – the Sigma lens is BIG, and incredibly heavy. Being a large lens, it gathers a lot of attention to itself, which can be problematic when encountering baser members of the street population – that’s part of it. The other is purely ergonomic – as mentioned above it’s quite heavy, and gets in the way when I’m walking along at my usual brisk pace. George asked why I don’t just use an “extender” on the 50mm prime lens, and part of the answer is that I’d have to sacrifice some of the light gathering wide apertures of the lens if I did. The other is that I’ve timed myself and I can do a lens swap, from in the bag to triggering the shutter, in around 15-20 seconds.

There’s also a difference in the esthetic quality and rendering of the shots, as captured by the individual pieces of glass. The first shot in today’s post was captured using the aforementioned 50-100, while the one above was gathered using a wider angle Sigma lens – the 18-35 f 1.8. The one below is from the Canon 50mm. There are minor differences in exposure times on them, but shots 2 & 3 are within 1/75th of a second of each other, with identical ISO sensitivity and aperture. Just because two lenses have the same specifications doesn’t mean that the shots gathered with them look the same.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The whole point of what I’ve been working on for a while now is to capture a reasonable amount of image fidelity and quality in low light situations without using camera supports like a tripod. These are all hand held shots, gathered in the same manner which I would employ when the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself is bobbing around in the vault of the sky.

That “manner” is basically me walking along and saying “wow, look at that.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Where things get weird with this whole night shooting business is in an area described as “color temperature.” The new LED luminaire heads that NYC DOT has been installing around NYC throw off a bluish light that’s officially “4300 Kelvin” but which the camera will render as orange if you set it to that. In Canon camera world, that 4300K is best reset to about 3100K. If you’re in an area which has a monotypical series of these LED’s, the developing scenario is simple.

It’s when you see the old school sodium lamps on the same street as the LED’s that things go “ass over tits.” Check out the blue LED light meeting the orange sodium lamps in Greenpoint’s DUPBO – Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A digital image is composed of three “plates” which mix and form a color image. RGB as the color space is known, the Red and Green plates are supplying most of the color information to the image above, and the Blue is where the shadows are being formed. Because of the orange sodium light mixing with the “Pulaski Red” paint color of the bridge, when this image came off my camera card it was practically flourescent.

A problem inherent with high ISO images, this one is 6400, is image noise. It’s produced by the sensor itself during the gathering process, and most of it manifests on the red and green plates. Finding the right balance between color temperature at the time of capture versus the time of developing the digital negative – or RAW format – file is important. Beyond the technical stuff, it’s also important to remember what the subject actually looked like while you were shooting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above, depicting a NYC DOT truck parked under the Pulaski, was a difficult one. It’s a yellow truck, bathed in orange sodium light, with blue LED street lights peeking in from behind the fences. The original RAW file was basically a study in orange and black. The color temperature was adjusted down, as was saturation and half a dozen other developing options.

Back tomorrow with something completely different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 25, 2017 at 1:00 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Thanks, Mitch. You only mention the ISO once here: 6400. Is that your “go-to” setting for the night strolls? Seems like your asking for “noise”. Also, if you used a monopod, you could use the fixed 50 with the 2x extender because the pod would permit a slower shutter than when just hand-holding. Plus it might serve as a deterent when coming across those “baser members of the street population.” The 15-20 seconds needed to eject the camera from the bag seems a bit slow. How about using a shoulder harness with the camera on your chest? This combo could easily be hidden under your “filthy black raincoat” and could be put into service more speedily. It also could be attached fast to the monopod with a quick release.

    georgetheatheist . . . lens is more

    January 25, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    • “Ass over tits.”?

      georgetheatheist . . . lens is more

      January 25, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    • ISO is dependent on conditions. The timing is for a lens swap, not a “pull out the camera”

      Mitch Waxman

      January 25, 2017 at 8:58 pm


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