The Newtown Pentacle

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Artsy fartsy at Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the derisive things people say about me is that it often seems like I’m exploring some random tangent with no apparent goal. This cannot be further from the truth, as there are overarching strategic goals which can sometimes take years and years to play out and are expressed by following various tactics along the way. Part of the reason that you have seen so much in the way of long exposure night photography in recent months, here at your Newtown Pentacle, has been in pursuit of familiarizing myself with the techniques and foibles associated with this particular discipline.

I’ve also been slowly accumulating “kit,” on a tight budget.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent addition to my camera bag is a ten stop ND filter. For those not familiar with such photographic nitty gritty, an ND filter is essentially a very dark sunglass for your lens, which allows you to slow – or stop – down the daylight exposure process to something approximating night time exposures. Thirty second or longer exposures are made possible with the little chunk of semi opaque black glass.

Of course, the day after I picked up the filter, that heat wave we all so enjoyed kicked into gear. This sort of thing happens to me all the time… get a new lens?… weeklong blizzard… tripod?… two weeks of rain.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When I finally was able to make the time and endure the weather, I took the ND filter and the rest of my camera bag over to my happy hunting grounds at the Dutch Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek and got busy. I kept on having to shoo away angry geese, as a note, but I’m pretty happy with my initial results and look forward to drilling down into and exploring what I can do with this new tool.

Geese are dicks. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Research is essential when purchasing anything camera related, otherwise you’re going to end up spending a fortune. All camera tripod mounts use a twenty turn quarter inch screw, for instance. If you buy that screw at a camera shop, it’s going to cost you $5-7 for just one screw, whereas the same amount of cash will buy you a bag of fifty of them at Home Depot. At home, I’m constantly improvising this or that for table shots and other needs rather than buying something expensive from BH Photo that I’ll use just once.

I bought a screw on type filter, rather than the filter holder arrangement of the type offered by the Lee company. I avoided the variable type, instead getting a “regular” ND filter manufactured under the ICE brand name for about thirty bucks. The thing you have to watch out for with these devices is color cast. They’ve all got a color cast, I’m told, whether they cost $30 or $300, so I opted for the most affordable option after doing my research. As a note, the BH Photo and Adorama organizations have uploaded hours and hours of video to YouTube that discuss the usage and nature of the gear they sell. Some of these are instructional videos, for those possessed of all levels of photographic acumen. Worth a look.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The problem with something this dark on the front of your lens is in composition and focusing, but that’s where some of the online research came in handy. The traditional manner (and best practice, admittedly) to handle the ND process is by doing a filterless “master shot” and then calculating the extra exposure time needed when the filter is applied. Instead, on the advice of a vlogging landscape photographer, I activated the live view screen on the camera (which I almost never do) and this gave me a somewhat inaccurate preview of the shot which also allowed me to set the point of focus. The trick is in setting the screen to show you the histogram of the shot while you’re composing and fiddling with settings. Since these shots were gathered at narrow apertures (f8-f18) the only thing I really had to worry about was “hyperfocal” distance, focus wise.

Hyperfocal distance is the theoretical field of acceptable sharpness which starts at five to seven feet from the lens and then extends out to infinity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has a fairly full schedule for this coming week, but I’m anxious to find myself at an opportune point of view with flowing water to take advantage of the time stretching aspects of this ND filter. First chance I get, I’m heading to the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Park, with my fingers crossed that the fountains will be turned on.

I’m glad that there are no fountains on the Newtown Creek, actually.


Upcoming Tours and Events

Saturday, July 14th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details
here.

Sunday, July 15th – Penny2Plank – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

There are eleven bridges crossing the modern day Newtown Creek and its tributaries, nine of which are moveable bridges of one kind or another. Other bridges, forgotten and demolished, used to cross the Creek. The approaches to these bridges are still present on the street grids of Brooklyn and Queens as “street ends.” Newtown Creek Alliance and a small army of volunteers have been working to transform these “street ends” from weed choked dumping grounds into inviting public spaces. This walk with NCA historian Mitch Waxman will take you there and back again, discussing the history and current status of these street ends and the territory in between.

The tour will start in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, and end in Queens’ Maspeth nearby the Grand Street Bridge.

Tickets and more details
here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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