The Newtown Pentacle

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

May 29th, a humble narrator was out and about on a short walk, and Long Island City was on the menu for the evening. I should mention that I’m way ahead of schedule on these posts for a change, and this one is being written on June 7th. Why so far ahead? Well, in the interim of the month of June, I’ve been to Pittsburgh again, and this time around I rented a car. At the time of this writing, I have no idea what wonders I pointed the camera at or whether or not I got anything worth seeing. Saying that… tick, tick, tock said the clock.

As I’ve mentioned, it’s time for me to leave this place, and thereby I’ve been on a holy tear with the camera trying to record one last summer’s worth of photos. Hence – the 6 image posts are going to be continuing for a while.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary, where a bulkhead collapse is underway at the turning basin, alongside 29th street. This was a handheld shooting night for me, as I wanted to travel light and not be burdened down with a lot of gear. No tripods or zoom lenses.

All I had with me were 35mm f1.8 and an 85mm f2 prime lenses. I did have a bit of camera support, I would mention. My pal Hank the Elevator guy got me a chunk of hard rubber that used to be part of an elevator’s brake pad, and another buddy – Sean the Carpenter – cut it and shaped an ARCA Swiss tripod mount into one side of the thing using a miter saw when his boss wasn’t looking. This gives me a nice flush rubber foot for the camera, and allows for shutter speeds normally precluded during handheld sessions.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Camera gear is famously marked up. I once needed a screw for one of my tripods and the folks at the camera store wanted $17. For a screw.

Same screw ordered off of an industrial equipment supply website cost me twenty five cents for two screws, and I still paid a 500% markup. A big part of “photography” is learning how to improvise and make your own task specific equipment. Those air conditioner foam insulation strip collars I’ve made for my lenses allow me to shoot through windows without reflection, and cost me so little to manufacture that they were almost free, for instance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are high;y engineered pieces of equipment that you’re better off just paying whatever they’re asking – tripod heads and that sort of thing really aren’t possible to manufacture at home. Also, given their critical role in holding the camera – you don’t want to experiment or be too budget conscious with that sort of thing lest you watch your camera tumbling down into Newtown Creek.

That chunk of elevator brake pad rubber attached to my camera when I’m just walking around is something that the camera shop would have likely banged me out of $50 for, however. Once, I dropped it shortly after leaving the house and then backtracked about two miles until I found it laying on the sidewalk about a block from HQ. It’s not something that somebody would assign value to, since it’s a chunk of hard black rubber. I assign a lot of value to it, on the other hand, since it absorbs vibration and offers me a friction inducing “camera foot” that doesn’t scratch the surfaces which I bring it into contact with.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I often refer to the two lenses I was carrying on this walk as my “night kit.” For those fo you who aren’t photography enthusiasts – a “bright lens” has a large aperture engineered into it – f1.8 for example. Zoom lenses become fiendishly expensive when the manufacturer incorporates a wide aperture into them – north of $5,000. The engineering is what you’re paying for on that sort of thing, as the optical formula is extremely complicated.

Thereby, the best I can do on my “day kit” involves what I can afford to own. That’s f4 for the 24-105, and my telephoto 70-300 is fairly untrustworthy in the sharpness department at anything under f8.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What trade off’s you have with the bright lenses, though, is a narrower field of focus. Notice how the Empire State Building is blurred out and the construction equipment in the shot above is sharp? That’s the narrower field depth at work. The smaller the aperture, the more is “sharp” whereas the larger the aperture is, less is “sharp.”

I won’t bore you with pixel density or color science. It’s terribly complicated.

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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 4, 2022 at 11:00 am

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