Here are a few more photos from my night in Seattle. For some reason I found myself wandering around the waterfront. This area is tourist infested and over-shot. I usually try to find a more unique location, but it was the end of the day and I was tired. I kind of just drifted downhill from our hotel. Also, I was excited to have a little time alone with my new Canon 16-35 f4 L IS and my new Canon 85mm f1.8. What would image stabilization and a wide, light-snatching aperture do for my nighttime street photography?
Old habits die-hard. What did I do with that fancy “four stop” image stabilization? I turned it off and mounted my camera on my trusty Benro carbon fiber tripod ( whose carbon fiber looking tape is pealing back revealing that this Chinese knockoff is actually made of aluminum and not carbon fiber). I then took some long exposure photos of Seattle’s giant ferris wheel.
Ever since London got its Eye, cities around the U.S. have raced to install their own mega-ferris-wheels. There’s one really cool aspect of these modern ferris wheels that isn’t receiving much publicity: they have computer controlled lighting that’s programmed to make patterns that can only be seen in long exposure photography. To the naked eye, this slow turning wheel looks like random blinking lights, but when smeared across a six second open shutter, the wheel paints a football against a field of Seattle Seahawks colors. The Hawks were engaged in a playoff battle with the Carolina Panthers while I was taking these pics. Below, you can see a giant Seattle Seahawks “S”. Without a camera these patterns are invisible. It’s like the architects hid a 187 foot tall Easter Egg for us night photographers smack in the middle of downtown Seattle. And, there are ferris wheels like this popping up all around the world. I’m surprised that every photography forum and feed isn’t already choked with long-exposure ferris wheel pics.
This is why I didn’t want to come to the waterfront. I’ve done this type of photo before. Want to copy my style? Put a prominent, bright object of interest in your night photo. If you can, try to get those lights to reflect in some water. Then, add some people in the foreground who are moving just enough to blur but not so much that they turn into ghosts. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Any group that’s gathered in conversation will do the trick.
I tire of my work. I think it’s good to throw it all away and try something new. This is where I folded up the tripod and went to work on some nighttime, handheld street photography — a new frontier for me.
Here’s the first innocent victim of my new, stealth-assassin Canon 85mm f/1.8. I feel myself becoming fast friends with quick little lens. Why didn’t I get one of these lenses years ago? They aren’t all that expensive and 85mm might be the sweet spot for my style of street photography. 85mm gives me a little distance without adding too much voyeuristic telephoto look. For most of my photography I prefer zoom lenses and the perfect crop, but street photography is a different animal. I find that zooms are too slow. And when I say “slow”, I’m not referring to aperture or focus speed, I’m talking about my brain’s ability to asses the framing. Things happen fast on the street and when I’m doing street photography I have to know the focal length before I put the camera to my eye. When I use a zoom lens for my street photography, I find that the lens is always zoomed to the wrong focal length,and by the time adjust the zoom my shot is gone. Yes, prime lenses limit what you can shoot but limitation keeps you from be overwhelmed by possibilities and frees you to find something that works.
Here’s where my night got interesting. I decided it was time to put all this modern camera technology to work. I changed back to my 16-35, turned on the image stabilization, and cranked my Mark3’s ISO into the thousands. What’s the point of paying for all this tech if you’re going to shoot photos like it’s forever 2008? And now, just one paragraph after I explained why I like using primes for street photography, I’m going to state that this 16-35 f/4 L is my new favorite street photography toy. I’m not backpedaling on my prime lens statement. Instead, I’ll argue that this lens is so wide that the thought process and framing decisions happen as quick as when I shoot with a prime. Heck, this shot was taken without even looking through the viewfinder. My brain just thinks in wide-angle. Is wide-angle gimmicky? Maybe. Let’s not judge until we look at this blog’s feed six months down the line.
On the way back to the hotel I stop for one more tripod mounted shot. I love a big slick city and some lights in the dark.
*David is a California Photographer
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