Best of 2019, Part 1

I took a fair number of pictures this past year, as I do every year. It’s important to look back though, and understand what I did well and what I did poorly.

As part of that, I spent some time gathering my favorites from the year, and analyzing them closely. I wanted to understand, at least from a personal standpoint, what makes for the best pictures. It was a good opportunity to analyze them closely and understand: what should I have done better?

What follows are my 10 favorites from the year, alongside a bit of story, as well as what I liked about them. Numbers 10-6 are below, with Part 2 coming next week.

#10: Statue of Liberty, at Dusk

The first item on the list was coincidentally one of the first pictures I took last year. My family and I took a chance and decided to go to the top of the WTC in the middle of winter. It’s probably not generally a good idea to go up in bad weather, but we got lucky:

  1. Crowds were light as a result of the snow in the forecast
  2. The snowfall was light enough (and the clouds were at a high enough altitude) that the cover only enhanced the scene.
  3. In winter, light goes from bright to dim very quickly – and this golden hour lines up with heavy commutes.

Even then, It wasn’t easy to grab pictures – anyone who’s tried to take picture through a window knows that you have to darken the room. Given that I couldn’t do that, I tucked the camera into corners, and tried to isolate reflections around it using my coat.

I got a few pictures of an active rush hour, but this one in particular ended up being my favorite of the set: between the blue of the river,  a clear Statue of Liberty stood tall, while the ferry activity brought the surrounds to life. Between the colors and the clarity, I really liked this picture.

If I had the chance to do it again, I would have tried to bring an actual dark cloth or something with me – that way I could have prevented any reflections from showing (there is a slight reflection showing towards the center), and I would have attempted this with a longer range lens – something with better ability to isolate the Statue of Liberty.

#9: Manhattan, from Union Beach

I also took this pretty early on in the year. On one of the first trips out after buying my 300mm prime, I decided to head to Union Beach. You can get a bit of a view of the city from there, so I decided to visit early in the spring, with the lens. I set it up on a tripod from one spot, and ended up gathering a fair few images, just as the sun was setting.

I had initially planned on getting this in HDR, but I decided the natural colors carried well in this image. What I liked the most was the perspective from here. 300mm is a strong telephoto, which led to some interesting distortions: in this picture, the Empire State Building looks like it’s just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center, but only about half as tall.

In reality, they are three miles away from each other, and almost 20 direct miles away from Union Beach. At this distance, the curvature of the earth starts to influence the height of objects, and even thought the Empire State Building is 1,400 feet high (80% of the height of One World Trade), it looks about half. The heat emanating from the ground also heavily distorted the light near the ground – the buildings appear caught in the shimmer, and point lights seem to blur into wider circles. Not ideal if you’re going for an accurate representation of the city, but great for my purposes. I’ve been using this as my wallpaper for some time now

I’m not happy with the foreground though. The natural contrast for the skyline is much lower because of the sheer amount of atmosphere between the camera. Boosting contrast to enhance the skyline impacts the foreground, making the waves sharp and dark. More importantly, the sky was taking on some brilliant colors when I was there. The bright parts of the sly started to extend a little out of reach of the camera though, and I could pull everything into one image. Assuming I go back, I’ll likely try reframing the image to get a bit less of the foreground.

#8: Night Reflections

I was playing around with a roll of Cinestill 800T – a tungsten-light balanced film, when I saw a car pull up in front of a neighbor’s house. Through our pane glass windows, the refractions generated an interesting effect, so I pulled up the film camera, and quickly captured a shot.

The film took on the colors well though – with the car’s lights staying within the dynamic range of the film.

Between the trippy multiple renderings of the same vehicle, and the red glow enhanced by the film, I haven’t been able to get many pictures quite like this. I would have loved to frame this better, centering on the middle vehicle, and also leveraging a tripod to use a slightly longer exposure time.

#7: Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya

I haven’t had the opportunity to visit many museums in India, but when I got some free time this past November, I knew I had to make a stop. The museum’s content is excellent – they have a number of well organized exhibits, with some very old pieces that cover India’s ancient history, as well as some more recent content.

It’s also a stunning building itself – built during the British occupation of India in their typical Victorian style the building resembles Buckingham palace, but retains some small indian stylings here and there. The palm trees are the ultimate reminder – you’re in the tropics.

I took this picture with a wide angle 20mm lens – in lightroom, I was able to correct the lines in post to align vertically, but at the same time, that correction involved pulling back on the amount of sky and showing in the picture. More importantly, I could have spent more time with this shot – I could have taken this again from a little further out, but ended up deciding to go into the museum instead of optimizing further.

#6: People of Mumbai

Mumbai loves the ocean, and sometimes the people of Mumbai love the ocean back. People flock to the shoreline at all hours of the day – downtown Mumbai’s shore is almost entirely open to the public, and people take advantage of it.

I was in a car heading out of town, but the lighting was coming together so well I had to jump at a few shots at a stoplight. I snapped off quite a few shots as the car pulled up to a stop, and this held together the best on review

The colors of this scene are unadjusted – the LED lights add a little bit of warm contrast compared to the blue glow of the dusk in the background, and by taking this at max aperture, I got the background to blur appropriately.

If I hadn’t been in a moving vehicle, it would have been beneficial to allow the scene to shift a bit more. As people moved around, a better framing or improved image might have emerged, but patience is a virtue I didn’t have at the time.

Next week, I’ll be posting the remainder of the list!

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