Shooting the Blue Lights, Part 4

Walking down a little further, I passed by all the tourists taking pictures. Saw one guy with his point and shoot on a tripod, trying to a pic of his three friends in front of the city. I quietly wished him luck and kept walking. I saw a couple of other photographers there with their SLRs and tripods (all fancier than mine) set up along the way, and tried to stay out of their way. I picked a spot that had a clear view of the Empire State Building to my left, and the blue lights straight ahead. Just to the right of the beams was a string of lights from a bridge, though I have no idea which one. To the left were some low-lying buildings, nothing remarkable. That’s what I had to work with.

On the bright side, the sky was mostly clear, minus an occasional small cloud drifting by in the far distance. The wind was up, but I thought I had everything I needed to get a decent shot. Again, it just came down to getting the right settings. How quick a shutter speed to minimize the wind? How high an ISO to achieve that? How large an aperture could I use? Adjust one to the left, adjust the other to the right. Click, try again.

ISO 400, 2.5 seconds, 17mm @ f/5.6

ISO 400, 2.5 seconds, 17mm @ f/5.6

I did notice something from the new perspective, though. It’s something that came up in an earlier conversation. It looked like only one beam was on. I suspected that was because we were looking across the beams, and one was hiding behind the other effectively. Looking up at the clouds where the light ended, I could see I was right. Two clear bright spots of light indicated that two beams were piercing the sky. But from there, it only looked like one. Perspective is your enemy. And, again, my choice of location came back to bit me. I’d rather have a shot with both lights visible, but I’d take what I could get.

From this angle, you can make out the two beams of light separated as they hit the clouds.

From this angle, you can make out the two beams of light separated as they hit the clouds.

TOMORROW: The problems with planes and cruise ships.

And now, a word from our sponsor

Had a power outage last night that broke my blogging rhythm.. I’ll be back tomorrow with more pictures from last week’s photographic journey. But first —

I’m raising some funds to buy a new camera. I’m starting to dig into the comic book original art now. Here’s a Joe Madureira page from “Deadpool” #4 (the mini-series before the series). I’m accepting offers on it now, or I might put it up on eBay soon. Not sure yet. But it’s a fun page to look at, if nothing else.

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos is pasted onto the original art board. It’s not signed by anyone, but it does have a clear overlay taped to the board to produce the semi-circular effect you see on the bad guy’s mask. This scan doesn’t include that overlay, though it’s still with the art.

Forgive the awkward stitching of the art. I let Photoshop CS handle it, and it’s ancient.

Click on the art to see it at much larger size:


augie (at) would be a good address to contact me at, if you’re interested. I also have an eight page “Superman” sequence from Mike McKone I’m looking to offload, as well.

Shooting the Blue Lights, Part 3


You have to keep an open mind when taking pictures like this. Sure, I had some ideas for what I wanted to capture. And if I had gone to Jersey City, I might have had a better angle to get those shots. Instead, I was shooting a bright blue light in a dark sky on a fairly clear night in an un-scouted location. Time to think on one’s toes.

That’s how I wound up with today’s shot. This is not something I ever would have pre-visualized, but when I walked a bit and saw everything lining up so perfectly, I jumped at it. I planted my tripod in a patch of grass, moved it to the sidewalk, and played with the angle to get the right spot. I’m still not sure I got it. I wonder if I had stepped back more, would I have had a better line leading into the picture? Or would I have had more dead space at the bottom? I guess we’ll never know.

But this is the spot where I learned my most valuable lesson of the name: Manual focus is your friend. The camera couldn’t grab focus on the blue light here. Heck, it was having a hard time grabbing focus ANYWHERE. My poor little Canon XTi only has one cross sensor. That’s at dead center in the picture, where there’s not much besides black sky and a blue light that’s multiple stops less bright than the lights surrounding it. There’s not enough edge contrast there for the camera to lock focus.

That’s when it hit me to go with manual focus. And that’s when I was happiest that my lens was a Tamron and had all the markings I needed. Specifically, it has the infinite focus spot labeled on the focus ring. Thanks to that, I had everything effectively in focus, from front to back. After that, all I needed to do was play with the aperture to dim the bright lights a little bit, and the ISO to get the shutter speed quick enough to avoid some shake.

One other lesson I was already learning from this picture: Lens compensation would be a very handy thing to have. I don’t have Lightroom 3 yet. Don’t have a computer that will work with it. Butbeing able to straighten out some of the lines in this picture would be a good thing. Look at the way the light pole pulls in on the left there. The blue beam is straight, only because it’s in the center of the frame, where the distortion doesn’t happen.

Shooting the Blue Lights, Part 2

The park was fairly quiet. The soccer field was lit up and some guys were playing a game over there. But the walk way that ran up and down the Hudson in Weehawken was fairly quiet. Just scattered folks. I took up position right at the end of the parking lot and decided to take some night pics of the city. From that vantage point, everything is looming large across the Hudson. The Empire State Building sticks out, and the “New York” sign stands out from a building in front at that angle. Perfect shot.

So I set up my busted tripod and attached my camera with its wide angle lens. Seriously, two of the three legs on my tripod don’t attach to the center pole anymore. THAT’S why you don’t “invest” in a $30 tripod. I can get it to stand up and support the camera weight, but I’d hardly call it sturdy and reliable. It’s “good enough.” Maybe.

Shooting in manual mode, I went with auto-focus on my 17-35mm lens and played with the ISO setting and the shutter speed. It was extremely difficult to get a crisp shot of the lit-up buildings, though, for two reasons. First, the wind was howling off the river, shaking everything in its path, including my camera. Second, the tripod is such a piece of crap that who knows how steady it was. I used my remote shutter button with a two second delay to help minimize shake, but it wasn’t really enough. I took a lot of shots in the hopes of getting lucky with one. I think I did.

Along the way, a bicyclist came by with a backpack and stopped to chat. I noticed the tripod hanging off his backpack and we struck up a conversation about shooting the city in the wind. He had a slight accent. Not sure if it was British or Australian or what, but we talked about the lights and the best places to shoot them. He said the best place was a couple miles north, but that the wind made it impossible.

Another gentleman came by later with his point and shoot. He couldn’t get the flash to not pop off with every shot. I tried to help him, but couldn’t. It was tricky to do that in the dark with someone else’s camera, no manual, and no obvious button next to the old flash with a bar striking through it.

The walkway winds south from there, around the fields and eventually over to a restaurant that juts out into the water. I decided to see if an angle would open up on the lights from there for me. Spoiler: It did. But there were a lot of lessons yet to learn.

Tomorrow: Manual is your friend. Why I love Tamron lenses.

You can see two things in the pictures below. First, a longer exposure time leads to greater chance of shake. Two, a sturdy tripod with some sort of spirit level on it would help keep pictures straight. These two are a little off…

At a 1.3 second exposure, there's shake

At a 1.3 second exposure, there's shake

At 1/3 of a second, less shake.  Also, less light.

At 1/3 of a second, less shake. Also, less light.

Shooting the Blue Lights, Part 1

NYC from Weehawken

Every year on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, New York City has stationed two beams of blue light at the site of the World Trade Center. As far as I understand it, there’s no firm plan for the lights after next year’s tenth anniversary. While I’m sure they’ll continue for a long time to come, I didn’t want to take the chance of missing them. So this year, on Saturday September 11th, I took the bull by the horns and went out to shoot the lights.

As the crow flies, I guess I live about 20 miles west of the city. When I walked out of the house, I saw a bright light in the middle of the clouds across the street. The moon was a beautiful crescent shape, clinging low to the horizon and looking huge — but in the opposite direction. That bright patch of light came from the WTC.

I’ve been to the Weehawken/Port Imperial section of New Jersey often enough, to take the ferry ride over the Hudson to the Jacob Javitz Convention Center. Being somewhat familiar with that area, I planned on shooting the lights from there. Worst case scenario: I pay the parking fee to park at the ferry terminal lot to take pictures from the sidewalk that lines the Hudson.

Luck was on my side in one way, though: There’s a park next door to the ferry area that had free parking. It was a small parking lot, but at 8:30 on a Saturday night, it’s not a problem. After a smooth ride in (slowed down only by a bit of the Lincoln Tunnel traffic), I found a parking spot and unpacked my tripod and was ready to go.

Silly me, though, missed one important geographic problem. Port Imperial is across the way from the Empire State Building, about 30 blocks north of the WTC site. The light wasn’t shining in line with most of Manhattan. Instead, it was way far over to the right, due south more than east.

I wasn’t even sure when I got to Weehawken that I’d have a decent shot of it.

Tomorrow: Taking some backup shots first.

Zombie Wiggles

As I said in an earlier post, timing is crucial. And knowing what the guys on the stage are going to do in the course of a song is important, too. Put that together during the final number, and you get to time your picture to the height of their jump in the “Hot Potato” song. Repeatedly.

Slap the pics together, and it looks like Zombie Wiggles to me:


Camera Fund Raising

So, in an effort to save up enough money to buy a new camera in the next month, I’m selling off some comics, mostly higher-end hardcover titles. They’re all up on Amazon right now, and you can get there with my Amazon Marketplace link. There’s a mix of stuff in there, but I figured one of you might be interested. New stuff will likely be added this weekend.

End of commercial announcements for now. (Wait till the eBay auctions begin, then I’ll really turn things up!)

Why Disney Has It Backwards

This is wrong. The Blu-ray disc is not the subordinate bonus disc. That’s a ridiculous statement on Disney’s part. There are two SKUs for the “Snow White” home video release.

The first is a cheaper lesser DVD-only release. It has the movie, some bare bonus bits, and that’s it.

The Blu-ray SKU contains two Blu-Ray discs (the feature, and a disc of bonus materials) plus the original DVD disc as a bonus, mostly to be used in the car player for the kids in the back seat. That DVD disc isn’t what anyone is purchasing that box for. It’s a secondary feature to be added to the Blu-ray release.

Even worse, Disney advertises this as a “Disney DVD” release with the Blu-ray insignia hidden in the bottom right corner of the box. Disney is living in the past, and needs to deal with the fact that it’s publishing two formats, and should have a name that encompasses both. (Take, for example, the way Apple has “iOS” to cover all its mobile touch-screen devices, instead of an “iPhone OS.”)

Yes, there are still more DVD players out there than Blu-ray players. Most likely, that will always be true. That’s not the issue here. The issue is — well, purely semantic. But it’s a horrible way to market a Blu-ray disc. Those who want the Blu-ray are used to a certain packaging that Disney isn’t using. It’s not the slightly smaller box. It’s not the box with the blue bars at the top and bottom. It’s just — wrong.

Posted in DVD