Day 1 with Tiffany (in the cold and the wind is a bit of a stretch for both photographer and model.)

1/125 sec at f/2.8 ISO 100 165mm

1/125 sec at f/2.8 ISO 100 165mm

Happy New Year everybody! I am usually writing a blog post about reminiscing about the year past and which photos were my favorites. But I would like to say I started the first day of 2016 off a little different from what I have in the past. It was cold here in the Northeastern part of the USA and it was windy too. But I had a wonderful time shooting outdoors with a model that I have worked with in the past and it was the perfect day for this project. Tiffany needed fresh shots and I wanted to do something that would tie her into the city in which she lives. Bethlehem Pennsylvania is a beautiful city with some strong culture and history. So local people will recognize the elements in the images as being shot in Bethlehem and others will still see good images none the less.

I really have to hand it to Tiffany (aka LayDeeFly) for braving the cold and even worse the wind and coming out on a day when most people are recuperating from the festivities from the night before. The Steel Stacks as they are known to the locals of Bethlehem are actually a national icon. The Stacks are the remnants of the once world-famous Bethlehem Steel Corporation that turned out tons upon tons of steel that built iconic structures such as the Golden Gate Bridge and so much more. The city is also rich in Moravian history as well. I could go on and on but this post is not a history lesson, but rather a lesson on growing and stretching. Stretching does no one any good unless it hurts a little bit and as the hurt fades away the endorphins kick in and you ride that high till it fades away.

So getting out and shooting on New Year’s day in the cold and the wind is a bit of a stretch for both photographer and model. I think more-so for the model because she was in a body suit. But with use of a blanket and a fury hat and several retreats to the car for a little heater break we did it. Shooting around the Stacks and in some instances just standing in the middle of the street was so easy because of the lack of people, there were very few. We did draw a fair amount of attention when people seen a girl wrapped in a blanket wearing a buffalo hat with horns and knee high socks walking down the street. But that’s the fun of it all; hearing the horns honking from the passing traffic was actually heartwarming.

So as the sun was starting its final decent we made our way to the bridge that overlooks the Steel Stacks and captured some final images, then it was coffee time.

Gonna be  great year!

A Day At the Iconic Steel Stacks (If it said “Bethlehem Steel” it was made by “real” American workers.)

Five Bracket HDR f/16 ISO 50 75mm

Five Bracket HDR f/16 ISO 50 75mm

 

I spent several hours out at the “Steel Stacks” in Bethlehem Pennsylvania yesterday. It was actually quite an interesting day. When I left my home in New Jersey to make the 50 minute drive I had blue sky with lots of big white fluffy clouds. And having used my sun calculation app I knew I could get some really nice late day shots with dramatic skies. I arrived early so I could walk around and check things out. I was disappointed to see that as I arrived the sky tuned to just a clear blue with no clouds at all. Blue is good, but blue with those high white clouds would have been so much better.

In my travels trekking around the plaza I met up with a video crew shooting a cooking show for world-renowned Austrian chef Erwin Cooks. With him was Philadelphia musician Alex Meixner. Erwin is in the Lehigh Valley filming a cooking show and Alex was providing music for the show. Really nice guys as were the crew members I had talked with earlier in the day. We exchanged social media links and websites before we parted.

I also met a wonderful lady from Australia who had lived in Bethlehem when she was six years old. Now at 56 years old she comes back to visit Bethlehem and was really happy to see the Stacks still standing. Her father was an engineer who worked in Bethlehem. She was very awe-struck to see one of her father’s friends in a historical photo posted at the Steel Stacks. We had a great conversation and she too got to meet and talk with the chef and musician.

So as the sun was fading and the even light was quickly approaching I left our friendly get together and set out to capture what I came for. Sadly enough I did not capture what I wanted and that was to get the stacks with a dramatic sky. Sure I could Photoshop it in but I wanted something organic. The good news is… I get to go back another day.

For those who do not know the Steel Stacks of Bethlehem are an iconic reminder of how great the USA once was when it came to manufacturing raw materials and the power of engineering. These stacks and this foundry produced raw iron & steel that literally built the USA and the world. These stacks saved us from the perils of WWI & WWII… These stacks represent what the USA used to be “hard working people that produced something great” not pansy pencil pushers or keystroke smackers that we have become. If it said “Bethlehem Steel” it was made by “real” American workers.

Urbex Shoot Part 2 (when its hot and the model is melting… take a cigar break)

Cigar Break 1/200 sec at f/2.8 ISO 160 145mm natural light.

Cigar Break
1/200 sec at f/2.8 ISO 160 145mm natural light.

 

Part 2: So for this particular shoot it started off as an Urban Exploration shoot of some sort, but ended with more of a “Street Photography” feel. Finding this location was rather easy as Reese (model) and her boyfriend were very familiar with the Moravian ruins in this park because this is a place they have frequented many times. This obviously made finding the location almost too easy. Key thing here is many people sometimes overlook the obvious. Many times we have great locations to shoot all around us and close to us, but we fail to see it or realize it because the “everyday” can seem so common place. I say “kudos” to Reese and her boyfriend for seeing this location for what it was. The crumbling plaster, stone & bricks made a wonderful setting for this type of shoot.

Now another “must” have for and urban shoot is a model that is not afraid to get into it and climb up, over or on stuff such as walls & windows. Reese is just that. Without asking she will find a spot and I just let her do her thing. I don’t want her to get hurt of course, but she is in great shape and takes it all in stride. The goal when setting up your shot is to try and get something different. With that I mean; most any place you go on the planet earth has already been photographed with or without a model. So try to get a different angle, look or feel. Go and do an image search on Google for “Golden Gate Bridge” and see how many images come up that were all shot by different photographers at different times/years and they all look the same. So getting that unique shot is the goal, but not always easy.

Now as I said this photo shoot started off as an Urbex style, but after taking a short lunch break we found ourselves in the streets of historic Bethlehem, PA. See the location of the Moravian ruins was located just a stone’s throw from all the activity of the city. So now we move along to locations that again were very familiar to the model and her boyfriend. Once at a location I look for even light and a nice background. Maybe some texture to the background or color that will play off the models wardrobe. With the shots taken at the ruins the orange in the broken bricks played well with the colors in the model’s skirt. Sometimes things work out this way and other times not, but great when it does. So as we moved around, keeping in mind to stay rather low key because after all we are in public and at any time a policeman could nix everything and chase you away. Key thing is be courteous, polite to the public and non-intrusive. We shot at the Sun Inn, a location that has a lot of history dating back to George Washington and other notable dignitaries. Moving on and suffering from the heat of the day I could see Reese starting to melt and I know when the model melts it’s a “wash” and you call it “a day.” But before that happened I look across the street and seen a cigar shop in shaded/even light. And it just so happens I had my cigar props with me. So now it’s “game on” and we’re going to shoot a model in front of a very well-known cigar shop, with permission of course. So I go in and meet with Nate and tell him what I want to do and I show him my fake hand carved wooden cigars. He is so impressed and we joked and talked a bit. Of course I offered to give full credit to the cigar shop and I will send them some photos.

Out front, shooting from a tripod I captured some really great images of Reese with the cigar in hand. With people walking by looking at a very pretty young lady with a lit cigar, it was interesting to see the looks on their faces. I was extremely courteous and stopped every few seconds to let people pass by; I really don’t think we bothered anyone at all. Total time spent was seven minutes although it seemed a lot longer. Then we moved on and I did have one micro intrusive moment when I see a senior couple getting ready to dive into a gorgeous lunch at a street side café. I asked for permission to shoot the food and not their faces. The lady was happy and agreed, the man looked as if I was going to eat his lunch, and he looked mortified. But I shot two clicks and moved on.

So now the shoot is winding down we’re headed back to the parking area and I see a window. I think by now you what is going to happen… sure Reese is up in the window and we get a shot that got raved reviews from the Facebook crowd. I posted from the camera to Facebook with no edits and people loved it. I loved the fact the model had that much energy at the end of the soot on a very hot day. Reese you killed that soot for sure.

URBEX Photography. (when there is not much happening, put a pretty face in the scene) Part 1

1/250 sec at f/3.2 ISO 50 80mm

1/250 sec at f/3.2 ISO 50 80mm

 

Urbex Photography. What is it? Urban Exploration photography has a few definitions but for the most part it is the exploration of decaying and aging man-made structures. It can also be places were the everyday person may not travel such as under bridges, inside tunnels and the list goes on and on. In all my photography I had never really traveled down the road of this genera in a meaningful way. Sure I have photographed ruins and burned out houses and the like, but I have never put a model in the scene. I have seen it and admired it on 500px.com and again never really gave it a thought. That is until recently when I met a model who unknowingly steered me to this rather unique style. I love street photography and again street has a few interpretations but it is basically capturing life, not necessarily always shot on a street but in the streets is where a lot of life is happening. Urbex is kind of the opposite, there is not much happening. So when you incorporate a model into the scene you have something happening. The biggest thing you have going on is the contrast of the beauty of your model (you do have a pretty model… right) playing off of the decay or whatever the situation is around you. Now contrasting a model’s beauty against something plain, uninteresting or deplorable looking is not a new concept by any means. We have all seen what we may have deemed a “crazy” photo of a model in a Victorian style dress and she is in some sort of horrible background. The background by its self would most likely not catch our eye, however the beauty of the model would catch our eye or if it is a couture fashion shot her dress maybe the focal point. But put that beauty against a decrepit background and we get a contrast going that really sets things apart. Apart to the point that now we may even notice the background more so because of the beauty that is playing against it.

Where I was shooting yesterday in the historic section of Bethlehem Pennsylvania there were these Moravian ruins. If I had walked past and stopped to look at the location where I was shooting, and I was not there with a camera… I would have thought “just another old building in decay” and I might have wondered as to the history of the building, but other than that I most likely would not think any further. Now change things up… I approach the scene with a model (the beauty part) and it changes the whole game. Now I’m looking as to where and how I want to shoot her… with a camera of course. So now instead of just hiking along looking at old ruins, I have a reason and can turn it into a project.

Keep in mind it is not always about shooting a vast scene with a model in the middle. As I was shooting yesterday, we were under a huge and very high arched cement bridge. It was cool and there was a very nice breeze coming through, a nice place to take a break from the heat of the day. I looked around and noticed a cement wall that had several things going on. There was the age of the cement; there were huge water stains that were rusty colored to varying degrees, faded paint from old graffiti and mold. Looking at this I said to Reese (my model) “some photographers would give anything to have this background in their studio” and she agreed. So she went to work right away posing and we captured a nice series with this one of a kind background. Only thing I did wrong was I did not shoot the background by its self to use in Photoshop later. Oh well, now I have a reason to go back there.

Let’s talk about the camera & lenses; Ok so for this kind of photography I like to use available light when possible. I feel it gives a feel to the whole photo. I guess you could say it adds to the patina of the scene. But with that said, there are times when I could see myself setting up a 5 foot softbox for lighting the scene in a particular way. But available light is what I shoot most. I try to keep ISO in the 50 to 100 range when at all possible, although the newer cameras are really improving with a whole lot less grain in the higher ISO ranges. Just a few years back if I had to go to ISO 800 I would cringe. But now… last year I shot a bride in a hotel room at ISO 2000 & 5000 and had beautiful shots to work with and not much processing. The key to high ISO shots is; you must crop in camera, period. If you crop in camera the noise is to a minimum. As for lens choices; if I was just shooting the scene of the decaying building I would most likely shoot wide. But for faces, my 70-200mm is my favorite choice. I can zoom in for nice face shots of the model and if I want wide, I zoom back using my feet. …can you believe that “zoom out using your feet” what a novel idea? And lastly I must say I like to use a tripod whenever possible. The tripod will increase your score on “in focus” shots. Being on a lot of uneven ground and strange surfaces, it only makes sense to steady the camera the best you can.

In part two, I’ll talk more about an actual shoot, finding a location and more.