We are in New York City for five days, hoping to stretch our photography skills by shooting things we don’t normally shoot. Instead of the gorgeous landscapes of the Southwest or the recently visited Iceland (if you haven’t read our posts or seen our photos of Iceland, you are missing out), we wanted to try our hand at cityscapes, outdoor architecture, and street scenes. On our first morning we tried out Brooklyn in a region called “DUMBO“. Unfortunately, the sunrise was non-existent due to light rain and heavy cloud cover. And, each shot of the sky was uninteresting, also due to the heavy cloud cover.
What do you do when the weather is crappy? You stay inside! With this in mind, we decided to try our hand at photographing NYC from the inside. There are so many cool old buildings scattered throughout the city that just need us to photograph them. We made a plan, mapping out a subway route that would keep us out of the rain, either underground or in a building as much as possible.
The Set Up
Shooting inside can pose issues with photography. Inside is usually dark, at least much darker than the outside. That means we either have to shoot a long exposure (sometimes many seconds) or shoot at a very high ISO (causing the resulting photo to be grainy or noisy). To accommodate, we are left with two options: use a flash to give us more light or use a tripod to steady the camera. The flash is not possible for three reasons. First, the places we want to shoot are vast, meaning we would need a flash the size of a small star to generate enough light to make a difference. Small stars are not readily available for purchase or rent (I checked). Second, they are not allowed in most buildings. Third, we didn’t bring a flash. For these reasons, using a flash is out. Normally, we’d plan to use our tripods. Except, this poses another big problem.
In New York City, we were warned of the tripod police. They are in a special division of New York’s finest that search out unknowing photographers who are setting up a tripod in a tourist area. Waiting for just the right moment, as the photographer is about to get “the shot”, they swoop in and haul away the photographer with tripod in tow. Neither of us had shooting from inside a local jail cell on our shot list. So, we opted for a sinister and clever solution. We left the tripods at home and invested in a set of Platypods. What the heck is a Platypod you might ask? It’s not an semiaquatic egg-laying mammal endemic to eastern Australia. It is, however, a flat piece of metal about the size of a large hand, that acts as a small platform to mount a tripod ball head, and then you can mount the camera to the ball head. It provides a steady platform by which to shoot. Best of all, it is small, inconspicuous and has been known to fool the tripod police. Perfect!
First Stop: The Oculus
The windows in The Oculus are all about channeling the light, but in this case, the overcast skies worked in our favor. Inside the building, the soft light emphasized the architectural lines instead of creating harsh shadows. This is our first use of the Platypod.
How did the Platypod perform? Nicely!
Second Stop: Fulton Center
Next door to The Oculus is the new Fulton Center, another hub for stores and trains. Looking up here offers the photographer a crazy abstract of lines and circles. With little color in this photograph, it was perfect for a conversion to black and white.
We hand held shots here as there was plenty of light coming from the glass ceiling. No need for the Platypod.
Third Stop: Grand Central Station
With the rain continuing outside, we continued our inside tour of New York City by visiting Grand Central Station.
The Platypod worked perfectly again, allowing for a very long exposure of 15 seconds. As you can tell by the photo, the camera stayed very still.
Fourth Stop: Reading Room in NYC Library
Next up was the NYC Library, Research Branch.
This time the Platypod was set up on a reading table at the back of the room. No-one gave us a second look as the Platypod was nearly invisible. We were a little worried about the shutter noise from the camera which made me feel like we were crunching on potato chips in a movie theater, all eyes on us.
Final Stop: Hallway in NYC Library
We were feeling pretty good about ourselves, skirting the rain and the famed tripod police. That is, until we decided to set up for the shot below. It was a hallway that had nice looking chandeliers and an interesting ceiling. This is perfect for a long exposure with our new BFF, the Platypod. We set up the shot and sat back for a moment to bask in our glory. All of a sudden, a scary looking creature stood in our way (and ruined one of my shots). “You can’t sit on the radiator, you have to leave!”, it exclaimed. “But, sir or madam, we are sitting on a bench, the radiator is behind us.”
I guess there is no arguing with the radiator police. One last shot for the day and back to our room, happy to have escaped the radiator creature.
Thanks for reading and it’s all about the light.