View of the Drew | Andrew Halpern Photography

Camera Technique

Lovely Skies


1/200″ / F8 / iso100/  18mm (29mm equiv)

Manhattan Bridge

Camera lens filters used to be incredibly important before digital photography. Nowadays, this isn’t the case. Software filters and post-processing can often substitute for lens filters and they are much more precise. However, even in the land of digital photography, some lens filters cannot be duplicated in post-processing.

The most important lens filter you can buy is a known as a Circular Polarizer. A circular polarizer will make skies deep blue, clouds pop out, eliminate unwanted reflections, and enhance colors. The filter is adjustable so that you can twist it and dial in the exact effect you want.

A polarizer is most useful when the sun is very strong. If it’s a day for wearing sunglasses or sunscreen, it’s probably a day to use a polarizer. Rainbows can also be enhanced by shooting them with a polarizer.

If you have lenses that use different filter sizes, one way to save money is to buy one circular polarizer made for the largest filter size lens you own. For example, if you have two lenses, one that takes 77mm filters and one that takes 58mm filters, you would buy one polarizer that is 77mm. Then you can use an inexpensive adapter known as a “step up ring” to fit the larger filter onto the smaller lens.

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Grand Central at Night

1/30" F3.5 iso640 18mm

1/30″ / F3.5 /iso640 /18mm (29mm equiv)

Night photography, it’s difficult. There are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, use a tripod when possible. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. You might not have a tripod with you, or sometimes you do, but there is not enough room to set it up. With this shot, I simply did not have enough room to set up a tripod, my back was against the wall of another building.

Without a tripod, you’ll need to use a higher ISO, or a wider aperture or a combination of the two. If your lens or camera has image stabilization, make sure that’s turned on. Keep in mind, with higher iso, you’ll get greater noise and less detail, and with a wider aperture, the depth of field might not be deep enough. Those are trade-offs you might have to make. Post-processing can help lessen the effects of camera noise, but it isn’t a miracle worker.

This is why a tripod allows you more freedom with night photography with better quality. With a tripod, camera shake becomes a non-issue. Therefore, you’re free to pick and choose a low clear grain-free ISO and stop down your aperture to deepen your depth of field. I like using aperture-priority mode in this case. Take note of your shutter-speed and remember its effect on moving objects in your shot.

Happy shooting and take care of yourself when shooting at night.



1/80″ / F13 / ISO3200 / 163mm

So Friday was supposed to be “Manhattanhenge.” Manhattanhenge refers to the phenomenon where the sun sets along Manhattan’s street grid.  Unfortunately, things were a bit cloudy and I could not get the shot I wanted. I thought this shot came out interesting though.

I used my telephoto lens here which gave a nice telephoto compression effect.

The Selfie

1/200" / F8 / iso 100/ 55mm (88mm equiv)

Girl on Brooklyn Bridge

1/200″ / F8 / iso 100/ 55mm (88mm equiv)

I don’t do it. Nor should you. —

Just kidding. There is nothing wrong with “the selfie.” I’m actually not sure why people disparage it so much. This actually isn’t a new thing, people taking photographs of themselves. People have always done this. Always.

1920s dudes taking a selfie. Click the pic to go to Gothamist.

The only reason it’s increased so much is that every new phone camera comes with a front-facing camera.  And phone cameras have gotten quite good.

Back to the shot. This photograph is actually a very tight crop of a much larger shot. What’s interesting is how much resolution I’m able to get from this small crop. The original shots out of my camera weigh in at 18 megapixels, while this crop uses only about 30% of those pixels. But that’s still 5.4 megapixels and that’s nothing to sneeze at.  Despite all the whinging about the uselessness of high pixel counts, they still can make a difference.

If I had to do it again, I would have used a longer lens, and a shallower depth of field. But we don’t always have time to pick the exact settings on grab-shots like this. Since the subject wasn’t very isolated, I chose to add a small amount of whitish , post-crop vignette around the shot to emphasize the girl.

If you are using Lightroom, there are actually two types of vignetting you can play with. The first type is pre-crop vignetting which applies to the entire shot. This is usually used to correct lens issues but it can be used to achieve a post-processing effect. The second type of vignetting is called post-crop, and this type is usually the one we use to achieve special effects. You’ll often see the white version in wedding photography. There are also different settings for the post-crop vignetting, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day.

Who is your daddy, and what does he do?


I caught this one in Brooklyn near the Brooklyn Bridge.  I guess Brooklyn has daddy issues?

There’s not much technique with this shot, one could probably have gotten a decent version with a phone camera. However, one thing I did do with this shot was to use the circular polarizer. Polarizers are great for photos of cars and trucks because they let you cut down on the glare that comes off a shiny paint job. It’s even more important on a sunny day like this one.  The result is the colors are bold and bright without any glare.

New York City Marathon


The NYC marathon runs through my neighborhood at around the 17th mile mark every year.  On Nov 6, 2011 (tommorow), thousands of folks will run by again.  Here’s a short flip-book animation I made back in 2009.  That’s 480 shots in 48 seconds @ 10 frames a second.

So how did I do this? It actually isn’t so hard. You’ll need QuickTime Pro which is available for Mac or PC.

First, I set my camera up to shoot in burst mode.  For this, I simply used “Sports mode” and let my camera do the work. You’ll need to take a lot of pictures if you want to use a high frame rate in the movie file.  The more burst sequences you shoot, the cooler the animation will look. Remember to take all your photos in landscape orientation, or you’ll need to eliminate the portrait shots later.

Next you’ll need to export all those photos to a folder at a downgraded resolution.  Remember, even full 1080p HD video is only about 2 megapixels.  So which resolution to choose? For 1080p quality, export with the short-edge (the height in this case) at 1080 pixels, for 720p quality, export with the short-edge at 720 pixels, and so on.  You should realize that outfits like Youtube will likely degrade the quality of your movie despite any high resolution.

To piece the images together as a video file, open up QuickTime Pro and go to File>Open Image Sequence. Navigate to the first image in your folder of shots.  Click Open, and next you’ll be given a choice of frame-rates. Your choice will depend on how long you want your movie to actually be and how many photos you’ve actually taken.

Use File>Save As to export the image sequence as a video file. After you do this, you can easily use other programs (Windows MovieMaker, Apple’s iMovie, etc) to add a soundtrack.

But an even easier and lazier way to do this is to simply upload the silent version to Youtube. You can then use their AudioSwap feature to easily find an audio track that can match the length of the movie.  You also won’t encounter any copyright issues since the stuff on there is royalty-free.

Blast from the past

1/13s . f/4.5 . ISO 3200 . 30 mm

To advertise their TV show Boardwalk Empire (which takes place in Prohibition-era Atlantic City), HBO ran these subway trains from the 1920s every weekend in September on the 2/3 line.  Pretty nifty promotional stunt if you ask me.

This car says it was in service from 1924 to 1969. That’s a pretty long life for a subway car, which is why my father said…hey I remember that train. This particular one is known as a Lo-V

Shooting was a bit difficult in such a low light environment. Lucky for me I was able to jack-up the ISO settings in order to get a quick enough shutter speed for these shots. Pay attention to the noise reduction settings in Lightroom so you can minimize the effect of too much noise in your shots.  It’s ok to live a bit of it in, it looks better than too smeary.

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Coney Island at Night

Coney Island at Night (Brooklyn, NY)

1/40s . f/2.8 . ISO 800 . 35mm(equiv)

This is a shot I took of Coney Island at night. My DSLR was being fixed at the time, so I shot it with a Canon G7, which is an advanced compact camera. An interesting thing to note on this shot, is that the aperture is fairly wide at f/2.8.  But despite that fact, notice how deep a depth of field we get on the shot. The reason for this is due to the smaller sensor on the compact camera.

On a DSLR in order to get the equivalent depth of field, you would need a setting of  about f/13 on a full-frame camera and about f/8 on a cropped-sensor camera. This fact illustrates why it is near impossible to do blurred backgrounds with a compact sensor camera.

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Cycling in Midtown Manhattan

Bicyclist, traffic

1/2000s . f/5.6 . ISO 640 . 250 mm

… is kind of a pain in the ass.

But wait a second, is that poor guy really wedged between those cars?

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Voyage to Roosevelt Island

Here is a new shot of the Roosevelt Island Tram I took the other day. The Tram is actually one of the few aerial *commuter* trams in the world. It runs from 59th and 2nd in Manhattan to Main Street on Roosevelt Island.  The cost is the same as a ride on the subway.

You might be wondering about the sky in this shot and how I got the clouds to pop out like that.  Well, I used a lens filter known as a Circular Polarizer.

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