Life, Photography

Three ways to take better photographs when you’re tired and stressed

We knew it would be crowded and loud and bright. We expected to be overwhelmed. Yet when we arrived there, we were disappointed. It was just giant televisions. And it was exhausting.

You’ve seen vintage photos of Times Square, I’m sure: neon and incandescent signs lining Broadway, lighting the street as if it were daytime. Coca-Cola! Gordon’s gin! Camel cigarettes! Admiral televisions! Canadian Club! I don’t know why I expected it to still be that way in this age of giant screens.

Times Square

We reached Times Square after a full day in the city. After a cruise on the Hudson River, we had walked from Chelsea Pier all the way to to the World Trade Center, and from there to the Brooklyn Bridge. We took a crowded, jostling subway back to Midtown. And then as night fell in Times Square, we couldn’t tune out the screens’ always-in-motion subjects. They kept tweaking our peripheral vision, making us turn to look. It kept us disoriented, and sapped what little energy we had left.

Times Square

It shows in my confused photography. The noise, both visual and aural, was too much for me, and I couldn’t clearly think about my shots. So I just vaguely aimed the camera and hoped for the best.

Times Square

And then, there was this guy. The fellow in the bright green jacket, sitting. Looking serene. As if none of this were happening around him.

Times Square

I didn’t actually notice him until I processed these shots at home. (If I had, I might have put him in a more interesting place in the frame.) But then I remembered: I know how to do this. But I couldn’t practice it because I went in too tired after a highly stimulating day walking around Manhattan. I was carried away in the excitement of an otherwise great day and had pushed too far. I couldn’t focus internally, so it was no wonder I couldn’t focus my shots.

So here, then, is how to stay fresh and able to focus when surrounded by chaos — whether with your camera or just in your own head as you do anything.

Learn your limits — and how to work with them. What happens in your body when you are about to cross into overtired and overstressed? For me, one tell is pressure at my temples. Another is an empty, blank feeling. A third is that I talk less and less with people around me, as if I’m conserving energy. When you recognize your warnings, pause to refresh.

Also, learn to recognize situations when you tend to tap out. Early in my career I went to a lot of conferences. At first, the high stimulation wore me out each day by late afternoon, and I had nothing left for the evening, when the important networking happened. So I started not signing up for anything during the last afternoon session. I went back to my quiet hotel room and read and napped. This refilled my tank enough that I could network the evening away.

Check in with yourself from time to time. Under normal circumstances it’s easier to read yourself and know when you’ve had enough. But in an unfamiliar setting or on a very exciting day, it’s easy lose touch with yourself. So pause from time to time to scan your thoughts and your body to learn how you’re feeling.

It had been a very long day with a lot more walking than we are used to — at least five miles! We had stopped for a rest a couple times, once at a little historic church near the WTC (photos in a blog post to come!) and once at a Starbucks. Those would have been great times to take a minute to scan my mind and body and see how I was doing.

Dip into your energy reserve with easy mindfulness techniques. Even when you’re tired and stressed, you can do some quick, simple things to find a little internal calm and a little extra energy that can carry you through.

Many mindfulness techniques take a lot of practice to do well. Fortunately, there are a few you can do anywhere you are with little or no practice. My favorite is to stand still where I am, take a few deep breaths, and raise the corners of my mouth into a thin half-smile. This lifts your mood a little. At the same time, I use a technique called “willing hands” — I let my arms hang straight down at my sides while deliberately turning my unclenched hands so the palms face forward. This helps you accept the reality you’re in and be calm in it, even when it’s overwhelming. This might sound silly to you — it did to me when I first learned it — but when I tried it, I found it worked immediately. I stand there like that for just a couple minutes, which is usually enough to let me focus and think again.

And then I get on with taking more photographs!

Canon PowerShot S95, shot raw, processed in Photoshop.

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Blogosphere

Recommended reading

It’s become a Saturday-morning tradition here at Down the Road: a short list of interesting blog posts I read during the week.

This is funny! Crude, but funny. Television writer Ken Levine (Cheers, M*A*S*H) writes about the time he got a matronly network censor to say a whole bunch of words you can’t say on television. Read My favorite network censor story

If you wonder what’s up with the book I plan to publish, I’m waiting until my wedding is over to work on it more. Wedding planning is taking that time right now! If you have a thing you want to do but haven’t started, Johanna Rothman asks you what you’re waiting for. If you can’t articulate it clearly, she argues, then get on with it. Read What Are You Waiting For?

J. P. Cavanaugh on teaching his grown son to drive a manually shifted car. He wonders: is the skill obsolete? Read Manual Dexterity

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Photography, Stories told

Cruising by the Statue of Liberty

My first visit to New York City was in 1988 with my friend Gary. He grew up across the Hudson River in New Jersey and trips to the city were a regular part of his childhood. He knew his way around Manhattan; he knew how to work the subway. He was a great tour guide.

Except that he had no interest in all of the first-time tourist stuff that he’d already seen a million times. Well, except for the tour of NBC in Rockefeller Center. We’re both broadcasting geeks. We actually tingled with excitement as we passed through those halls where so much radio and television history had taken place! The highlight for us was when the tour group reached a studio with a replica of The Tonight Show set. “Can I get volunteers to play Johnny and Ed?” the page asked. Gary and I shot our hands up — “ooh! ooh! pick me! pick meeeeeee!” — and we were selected. Gary took the desk, I took the couch, and we hammed it up. And because we both had radio chops, we weren’t half bad. We even impressed the page.

Approaching the Statue of Liberty

But I couldn’t talk Gary into a visit to the Statue of Liberty. I suppose that was too touristy for him. We saw it in passing from afar, but that was that. And I really wanted to see it.

I’ve been to NYC a handful of other times, always on business. There was the time I was working my company’s booth at a conference, and a fellow who took a shine to me sent the biggest bouquet of flowers I’ve ever seen to my hotel room, and left his phone number on the card. (I was flattered, but I don’t swing that way, so I didn’t call.) And there was the time when I was still editing tech-guru David Pogue’s books and he invited me to his apartment just off Broadway, where I met his soon-to-be-and-now-ex wife. They took me out for a very nice dinner. Thai, I think.

But I never got to see the Statue of Liberty. Until this trip.

Approaching the Statue of Liberty

Margaret booked us on a slow cruise along the Hudson River, from Chelsea Pier to the bottom tip of Manhattan and back. Lunch was served below, but I spent most of my time on the upper deck, leaning against the railing, taking pictures. I shot a whole series of Liberty as we cruised by her.

Approaching the Statue of Liberty

She seems so small! Yet she’s 151 feet tall, base to tip of torch. I suppose I’d have a different impression if I were standing on the island looking up at her.

Approaching the Statue of Liberty

Even though Liberty is thought of as a New York City icon, she’s actually in New Jersey. Believe it or not, I learned that while idly watching an old game show on television the other day.

Approaching the Statue of Liberty

I had always envisioned visiting the island on which she stands, but I think I liked cruising by her even better. I got such a good, protracted look at her from so many angles. She is riveting; I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Canon PowerShot S95, shot RAW, processed in Photoshop.

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Tall angular building

Tall angular building
Canon PowerShot S95
2016

Photography
Image
Life, Photography

The bridges of Central Park

Margaret took me and her two youngest to New York City this month. She bought a tour package, which took us on a cruise down the Hudson River and to a showing of Les Misérables on Broadway. Such outstanding experiences! But what I think I enjoyed a little more was Central Park, just two blocks away from our hotel.

Ahem. Why has nobody ever told me there are so many wonderful bridges there?!?!!!?!?

Our first visit was on the cold, gray day we arrived. This is Driprock Arch, built 1862 and moved to this location during the 1930s from elsewhere in the park. I wonder how you move a bridge made of bricks and concrete? Brick by brick?

In Central Park

This is Playmates Bridge and was built in 1861. I love how the red-cream stripes continue within the arch!

In Central Park

We returned for a longer stroll a couple days later, by which time the weather had greatly improved. This is the Bow Bridge, a cast-iron pedestrian bridge built 1859-62.

Central Park overlook

This is Bankrock Bridge, built 1860. A wooden bridge with I believe a cast-iron railing, it was restored in 2009. Check out all the people leaning against the railing and facing in. They’re all having their portraits taken — behind them is a stunning view of a lake and some of the city skyline. Margaret and I had someone take our portrait here, as well (with her camera, and I haven’t seen it yet!).

Central Park overlook

Here’s the view from the deck, without us.

Central Park overlook

I believe this is the Winterdale bridge, built 1860-61.

Central Park bridge

And this is the Reservoir Bridge Southwest, built 1864 of cast iron.

Central Park bridge

We didn’t see all of the bridges in the park, and in researching to write this post I think we missed a couple of the most beautiful bridges! That just gives us something to look forward to on a return trip someday.

Canon PowerShot S95, shot RAW, processed in Photoshop.

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Central Park overlook

Central Park overlook
Canon PowerShot S95
2016

Photography
Image