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Photographic Composition in the St Paul Churchyard in Lower Manhattan

I decided to take the subway down to lower Manhattan in hopes to visit the 9/11 memorial and pay my respects with it being my first trip to NYC since 1997. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that you have to reserve your tickets to view the memorial with a LOT of advance notice online. So, I had to forego visiting it this time around, but I promise you that I’ll head back next year and will plan better. In the meantime, there was plenty to visit and photograph while down in Lower Manhattan.

Almost right across the street from the 9/11 Memorial Visitor’s Center, there stands the oldest surviving church building in all of Manhattan. St. Paul is an Episcopalian church that has a small cemetery that can be visited during the daytime and I spent over an hour wandering around and photographing. While the church itself was closed, I had plenty to photograph in the cemetery yard.

Old cemeteries are some of the most interesting places to practice photography. Whether you are into color or black & white, you can find a myriad of interesting tombstones or mausoleums with all sorts of interesting textures that cast shadows. If you happen to be at a real old cemetery, then you have the added factor of aged pieces that may carry a history all to themselves. I find cemeteries like St. Paul’s as some of the most interesting, as some of its inhabitants have been there since the mid 1700’s.

I was still working with the Tokina 16-28mm wide-angle lens that I mentioned in one of my earlier posts. Even though it was a wide-angle, I was trying to show that even a wide-angle can be used for things other than wide-angle shots. Luckily, this lens allowed for a minimum focus distance of 11 inches, which means that it could focus on anything 11 inches away from the lens or further. Granted, this isn’t a macro lens, so I can’t get much closer than a foot away, it still did a great job of capturing a number of rather up close shots that I was going after.

I enjoyed playing with the aperture to go after increased depth of field when photographing tombstones that were in a row. One technique that I will do, as in one of the first photos where you see three tombstones in a row, is that I will set the lens to the largest aperture setting, which in this case was f/2.8, and will focus on the tombstone closest to me. Next I will take a somewhat identical image while focused on the second tombstone. Yet again, I’ll take another with the focal point being the next tombstone in line. I usually don’t go too overboard, but I will come back home with a few images that are similar since I can’t really view the image as I would like to with only using my little 2.5 inch LCD screen on the back of the camera. I’ll get home and absolutely love one of them, while the others are just bound for the recycle bin. But, I came home with all the shots for me to choose once I was able to look at them on my computer screen as a large image. I started doing this when I thought I was being all badass and had the perfect viewpoint only to find that I had messed up the image and didn’t have anything else to work with. The lesson learned that time, is not to come home with just one image of something that captures my interest. Hell, sometimes I’ll go buck wild and set the shutter speed to high-speed priority and will shoot off a series of up to 6 images in under a second just to have several of the same to view later on.

Another thing I do as I walk around is to look at how the light and shadows are behaving. There is one image below that I loved because the tombstones were getting the hard, warm sunlight hitting it directly, while everything else was caught in the shadows or shade. This brought out the detail in the tombstones and made them pop. In one of the pictures, you can even see me as the photographer. While I don’t usually like this kind of photo, I found this one especially hilarious since at quick vision it appears that I’m trying to pull my hair out. I promise you that I still have all my hair and it was the shadows of my holding up the camera to my face.

I did shoot one photo from the outside of the cemetery after it had closed where you can see that I’ve shot through two of the steel bars in the fence. One thing about composition of photographs is to keep in mind which way you are holding the camera (whether in landscape or portrait mode) and the direction of the shapes being captured in the image. In this image, the composition works cause I am holding the camera in the portrait mode (vertical) and the tombstones and fence bars that I’m shooting through are all in the vertical mode as well. Had I shot this image while holding the camera in the landscape mode (horizontal), the image may have still worked, but the flow would not have been as good since your eye is drawn more to objects that would run the length of the image and not straight up and down. But, the good thing is that there is no right or wrong way of doing things. So, I would recommend to experiment with different positions and find what makes you happy and gives you the most pleasing image.

Go out and photograph something!!!

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