December 12, 2012

Photo of the Week: Dec. 11, 2012

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I think I am not alone in admitting I can sit and stare for hours at a warm fire, simultaneously delighted and calmed by the artful flickering of flames. The firelight of the menorah adds a deeper dimension to that reverie, as the Chanukah candles serve to remind us – since we so often need to be reminded – of the miracles bestowed by God upon the Jewish people. Our sages argued over whether to increase or decrease the number of candles as the commemoration progressed. The debate was won by those who favored adding light. And that may be the greatest miracle of all: to know that no matter how dark the world may appear, it can always grow brighter.
I seem also never to tire of photographing the candles of the menorah. After exhausting my ideas for shooting the nine lights of the final night, I moved on to more abstract views, such as the one I chose for this week’s photo. Taken on the fourth night of the festival, the candles are nearly fully consumed, yet the mix of colors, sizes, and the position and direction of the flames all merge into a pleasing interpretation of an enjoyable subject. There is a “rule” in portraiture that suggests placing heads at different heights to avoid monotony and build a relationship among the group. That concept is illustrated here by the four flames. Additionally, a number of subtle details, such as the highlights on the top of the blue and red candles fall on the inside, serving to further weave the composition into a visual whole.
Finally, because the menorah is set in front of a window to fulfill the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, the photo has the mysterious element of the flame reflections in the background, including that of the shammash. I don’t know how I got the air currents to blow in two directions at the same time, but hey, this is the season of miracles, so I’m not going to question it. Happy Chanukah.
TECHNICAL DATA: Camera: Nikon D700, handheld, manual exposure, center-weighted metering mode, f5 at 1/250th sec., ISO 800. Raw file converted to Jpeg. Lens: Nikon 28-105 macro zoom at 80 mm. Date: Dec. 7, 2010, 5:43 p.m. Location: Efrat, Gush Etzion.

December 05, 2012

Photo of the Week: Dec. 5, 2012

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: I had wanted to send out a fall photo two weeks ago, during Israel’s thankfully brief faceoff with Hamas. The anxiety of conflict has a way of paralyzing the creative process, and I found it too difficult to think and write about the beauty of Israel while we were fighting a war. Despite the spectacle of fall unfolding before our eyes, nothing else seemed relevant except the wellbeing of country and countryman.
Being outdoors has a way of clearing the mind, even when it must grapple with complex technical problems like those posed by this week’s image. The very conditions which make it extraordinary – the backlit leaves and heavy cloud cover – require contradictory settings on the camera (both more and less exposure at the same time). There has long been a rule in digital photography to expose first for the highlights, because if you accidentally overexpose the white areas of the image, there will be no detail to recover later via computer editing. In this photo, reducing the exposure to accommodate the bright sky made the blazing vine, which has almost no light falling on it from the direction of the camera, far too dark to appreciate. Nevertheless, the image retained enough detail for me to “bring it up” by dodging it in Photoshop.
Finally, I set out this afternoon under this heavy sky which built to a powerful rain storm the following day. Although the light was not promising as I embarked on my hike, I did the work of finding a good subject and then waiting. I was rewarded with a three-minute surge of sunlight, nearly falling over backwards as I got down underneath my tripod to frame the shot. Patience, perseverance, and protexia from on high.
More fall images in my new Jerusalem Post Online column
TECHNICAL DATA: Camera: Nikon D700, tripod mounted, manual exposure, center-weighted metering mode, f16 at 1/125th sec., ISO 200. Raw file converted to Jpeg. Lens: Nikon 20mm manual focus. Date: Dec. 3, 2012, 3:24 p.m. Location: Gush Etzion, Judean Mountains.

Photo of the Week: Nov. 14, 2012

HOW I GOT THE SHOT:Of course, it goes without saying, that Israel’s preeminent beauty is found in the faces of Am Yisrael. Over the past 25 years, many new faces have arrived in Israel as the country absorbed two large waves of immigration from the Former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. This week, 237 new Ethiopian immigrants arrived in Tel Aviv from Addis Ababa during operation Wings of the Dove, in perhaps the final evacuation of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Their arrival was timed perfectly to coincide with the celebration of Sigd, one of the holiest days of the year for the Ethiopian Jewish community.
Sigd, an Amharic word meaning “worship” or “prostration,” marks the date God first revealed himself to Moses, according to Ethiopian tradition. It is celebrated annually on the 29th of Cheshvan, exactly 50 days after Yom Kippur, which also happens to be today. During the celebration, members of the community fast, recite Psalms, and gather in Jerusalem for readings from the Orit, the Ethiopian Torah. It is an official holiday in Israel, given recognition by the Knesset in 2008. The celebration itself is a photographer’s paradise, with lots of color, ritual, and hundreds of friendly and willing subjects. I’ve posted a gallery of some of my favorite shots here.
I have had the opportunity to photograph the Ethiopian Jewish community on numerous assignments for the Jewish Agency. What is always striking is the stark difference between the generations. Older immigrants hold on to much of their traditional customs and style of dress while the younger generation quickly adopts a more western appearance. This image was taken during a Sigd festival in Jerusalem several years ago. In addition to dealing with large crowds and dozens of hungry photographers, this shot required a little sechel (wisdom) to understand how to balance the bright background with the skin tones of the subject. I used a fill-flash to bump up the exposure after closing down the aperture to accommodate the background light.
Living in a religious community, I have learned that photographing people while they are praying requires an ample dose of both respect and distance. Both serve the photographer well by allowing the subject to remain candid and composed.
TECHNICAL DATA: Camera: Nikon D300, handheld, manual exposure, center-weighted metering mode, f18 at 1/200th sec., ISO 200. Raw file converted to Jpeg. Lens: Nikon 70-200mm zoom at 90. Date: Nov. 27, 2008, 11:05 a.m. Location: Haas Promenade, Talpiot, Jerusalem.

November 12, 2012

Photo of the Week: Nov. 8, 2012

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: There are grapes. And there are grapes. And then there are grapes grown in the Land of Israel. I’m not bragging or boasting, though I could. I’m not suggesting there is some kind of magic that possesses the produce of this desert land to make it bigger, better, more delicious and more delectable, though I could. It’s just that I’ve seen grapes – I grew up in Northern California, where grapes are deified – and Israel’s grapes are simply magnificent. Take these, for example: Gorgeous Red Globes, on the day of harvest, minutes before knife met stem in a vineyard near Kfar Harif, about 10 km due east of Ashdod. Of course I had my eye on them for months, having passed this location numerous times on summer excursions to the beach. With the fortuity known to descend upon the faithful photographer, I arrived just in time to crate them for eternity.
This shot required what I call “zone” photography, which means gathering my concentration to gaze upon thousands of little fruits and spy just the right cluster, where light and perspective and background and perfection of the subject itself conspire to create a great shot. A little chutzpah is also required, to hop fences and endure the silent stare of foreign workers wondering why anyone else would be out in the field at that hour. Balanced on my knees in the clumpy earth, I used my macro lens to get close and blur the background, which I kept wide enough to just show off the greens and browns of leaf and soil.
Take another quick glance. That’s why! Shabbat Shalom.
TECHNICAL DATA: Camera: Nikon D700, handheld, manual exposure, center-weighted metering mode, f4.2 at 1/60th sec., ISO 500. Raw file converted to Jpeg. Lens: Nikon 28-105mm macro zoom at 55mm in macro mode. Date: Aug. 26, 2012, 6:52 a.m. Location: Vineyard off Rte. 383, opposite Kfar Harif.

October 26, 2012

Photo of the Week: Oct. 24, 2012

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: For years I have been driving Route 90 along the shoreline of the Dead Sea and admiring the eroded rock formations in the valley below Masada. When an American family hired me last December to climb Masada with them and photograph their son’s bar mitzvah, I decided to make a very early morning of it and arrived at the access road to the popular site before sunrise. There are many benefits to photography beyond capturing a beautiful image, and one of my favorites is stepping out of my car after a long drive and inhaling the fresh air and silence of the pre-dawn.
I had about an hour to wander the soft, powdery soil of this former seabed in the best light of the day, kicking up dust and searching for a composition that blended both the light and form of this setting. This image invokes the moonlike mood and stark emptiness that characterize this region. Minimal rain and briny soil inhibit plant growth This composition resulted from my effort to obscure the road and a pumping station and sign, which I hid behind one of the rocks by slightly adjusting my position. The Dead Sea is visible as a thin strip of light moving across the photo mid-frame. I used the paths in the lower left of the image as leading lines, pointing the viewer to the main area of interest in the center of the photo.
At 423 meters below sea level, my day began at a low point and moved continuously upward, finishing with a unique portrait session in the water at day’s end.
TECHNICAL DATA: Camera: Nikon D700, tripod-mounted, manual exposure, center-weighted metering mode, f14 at 1/500th sec., ISO 400. Raw file converted to Jpeg. Lens: Nikon 28-105mm macro zoom at 35mm. Date: Dec. 22, 2011, 7:29 a.m. Location: Judean Desert below Masada.