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.

Photo of the Week: Oct. 4, 2012

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Photography should be fun, as often and as much as possible, especially for those who practice it as a hobby or part-time pleasure. One of the challenges I enjoy when out shooting personal work involves selecting a random subject and then trying to make an interesting photo. This exercise has also helped me to make good choices when doing more directed shoots. So when I spotted these photos of well-known and revered rabbis, I knew there was a good photograph to be taken, but it was well hidden amid an array of distractions and objects I wanted to remove from the scene.
First of all, the photos – sukkah decorations for sale in the Bukharan Shuk in Jerusalem – were scattered on a sidewalk, although the vendor did a good job to give maximum visibility to each of image. The entire collection was about twice as large as what I chose to include, but a quick study revealed several easy to spot visual clues which led me to this composition. When looking at a photo with no obvious center of interest, it’s very easy to get lost and wander away from the photo entirely. So when battling subjects like this, I try to create a border of sorts which contains the viewer within the photo.
Here, the four corner photos all direct their “action” away from the sides and toward the center of the image. This is accomplished by the direction of the face or, in the case of the lower right corner, also by the direction of the subject’s glance. To refine the composition, and make sure it works, I always use my viewfinder to crop and focus. Although experience has taught me to crop with my eyes, I still have never become comfortable with the new shooting mode on most point and shoot cameras that use live view and the camera’s monitor.
Moadim L’simcha.
TECHNICAL DATA: Camera: Nikon D200, handheld, manual exposure, center-weighted metering mode, f8 at 1/1,000th sec., ISO 400. Raw file converted to Jpeg. Lens: Nikon 28-105mm macro zoom at 38mm. Date: Sept. 24, 2007, 9:53 a.m. Location: Bukharan Quarter, Jerusalem.

Photo of the Week: Sept. 25, 2012

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Longtime readers of this column will be familiar with my approach to photography, which synthesizes technique with keen vision, the latter skill being both more difficult to develop and more important. In a previous column, I noted four keys to my success when hunting for new images: my boots, which allow me to trek to just the right position, my eyes, and large doses of patience and motivation. An unpleasant incident at an event earlier this year prompted me to add another ingredient to this list: humility. 
 As I waited to shoot the beginning of a speech in my usual position about 10 feet from the podium, the speaker yelled at me, in front of 150 guests, to get out of the way. Having photographed speakers hundreds of times, I was surprised at both the request and the harsh tone with which it was issued. I walked away, momentarily contemplated walking out the door (the speaker was also my client), but instead drew in a deep breath and centered myself. 
Someone once asked me how working under pressure affects the creative process. (To read the entire answer, click here).  http://asimplejew.blogspot.co.il/2008/02/question-answer-with-yehoshua-halevi.html. Pressure or any kind of emotional blockage, no matter what its source, impedes my ability to see and connect to what is unfolding in front of me. Rather than walk off the job, I recognized that only humility would allow me to continue, to keep the creative doors open and allow me to roam the party and engage with the guests and their celebration.

Humility. It is a salve against anger, frustration, disappointment and anything that blocks our ability to connect inward. It certainly helps temper our personal relationships and likewise, with the creative process, whether photographing people or the natural world, being humble opens the gate to sources of creative inspiration and clarity of vision. This may seem a rather odd commentary on trying to master a skill such as photography, but I think it has tremendous merit and, in retrospect, realize my work has often benefitted from humility.  
This week’s photo features one the seven gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Sha’ar Harachamim, The Gate of Mercy. Located along the eastern wall of the old city, the only difficulty in getting this shot was my concern about wandering into a neighborhood that it might be advisable to avoid. Shielded by broad daylight and my faith, I made the 20-minute walk from the Kotel safely there and back. There are numerous Arab graves surrounding the gate, which has been sealed since 1541, and unsightly wires strung from the ramparts, but I included them in the photo because, well, that’s what it looks like today. Interestingly, on Yom Kippur, we conclude the day with the Neilah service, which has become a metaphor for the closing of the Gates of Mercy (Neilah means locking). It is our last chance to be heard, forgiven by God and sealed for a year of blessing. In this season of soul searching, may we remain humble, slow to judgment and open to receiving and appreciating the blessings in our lives.  
TECHNICAL DATA: Camera: Nikon D700, handheld, manual exposure, center-weighted metering mode, f18 at 1/500th sec., ISO 400. Raw file converted to Jpeg. Lens: Nikon 28-105mm macro zoom at 28mm. Date: June 20, 2012, 6:50 a.m. Location: The Old City of Jerusalem.

Photo of the Week: Sept. 16, 2012

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: A photograph of a shofar carries with it a lifetime of our personal experience of the Rosh Hashanah holiday. I tried lining up this shot to allow the colorful quilts to fill the entire background, but the arrangement of the shofars was not as appealing from that angle. I could have rotated the basket, but I didn’t want to handle something I had no intention of purchasing. I pushed the ISO to 800 so I could take the shot handheld and retain sharpness throughout. This image gains its strength from the unusual context in which the shofars are found. The word “shofar” conjures up either the sound they make or an image of a person holding one in his mouth, blowing. Here they are seen en masse, out of place, neglected, crowded into a less than holy, torn plastic basket.
May the sound of the shofar lift you to holiness and pave the path to a year filled with blessings. G’mar Chatima Tova. Wishing you a sweet and joyous new year!
TECHNICAL DATA: Camera: Nikon D200, handheld, manual exposure, center-weighted metering mode, f5 at 1/80th sec., ISO 800. Raw file converted to Jpeg. Lens: Nikon 18-200mm VR zoom at 35mm. Date: Sept. 11, 2008, 9:37 a.m. Location: The souk, Old City of Jerusalem.

Photo of the Week: Sept. 12, 2012

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The Dead Sea, for all its lack of life, certainly has a lot to give: therapeutic minerals, a booming tourist trade, breath taking vistas. Recently nominated as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (it lost in the final, public vote) the region is a bounty of inspiring photo opportunities.
Since we are nearing the end of the month of Elul, the final month of the Jewish year, which is devoted to inner reflection and accounting, I thought this photo seemed seasonally appropriate as I reprise my column following a summer respite. Like many images found in nature, the difficulty often lies in accessing a safe vantage point from which to photograph. Stopping my car at the side of the road, I hiked through the heat and around sinkholes, kicked up a little dust and glided past a scorpion or two. I found stable ground to rest my tripod and frame the image, careful to add just a drop of exposure so the salt crystals would remain true to their bright, white color. In the end, it was worth it. I mean, really, how many countries smaller than New Jersey can boast a Wonder of the World finalist?
TECHNICAL DATA: Camera: Nikon D70, tripod mounted, manual exposure, center-weighted metering mode, f9 at 1/1,000th sec., ISO 200. Raw file converted to Jpeg. Lens: Nikon 70-300mm zoom at 145mm. Date: Dec. 25, 2006, 2:02 p.m. Location: Dead Sea shoreline near Ein Boqeq.