Midnight in Manhattan

It was a cold October night and a friend of mine and I drove down to the City after finishing work. I was still relatively new to New York, having moved here a few months back for a job. I was still in awe of this monumental city, I had been told about it all before, seen it in movies, seen photos of it all my life, but seeing it for myself was totally different.

My friend Zac, and I were exhausted from a 12 hour day of work. Yet as we stepped onto the Brooklyn Bridge we were completely refreshed by the view from this majestic landmark, and in part from the chilling wind! The Bridge had been built about 150 years ago yet it still looked modern and cutting edge. It was built before the mainstream use of electricity, before modern technology and computers, yet was still perfect in every way.

I walked the entire length of it from downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn. It wasn't until I was halfway back across it that I even took my camera out. I knew I had to get a special shot, one that had never been seen before. My friend beside me meanwhile was snapping away with his camera, appearing to indiscriminately fire off hundreds of shots of the bridge.

I prefer a more contemplative approach. I observed for a long time. I really soaked in my surroundings. I truly embraced the surreal environment I standing in. I got to the end of the bridge on the Brooklyn side and started walking back again. I was just beyond halfway back across the bridge approaching Manhattan, when I turned around and looked up. I saw the massive tower looming over me, with my favorite flag just atop it, and I knew instantly that this was the moment I came for. I experimented with many different angles and camera positions, but quickly found my favorite position was with the lens a few inches off the ground. I got down on the ground, lay on my stomach and positioned my tripod as low as it could possibly go. The tripod was needed, as the light was so dim that night that I needed to stabilize the camera and take a long-exposure.

(An “exposure” is another name for a photograph, a “long” exposure is where instead of capturing a scene instantaneously, with the shutter open for say a 1/100th of a second like you would with a normal photograph, you steady the camera on a stable surface or on a tripod, and you keep the shutter open for 5,10, 30 seconds or even longer. This lets a lot more light in, and allows you to get a sharp image in the dark where you wouldn't otherwise be able to.)

Ultimately my tripod wouldn't let my camera go as low as I wanted it to, so I had to improvise and steady my camera on a piece of clothing. All I was wearing was a thin wool sweater, the only substantial garment protecting me from the piercing cold, damp wind on this high, unsheltered bridge. But I had come too far to miss this opportunity. I took my sweater off and lay it down in front of me. I steadied the camera and positioned it just the right way, to get the powerful image I wanted. I got ready to start my first long exposure when suddenly the bridge started shaking. I looked behind me and saw a man on a bicycle riding towards me. The small movement of the bike on this 277ft suspension bridge felt like a Californian earthquake!

He eventually passed and I lined up my shot again. But then the same thing happened. Another 2 bikes rode past me. Even someone walking lightly past me was shaking the ground so much I'd get a blurry image if I tried a long exposure. I realized people had been riding or walking past me for the last hour and a half but I was so absorbed by my surroundings I hadn't noticed just how many people were passing by and into my shot every minute! In New York City things are bustling even at 1 am on a tuesday night. And each passer-by would have to travel beyond me by about 100 ft or so before I was good to go again. But the challenge was that by this time, someone else was usually on their way towards me! This was compounded by the fact that after doing several light-readings, I realized I had to get an exposure of about 25 seconds. All of the sudden I felt like I was on set on a hollywood movie, everything had to be just right in order to get this precious shot.

I spent about an hour on my stomach, gently tweaking minor settings here and there to get everything exactly as I wanted. But mostly, it was a waiting game- there had to be no one traveling across the bridge for the 25 second “take”, the American flag that stood proudly atop the arch had to be blowing in the wind during this whole time (not just limply hanging there) and I was determined to sit there until I got what I wanted.

And I did. When the shutter finally snapped closed on that last exposure, I knew I had gotten it. I didn't even bother to check the screen to verify. I was at one with the environment, and it had delivered to me precisely what I had asked for. By this time it was past 2 am, I was dressed in a thin cotton T-shirt (having taken my sweater off to assist the shot) frozen to the core, but having just photographed one of the most famous landmarks on Earth.

And I had gotten my shot. Nothing else mattered.


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