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by Scott "Genghis" Wong

Photo by Genghis: "Feeding Mary"

MARY AT THE PUMPS: Look at those gas prices!

My three main passionate interests, and they are life-long passsions, are photography, my '72 Corvette Mary, and my '71 Harley-Davidson Mabel. These interests are listed in chronological order, as they developed sequentially, early on in life. I bought my first SLR in 1962, which was my Nikon F, which I still have and is still in perfect functioning order. I bought my first Vette in 1966. I've only owned two cars, and these consisted of the '64 Vette and my current Vette, Mary. I bought my first Harley in 1968. My great photographic passion is street photography, and occasionally I can blend my passion for photography and my passion for one of my vehicles, by taking pictures of my vehicles.

My street photography consists of unplanned, usually close-up photography of human subjects on the street, and the only exception to this protocol, is when I execute planned photographs of one of my vehicles. The black and white photo you see above titled "Feeding Mary" , was a planned photograph taken of my Vette Mary, at the local gas station on Houston Street in the Lower East Side of New York City, where I live.

The occasion to gas up Mary (take a gander at those gas prices), gave me a chance to photograph Mary in the early morning light. This finished photo with decent contrast might belie the early hour that this photograph was taken. The challenges of producing a photo with good snap taken in the post-dawn hours, are great. These photos can be a muddy mess, if corrections are not made using darkroom technique. These can be overcome if one wishes to increase contrast, in the wet darkroon if film is used, or in the digital darkroom, as was the case with this particular photograph. This photo was taken at approximately 6:00 AM, and at this hour the native light conditions in NYC are still quite dark. The sun was rising behind Mary, as I took this photograph. One benefit of having Mary backlit by the rising sunlight, were the shafts of light shown as reflections on Mary's body.

I took this picture with my usual camera, a Nikon D1x DSLR, with a 20mm f/4 Nikkor. This lens is interesting, as it is a "pancake lens," a lens which is quite diminutive. It is only about an inch and a half high. This lens was manufactured by Nikon for one year only, in 1978. This wide angle lens allows me to take intimate looking photos of people, from distances of 3 to 10 feet. A longer focal length than the 20mm, makes subjects look more detached, rendering the pictures less emotional than ones taken close-up. I like the melding of old technology with the newer, in this case, an old SLR lens mated to a DSLR.

In my street photography, I've developed a technique of shooting wide open with this lens at f/4, thereby maximizing my shutter speed. This is important in street photography, where shutter speed is paramount in order to capture quick moving human subjects on the street, usually at a range of 3 to 10 feet. Getting in close to a stranger on the street (all my street photography is unposed, with the exception of my photos of my vehicles) to capture the moment requires maximum shutter speed, as the human subject is probably in motion while the picture is being taken. Maximum shutter speed does its best to diminish motion blur. "Feeding Mary" was taken at a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second handheld, at a wide open lens aperture of f/4. As you can see, I have no interest in greater depth of field, even with pictures of my vehicles.

In the case of my car Mary, another challenge to overcome when shooting her in black and white, is her color, which is red. A red car in a black and white photo, is a natively medium gray in a black and white picture that has not been enchanced in either the wet or digital darkroom. My primary tool in the digital darkroom, is dodging and burning, just as this important technique was in the traditional wet darkroom when I still shot film. This was a skill I developed early on when I worked for a professional lab named Edtsan Studios in theearly 1970s.

Composition is important in street photography, just as it is in any genre of artful photography. My compositional skills are inherently instinctive, as I have a natural aesthetic sense, honed by balancing compositional elements in my street photography over a span of several decades. In this photo, I wanted Mary to dominate the lower left of the composition, with her nose pointed to the lower-left corner of the photo. I wanted space to the right of Mary, and definitely wanted to include the gas price sign on the upper right, to add interest to the photograph. The contrecoup counterbalance of the sign and Mary I believe, makes this a special picture. "Contrecoup" is a medical term indicating how a trauma 180 degrees from an injury causes the injury to a site on the other side of an organ, and it serves well in this situation.

The photo, through dodging and burning in postprocessing in Photoshop, renders the final picture much lighter and more contrasty than it did in reality at 6:00 AM. This is the effect I wanted. There are two ways to approach photography of low-light, low-contrast environments. One is to emphasize the darkness by having artificial light dominate the picture, as you see in the following photo of my Harley Mabel at 5:00 AM, "Fired Up." In "Fired Up," Mabel's headlight is the beacon of interest. The darkness around Mabel's gleaming headlight, has been subsumed. The other way to deal with low-light conditions, as with "Feeding Mary," is to jack up the overall contrast of the picture.

Photo by Genghis: "Fired Up"

DARKNESS EMPHASIZED: Stressed with "burning in."

In the case of the picture of Mabel, I actually increased the darkness of the photo by burning in areas around her, making it seem even earlier than 5:00 AM. In the case of Mary in "Feeding Mary," I wanted ot increase overall contrast, because the native photo was muddy looking dominated by blending grays. These two approaches to dealing with low-contrast photos, increasing the differences between artificial light (Mabel's headlight) in "Fired Up," and increasing overall contrast in "Feeding Mary," are both viable approaches. In "Feeding Mary," the light from the rising sun behind her, didn't hurt. After extensive dodging and burning, Mary shines like the star she is. By the way, it took $20 to fill about a quarter of her tank, Look at those gas prices! Later.