A months ago I attended a night photography workshop in Somerville, NJ led by photographer Loren Fisher. I’ve completed workshops and field trips on night photography with various instructors. Each instructor provides a different perspective and I was curious as to what Loren might do in this workshop.
We started in the Somerville Cemetery, a cemetery that has some large and spooky looking monuments. We met at Loren’s home in Somerville and drove over in a rented commuter van. We arrived at the cemetery before it was dark so there would still be some light in the sky to help set up the cameras. We had a full view of the night sky but as a state sandwich between two large metropolitan cities, there is so much light pollution in New Jersey that few stars are visible.
Loren gave the group some tips on setting our cameras for some light painting. I think I had an easier time setting up my camera. Changing the ISO, shutter speed and aperture was as easy as turning a dial. Loren used various coloured flashlights to illuminate dark objects — monuments and trees — in the cemetery. I am sure that for drivers passing by we made for a strange sight.
After we got out of the cemetery — the zombies must have been on holiday — we drove to downtown Somerville.
We some light painting on several buildings in downtown Somerville including the Somerset County Courthouse and the Somerset Hotel. The Somerset Hotel sign on the roof isn’t lit so Loren used his flashlight to add some light. I combined two shots of the hotel to create this final image; one with the hotel sign lit by Loren’s flashlight and the other with a better light trail.
We also played with some long exposure tricks, like spinning the camera while photographing neon signs. It was a lot of fun.
We stopped at the intersection of North Bridge Street and Main Street to photography the light trails left by the tails lights of cars. Pedestrians and diners leaving bars and restaurants stopped to ask what was going on. Some of them looked at our group with a quizzical look. I imagined that some were thinking “what kind of weirdos stand out in the cold on street corners with a camera.”
One of our commented that a particular police car had driven by in both directions several times. Eventually, he stopped in the road and called out from his patrol car to ask what was going on. I don’t think he liked our answer. He drove away with an annoyed look. What does it say about our society if photography is a suspicious activity?
We finished the night on Division St., a pedestrian mall about half way down North Bridge Street.
Quotidian object and buildings and scenes look very different and interesting at night. This was the purpose of the workshop.
Instead of dealing with New Jersey Transit trains from Princeton Junction, I drove to Jersey City and parked in hotel parking near Paulus Hook. I met the instructor, along with several other photographers including Alan Kesselhaut and his wife Barbara, at the Paulus Hook Ferry Terminal. I’ve known Alan and his wife for many years. Alan teaches Photoshop in a way that I found easy to understand. After taking his class I finally understood Photoshop layers and how to use them.
It rained while we waited for the ferry. I was worried that our adventure would be ruined however the rain the only lasted a few minutes. Once the rain stopped we were rewarded with a rainbow over Manhattan. It was a pleasant surprise. The ferry arrived soon after; around 6 PM. It was a short ride to Brookfield Place / Battery Park City (WFC) Terminal in Downtown Manhattan. From the ferry, we had views of Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, Manhattan’s skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge. I focused on capturing the Manhattan skyline.
After docking, we made our first stop at the World Trade Center’s Memorial Lily Pond. The group split apart with each of us focusing (no pun intended) on something different. The lily pond had some ducks and koi but I was interested in capturing the water plants and the people looking into the pools.
Immediately behind the lily pond is the Irish Hunger Memorial which was the next stop for our group. Bill Blanchard tried to explain some of the histories of the memorial but I was too focused on getting my shots. I didn’t pay attention but from what I gathered online the memorial is re-creation by artist, Brian Tolle, of a rural Irish landscape with an abandoned stone cottage, stone walls, fallow potato fields and the flora on the north Connacht wetlands of Ireland.
After several minutes we continued to make our way along the Battery Park City Esplanade shooting images and talking photography along the way. I snapped some images of the North Cove Yacht Harbor and the skyscrapers.
The area around the outer edge of the Esplanade was lined with restaurants. People were sitting outside dining, walking and enjoying the company of friends and family while enjoying the view of the harbour as the sunlight waned.
We continued our journey along the Esplanade through South Cove Park and Oasis Park. I noticed that the sun was getting lower in the sky and switched the camera settings to capture some silhouetted images of people and buildings.
The weather was warm and humid and some of the group were feeling the heat. We stopped for a breather and just then a young woman walked up and asked me about professional photography. She had a thick foreign accent but we quickly determined she wanted someone to take some photos of her with Jersey City as the backdrop. I was happy to oblige.
Getting a good shot of her was challenging as the sun had dropped lower in the sky. The camera sensor had a tough time exposing for both her face and the sky. I hope I did her justice.
The sun continued to descend into the horizon and I quickly snapped off a few more shots. We had to rush back to the ferry terminal to make it back out to New Jersey. We were in danger of missing the last ferry.
We just barely made it to the ferry. But as it turns out we were on the wrong ferry. We had taken the ferry to Harborside when what we needed was the ferry to Paulus Hook.
We realized our mistake and that we would have to walk back along the Hudson River Waterway Walkway. In the meantime, we stopped to take shoot night images of the Hudson River and the New York skyline.
J. Owen Grundy (1912–1985) was a native of Jersey City and was until his death its official historian and chairman of the city’s Municipal Historic Districts Commission. The park on the left in the photo is at Exchange Place and is named in his honour.
I had fun on this field trip and now that I realize how easy the trip is, I may do this on my own in the next few months but perhaps staring at Pier 11 and walking my way back toward Battery Park City (WFC) Terminal. I think it would be interesting to see how Manhattan looks in the fall.