View Full Version : Large Format in Manhatten?
I am trying to get up the courage to take my 4x5 and bag into NYC and shoot arou nd. I have been doing it with 35mm and having fun. However, lugging around a 4x5 , tripod, bag just makes me nerveous. Any suggestions? Any body have any experie nce?
Jason Greenberg Motamedi
I have been wandering NYC for over 10 years with my LF camera. I have never had any sort of problem worse than a few kids making fun of me. In fact, most people, even the kids who were making fun of me, really just wanted to look at the ground glass. For the most part, Manhattan is pretty safe for LF--I would guess the largest problem would be the occasional taxi who goes careening off the road and into the sidewalk! Hard to notice if you are under the cloth. That said, there are areas I wouldn't go to--just use common sense.
Your worst danger is leaving your equipment unwatched. DO NOT LEAVE IT IN A CAR! Do not let it sit more than a few feet from you. When you are under the darkcloth, make sure that all your bags are closed--I keep one of my feet between the straps of my backpack to make sure it doesn't go wandering.
Actually, considering how much one can walk in NY, I think your biggest problem is the weight, make sure you have a good backpack or rolling cart. I am rarely exhausted after a full days hike upstate with 25 lbs of camera. After a few hours in NYC...
i have carried a 4x5 about manhatten with no problems. i have shot in a ton of neighborhoods, including a bunch that i probably shouldn't have. i have had no problems. the advice about wandering equipment given by the previous poster is valid. always keep an eye on everything.
in terms of walking around with everything, i use a backpack. mine is a snowboarding bag that i toss my film holders into. the film holders take up the lower half of the bag and then camera is simply placed on top of them. (i don't worry about the camera, it is an old speed graphic and can take whatever iu dish to it. if yours is more expensive, you might like the idea fo the camera being placed like this less than i do. but it is quick to get to.) my tripod is strapped to the back of the bag with the column twisted into a mountainerring loops and then flipped up and held with one of the board straps at the top of the bag. (this would make sense if you saw it.) i can walk forever like this.
once i find a spot and start to shoot, i just leave my camera on the tripod and put the whole thing up on my shoulder and walk about the area. just tighten your head to prevent the dreaded camera flop.
also, think about heading out of manhatten. coney island, little korea in flushing, worlds fair grounds; there are tons of great areas in the city to photograph. just get yourself a metro card.
any questions about specific areas in the city, feel free to e-mail me.
along w/ the above- good shoes are a necessity. Travel as light as possible. Your body wil take a real pounding on the concrete sidewalks of NYC. The noise and bustle take their toll too. But excitement (visual and otherwise) help make up for it.
Those who do LF street shooting - I'd be curious about your focus and composition techniques.
Do you set up for a particular spot and then wait for something interesting to appear there?
Do you ask people if you can photograph them?
Do people ask you to photograph them?
Do you hand out Polaroids?
I've done many large-format shoots in NYC. The above cautions are good. One thing I did not see while reading through quickly...there are places where you need a tripod permit, and other places where you can't shoot at all without permits. South Street Seaport requires a tripod permit from City Hall. A few other such places do too but I forget which. No shooting in the subways without permission!
One further suggestion - someone I know, who is often shooting LF professionally in NYC - always takes along an orange safety vest. For the practical reason that he is often halfway into the street shooting buildings and such. An added bonus is that no-one ever seems to bother him, even in some pretty rough areas. And that includes rent-a-cops and real cops.
I've done this on accassion,for street work (I'm often shooting at a large open put diamond mine for my pro-work, or architects construction sites, so I have orange vests galore...). But out on the street, no-one pays you any attention!. You're already abvious with a big camera on a tripod. This seems to make you so obvious, you're invisible....
BTW surveyors and the like have some great heavy duty vests full of pockets. Great for Photo geeks (as my wife likes to say...) - and they come in subdued colours too. Mine has a huge pocket on the back that will take about 4 or 5 8x10 holders....
You may run into the following problem: it is not permitted in NYC to use a tripod on sidewalks and in parks without permit (free) from the Mayor's Office for Film, Television and Broadcast (whatever the exact name is). Enforcement of this rule is weak, but on occasion some cop wants to get rid of his anger. In particular in Coney Island I had a real bad experience. The Mayor's Office is located somewhere around 54th and Broadway, getting the permit is a formality, you should specify though where and when you are shooting. But as I said, enforcement is weak, just know that the rule exists in case you are confronted with the problem.
Thanks for all the great help! Apparently it may not be as dangerous as I think. Still there are two things that concern me. One is the walking and carrying the 25 lbs of equipment all day. It's one thing to hike around the woods and mountains. But NYC, concrete, smog, traffic, is much much more grueling. The other thing is spontaneity. I was in NYC this afternoon and spent a few hours with my 35mm shooting. The light changes very fast, people always moving, traffic, situations come and fly away. You would think the city moves much too fast to be caught by a 4x5. Unless of course you are concentrating on the inanimate. But there is so much more to NYC then buildings and the homeless.
Thanks very much for the input!
Jason Greenberg Motamedi
are homeless inanimate?
Certainly not! But the way most passersby ignore them, you would think so.
joel meyerowitz did a great series of new york shots with 8x10 a while back. the y were not simply tall buildings. they were mostly people shots as i recall. hum anity meeting the city.
the next time you are in the city go to his gallery (it is on broadway just belo w houston)and aks to see the prints. i am sure they would show them to you.
new york is not to fast moving for lf. you just have to think a bit before you s hoot and visualize what you want.
Like everyone else said, mind your equipment. I use an old B&J 4x5 press camera and prefocus a little before I set up the tripod, just to see if it's worth it. Cops don't bother me much so long as I'm out of the way. Bringing another photographer is the best security. I find my non-photog friends get bored very, very quickly. I work downtown now so I'm exploring the area. Sunday mornings are absolutely deserted down here and the light is great.
David A. Goldfarb
This seemed like a good place to mention that ICP is offering a 5-week course in March/April 2004 on LF Portraiture and Street Photography, taught by Greg Miller. Unfortunately, it seems to be open only to students in their full-time program, and I'm going to be out of the country anyway for two of the five weeks, but it's good to see that LF street photography is being taken seriously.
I'm going to write to them to indicate that I would be interested if the course were offered again for the general public, and maybe if others did so, it might come about. Info at www.icp.org, but I didn't see the course listed on the website, just in the printed "Winter Programs 2004" circular.
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