Fuji X-pro1 & Helios 44-4: Washington Heights on a Rainy Afternoon

Fuji X-pro1 & Helios 44-4: Washington Heights on a Rainy Afternoon

In the fall and winter months, there's significantly less time to shoot. How do you beat the clock – and keep your passion alive?

Like clockwork, my seasonal affective disorder – the psychological effect that ushers in depression and fatigue during the winter months – begins to rear its ugly head in late October. I have a pet theory that photographers are particularly susceptible, but maybe that's because our favorite outlet of expression becomes more gimped and impractical with every passing day. It's sort of a chicken-or-egg thing.

The weather was gorgeous in New York City today – stormy and warm. Unfortunately for me, I spent the vast majority of it cooped up in my office. When 5pm rolled around, I happily took my leave.

Just before getting to the train station in midtown, I took a discrete snap of these people who had run in to each other by chance on the corner of 8th avenue with my Rokinon 12mm f/2.

 Meeting by chance in Midtown. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Meeting by chance in Midtown. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Street photography is generally a boring genre to me – and I'm the first to admit I'm terrible at it – but on such a gloomy day, it was nice to share this moment of happiness with strangers.

After speeding over 140 blocks underground from my office to my neighborhood, I climbed the steps of the train station and surfaced in a small park. It had been raining all day, and by the time I got uptown to Washington Heights, the sun was low and dim. The clouds were heavy enough to scrape the top of the trees, and everything was glossed in a fresh rain.

For me, the shooting conditions were just perfect.

I was so happy to have my trusty Fuji X-pro1 and Helios 44-4 in my bag. There's no doubt that mirrorless cameras can't match the optical quality of a bulky full-frame – I mean, it's physics – but having this compact little rangefinder in my bag at all times has gotten me to take more photographs in the last year than I know what to do with. 

That's one of my pro-tips for combatting seasonal affective disorder as a photographer: always have a camera on you. I know – it's age old advice, and for good reason – but it never rings truer than on the days you only feel the sun on your skin for the 30 minutes you have between commutes.

I noticed a man doing stretches and calisthenics on top of this wet, rocky structure. The whole thing felt kind of surreal in my favorite way, so I camped out for a good 5 minutes to get the perfect pose and framing.

 A man lying on a wet rock. Fuji X-pro1, Helios 44-4.

A man lying on a wet rock. Fuji X-pro1, Helios 44-4.

I'm still absolutely enamored with the gorgeous lo-fi bokeh the Helios 44-4 offers wide open. Look at the way the grass dissolves at the corner edges of the frame – it contributes to that 3D-pop, micro-contrast look

Something I understand more every time I shoot with this lens is the limits of it's sharpness. Even when focus is spot-on, a subject on the edge of the frame hazes and blurs out of focus.

 A man lying on a wet rock. Fuji X-pro1,Helios 44-4.

A man lying on a wet rock. Fuji X-pro1,Helios 44-4.

It's very noticeable in this shot – check out the camera-left side of his shoulder. As much as I adore this lens, it's a drawback to keep in mind if you're using it for something more technical and less moody.

With the sun fading by the minute, I had to move on and see what else caught my eye. Not to mention that my camera isn't weather sealed, and there was enough moisture in the air to drink with a straw.

 A wet rock covered in plants. Fuji X-pro1, Helios 44-4.

A wet rock covered in plants. Fuji X-pro1, Helios 44-4.

This gorgeous mossy rock against the red brick of the apartment building was such a striking composition for a fashion shot, I was tempted to pull a random passerby and ask them to strike a pose for me.

Photography tip: if you like to shoot portraits, always be on the lookout for a gorgeous background and foreground. When you find something that catches your eye, compose and snap a photo so that you can revisit the area later with a model.

The George Washington Bridge might be a played-out subject, but there's something to be said for that industrial grey with the classic autumn palette of changing trees. Plus – I'm new to the neighborhood!

 George Washington Bridge. Fuji X-pro1,Helios 44-4.

George Washington Bridge. Fuji X-pro1,Helios 44-4.

I know I was just bitching about the lack of edge-to-edge clarity on the Helios 44-4, but in compositions like these, I don't mind the lack of center sharpness. It's surprising to me that this cheap vintage glass can perform so well for architectural and landscape shots!

But today wasn't all roses. Sometimes shooting manual focus is really problematic. Nailing a perfect shot of two cute dogs zooming around a dog park at f/2 was a challenge...

 Two cute lil' pups. Fuji X-pro1,Helios 44-4.

Two cute lil' pups. Fuji X-pro1,Helios 44-4.

...that I abjectly failed at. Swing and a miss, but it was good practice! Side-note: check out that upper-right – the tree bokeh wanted to swirl so badly, but I'm not happy about the sky peeping through.

 

Photography tip: when composing your shot, be deliberate with the amount of sky your photo includes. In most cases, your composition will be stronger without a distracting mass of light leading the eye away from your intended subject. You generally want your subject to be the brightest, most contrasted area in the frame, so try creative angles and framing to minimize – or completely remove – the sky from your shot.

 

When it rains, dark wet streets become gorgeous reflective surfaces, so I thought I'd risk my life crouching down by the hub of a nearby car at a turn in the road to grab this shot. The leading lines leading to nowhere is a photography faux pas that I love to indulge in.

 Cars on Haven Avenue. Fuji X-pro1,Helios 44-4.

Cars on Haven Avenue. Fuji X-pro1,Helios 44-4.

I tried to estimate where the car would be and pre-focus, and the result probably would have been more convincing if I didn't somehow take the frame at a 45 degree angle. I had to crop in over 50% after I straightened it out!

Pushing myself to take more photos of nothing in particular trains my eye for composition, increases my speed of exposure and focus, and allows me to indulge in a rare moment of fun. I spent 15 minutes shooting as I walked home, and I'm so happy I did.

Today was the perfect late-October day in Manhattan, and now it's time to settle down with Lightroom and a mug of peppermint tea. ⛈ 

 


Sound Off:

How do you find time to shoot during the winter months?

Leave a comment below and I'll feature it – along with a link to your photography – in the next photowalk post.

 

PS: Enjoy a bonus shot of our new Halloween decorations.

 Halloween decorations. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Halloween decorations. Fuji X-pro1, Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Digital strategist, writer, and image maker based in Manhattan working with clients in the tech and entertainment industry.