Joel Zimmer

Photographs of Joel Zimmer's daily adventures in New York City and the places he visits.

Year 06.

I'm 13 and I'm really getting into photography, but I'm limited to a not-so-great camera right now, and pretty confined as for the areas I can photograph, any tips for me?

Asked by forsaken-fears

Hey Dale, you’ve got plenty of time to get more expensive gear and go exciting places. For now, you should focus how to look at things in interesting ways and how to compose images correctly.

I see from your site that you have a Coolpix S210. From what I’ve read it sounds like it’s a very capable camera.

In terms of learning about composition, your best bet is to read about the rule of thirds and think about it while you take pictures. Having a good eye for composition can make all of your photos better.

Secondly, don’t worry about having a limited area to take pictures in. You may not know this, but a lot of the pictures I take are actually from a relatively small area. What you should do is try to photograph as much of the area you can photograph as you can and (this is important) make it look amazing. Figure out how to highlight colors and interesting things you see on a day to day basis.

Use your constraints as a benefit - rather than looking at a small area as a limiting factor, look at it as a challenge. Try to document that area in a variety of ways, angles, and of details.

Ultimately, that’s what photography comes down to.

Update: A great point from replies:

the-tale-of-a-librarian: you can edit pictures on your phone or computer to different constrasting colours and sometimes that kind of thing can really make a picture amazing, just cause your cameras not so great shouldnt limit you. From a fellow budding photographer. xox.

Don’t forget that it’s more than the camera or software that makes your photo - its the subject, perspective, colors, contrast, and how you utilize those elements to make the photo.

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24th March 2011

I’ve had a few people ask me about general techniques when it comes to taking a picture.

I was going to answer in my long, drawn out style, but instead, I’ll take a note from the latest episode of Back to Work (which you should listen to if you don’t already) and just say this:

Take photos every day. Don’t ever stop taking photos.

When you do this, you’ll teach yourself what interests you, what works for you and what doesn’t.  And when you figure out those things you’ll start to take great photos.

(This isn’t a specific answer. If you have a specific question, feel free to ask)

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Could you tell me how to create the bokeh effect when taking a photograph, like with the picture of the white lights that you took today?

Asked by mediaum

Absolutely mediaum - great site by the way!

The effect you’re talking about in this shot is in fact called bokeh (as epicleicaness points out, “bokeh” describes the light, we’re actually talking about a shot with a narrow depth of field).  Unlike the previous post I wrote on long exposures, it’s a bit harder to do this with any camera in your disposal.  In order to get this technique to work, you’ll need a camera that allows you to manually focus on a point in the photo.

Bokeh occurs when you focus on an element in the foreground of a photo and have a light source (in my case, christmas lights) in the background of the image.  There’s a lot of factors that go into the ‘quality’ of the bokeh that I’ll go into a bit here.  (If you don’t feel like reading all of it, that’s cool, the important part is the sentence at the beginning of the paragraph.  There’s more information down below that’s less technical if you want to skip.)

There’s a fair amount of background information to go through at first - read up on the wikipedia entry on Bokeh, it gives a great intro to the concept of it.  Basically, you get bokeh by focusing on one part of your photo when you shoot wide open (small aperture numbers) - it can happen in other situations, where you shoot with a narrower aperture, but it happens most often when you shoot wide open.

You’ll get the best results when you have a (D)SLR with a prime lens (or actually any rangefinder, again, manual focus is better and the better the lens is the better the shot will be too, thanks shorttakes for setting me straight) - usually a fixed length lens that has a small aperture number (1.4, 1.8, 2, or 2.8 are about as low as you can go, but Canon makes a 1.2 lens (I know Lisa uses one) and I believe f/1.0 (and as low as f/0.95) lenses exist, though they’ll cost you a lot.  (If you want to read more about aperture, this article was incredibly informative).  The advantage to lenses like these is that a) they let in a ton of light, so you can take low-light shots that look great and b) they tend to be better quality glass and have a great aperture blade arrangements.  While that may sound like gibberish to you, the arrangement (and number) of aperture blades can affect the shape and quality of bokeh you see in images (I won’t get into it too much, read this discussion on flickr for more info).  Anyway, enough technical blabber, on to the stuff you care about.

To take a shot with a lot of bokeh, you need a lens with a narrow depth of field (see above, re: aperture values), something to focus on in the foreground and a great light source with many distinct points in the background (christmas lights work well).  Focus on the frontmost element while you shoot wide open (remember, low aperture values) and you’re well on your way to taking shots with fantastic bokeh!

One last note - it doesn’t need to be distinct light sources, sometimes you can get away with anything!  (that was one of the first shots in my Every Day series, before I knew what I was doing with a camera and using my kit lens on my D90, you can do it with any lens! Really!)

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Long Exposure Questions

10th March 2011

dbtv asked: Your “Grating” photo what lens were you using to give that streaking light affect? I just got a Canon EOS 60D and I’ve been playing around with it debating on what lens I should purchase next.

The streaking light effect you are talking about in that particular shot actually has nothing to do with the lens I used, in fact, you can do it with just about any lens you have for your camera. I’d even go so far to say you can do it with just about any camera out there.

So why does the light streak happen? Well, it’s actually pretty simple: I took a long exposure.  This means I kept my camera steady (in this case I put it down on the ground) and left the shutter open for a relatively long time (in this case, 2 seconds).

When you leave your shutter open for a while any light that passes by forms a light trail.  You can use long exposures for all sorts of purposes - they’re best when you take them at night, or at sunset (especially with water), because leaving the shutter open for a long time lets a lot of light hit your sensor (or your film), and means you can get very blown out (or, more technically ‘white’) shots.  If you want to try doing long exposures during the day, you probably want to get an ND filter (that’s an affiliate link) for your lens, but that’s more complicated.

Anyway, why would you want to take shots like this? Well, for one they look awesome (that’s the truth), but more realistically, you would want to take properly exposed photos when it’s dark out.  Now, I’m not going to totally explain what exposure is, mostly because there’s an amazing, amazing book out there called Understanding Exposure (another affiliate link) that explains it way better than I ever could.  What you should know, is that with a camera that allows you to control shutter speed, you can set the shutter speed down to a few seconds, set up your tripod or put your camera somewhere flat, safe and stable, click the shutter and then wait for a shot (Why should you use a tripod? Or put your camera down? Because the longer you leave your shutter open, the more likely you are to get a blurry photo).  Then you’re on your way to taking awesome night photos.

Oh also, why do I know you can take these photos on any camera? Because I took this one on my iPhone.  On cameras with less control, you can’t explicitly set the shutter speed, they just slow themselves down automatically.  So if you are taking pictures when its dark, keep your camera steady!

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Do you think that photography can be learned? Like, seeing the perfect photo oppurtunity and capturing it exactly how you want it?

Asked by plainlittleme

What you’re describing is basically how I learned to take photos, so to answer your question, I both believe and think that photography can be learned.  Whether you want to learn is the bigger question.  From there I’ll fall back on my usual advice: shoot a lot and shoot often.  Figure out what you like to shoot and from there you can figure out what you need to learn to capture the opportunity the way you want to.

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Hello, I'm an aspiring photographer and I love your blog! The only problem is everyday i come home and have to take a shot for my blog and i've run how of ideas! Where do you go when your blanking...or need some creative inspiration? Also I was wondering if you had any suggestions for a portrait shoot?

Asked by avery365photos

Thanks a lot avery!

Inspiration is one of those things that’s hard to force.  I tend to just walk around everywhere with my camera, so inspiration for me is walking a new way to the subway (or home).

As for portrait shoots - I really don’t know.  I haven’t done much studio work (/any studio work) but I’ll say this: Make the people you are photographing feel comfortable.  From there, everything will look great.

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Hi sir! I am interested in photography but I don't know how to edit the photos. Do you still edit your photos?

Asked by barracamilarose

Answering this question is a bit of a loaded question since there are basically two camps of people: those who are against all forms of editing and argue that the best photography is pure and comes from the camera… and the other says that editing is great and that photography is a new form of art like painting, so you can modify them however you want.

I fall mostly in the middle of those rambling sides, I prefer to stay away from editing and do the bulk of my work in iPhoto (though I’m strong considering moving to Lightroom).  Of course, most of that feeling comes from the fact that I don’t actually know how to use Photoshop or more complicated programs like that.

So what sort of editing do I do?

Normally I adjust the levels of my photos - described well here - to make sure that colors look right and details pop.  Other than that, I try to do more of it in camera.  Though that skill developed over time.


crosscrowdedrooms said: No amount of editing will teach you to to compose and frame images effectively and for each situation. Likewise, no amount of editing will make you a good photographer. Just a good designer. The “eye” of a photographer can’t be edited

As crosscrowdedrooms points out, you shouldn’t rely on editing as a crutch, that’s what I mean by doing things in camera.  I rely less and less on cropping these days (unless I make a photo a square) and try to do more in camera.  Take his advice, and check out his photos, he’s another great NYC based photographer.

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Hey Joel! A quick question from a 19 year old living in Sweden. I recently stumbled upon your blog and was immediately drawn to your photo-style. Your photos are truly amazing (bet it's not the first time someone tells you that!) and when I saw that you are using a D90 I started to get curious...I'm using a D90 as well, and wondered what kind of lens you prefer to use on a regular day? Keep on rocking

Asked by thearadman

Thanks a lot! You aren’t the only one who has said that but it’s still great to hear from so many people! I’ll have to not disappoint.

As for what lens to use, I’ll point back to my advice I’d give for someone who is trying to be a photographer - it’s not the equipment that matters, it’s you.

That being said, different lenses are suited to different purposes, you probably don’t want an ultra-wide lens if you are trying to capture wildlife and you don’t want a zoom lens if you are doing low light shots.  

In a pinch - I’d choose a 50mm f/1.8.  It’s an inexpensive powerhouse of a lens.  I used for about 6 months straight and I think it helped fortify a lot of the fundamentals of composing with the camera than another type of lens would afford.

Hope that helps!

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What advice would you give to some one who is interested in becoming a photographer?

Asked by fuckingoranges-deactivated20130

Hey - thanks for the question!

I’ve got four suggestions:

  1. The best camera is the one you have with you. (That’s from Chase Jarvis, not me) Don’t worry about the hardware you are using; you’re the photographer, not the camera.  The key thing to add to this: Always have a camera with you, you never know when you can capture something interesting
  2. Shoot a lot and shoot often.  You may be interested in becoming a photographer but when you don’t shoot photos then you aren’t really a photographer.
  3. Share your work. I don’t care how: put it on Flickr, put it here, show it to your friends.  But share your work, putting yourself out there and facing criticism/compliments/silence will get you to do more.
  4. Don’t be afraid of criticism/failure. You’re going to shoot a lot and you’re not going to find the best shot every time - that’s how it goes.  Don’t get discouraged.  And when you do, look at the second item on this list.

Of course, none of these things have anything to do with becoming a commercial photographer or successfully selling things.  I’m not sure how to do that yet

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