Focus Trek #4 - That's a Wrap! Part 1: New York

May 03, 2015  •  2 Comments

A story of the Big Apple and the filming of a movie on Cape Cod.

"You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences."
-, The science of why you should spend your money on experiences and not things [1]


The Experience Trip Part 1: New York   [Part 2 is here]

To be honest, I don't have an official "bucket list", but if I do eventually create one, this will be added and checked off along with sailing to Bimini, visiting a shipwreck, standing at the edge of a cliff, seeing the 9/11 memorial and photographing the Manhattan skyline at sunrise from Brooklyn Bridge Park. To be honest, my BL is a work in progress and I add things as I go. That way, at the end of my life I can claim that I did everything on my list! 

These are all experience points, something my kids have yet to appreciate. I think as you get older you want to be able to tell people where you've been, what you've done and who you've met and how all this has affected you. I guess there's always the fear of seeming pretentious when talking about these kind of things, but as artists we are by nature narcissists with our occasional "Look what I've done" moments. I guess I'm not innocent in that respect. But I think this information can help, so I broadcast it. The quote at the top comes from an article I read recently on site that sums it up very nicely if you can get past the snorkeling girl in the bikini at the top... (read it here)

The only reason I, along with my wife and kids, were extras during filming was due to my friendship with the Director Alexander "Xandy" Janko. I've known him since I was a teen hanging around the beaches of Leland, MI. When he emailed me last year announcing a Kickstarter for his first movie "Year By the Sea", I knew I had to become involved in some way. After convincing my wife to donate to the effort, our reward was to be extras in a wedding scene. We decided to make this a family vacation as well and when I asked if the kids could watch the filming (if they were quiet), Xandy called me and graciously invited them to be extras as well. He is not only Director, but he also wrote the screenplay and composed the score. Read more about it here:

The main focus of the trip was to be extras in the movie, but a number of things happened while on this trip that were well worth documenting. 

Eric Workum - Workum Photography We arrived late at JFK on Friday night and we made arrangements to meet up with Eric Workum, another Leland connection that I've known since I was able to walk. He is a fantastic photographer (you can see his fashion work at and I had to see him because the last time I was in NYC I only remembered he lived near there after we were already heading back to the airport. This time was different but unfortunately he had to take a flight out to Maine for a shoot the next morning, so we only saw him for an hour around midnight. Still, that's better than not at all.

My secondary reason for flying into NYC instead of Cape Cod (where the movie was being filmed) was to photograph the Manhattan skyline with the pilings at the south end of the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Most people wait until sunset when the afterglow gives a glowing backdrop to the buildings as they all light up at night (plus you are more likely to have clouds in the evening). I wanted just the opposite, as the sun was coming up over Brooklyn behind me and the rising sun reflected in the mirrored sides of South Street and FDR Drive. We secured a hotel room close to the bridge and I walked down at 5am (on pure adrenaline with only 3 hours of sleep) to Brooklyn Bridge Park for a 6am sunrise. I was not only the only photographer down there, I was the only person down there for over an hour.

(Roll over images to see technical details. All photos were taken with a Nikon D7100 with either a Sigma 18-250 Macro or a Nikkor 50mm 1.8.)

Sunrise on Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge ParkSunrise on Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge ParkThe sun rises over Brooklyn and reflects in the buildings that line South Street. 0.5 sec @f/16 18mm Manhattan Tug at DawnManhattan Tug at DawnA tug passes down the East River framed by the Manhattan skyline at dawn. 1/15sec @f/5.6 26mm

ManhattanSunrise ReflectionSunrise Reflects on 180 Maiden Lane Building. 1/4sec @ f/22 18mm You don't know how useful tools like are planning for shoots like this. It allowed me to visualize Manhattan knowing exactly where the sun was going to rise. If I wanted to go out there at sunset, I would know exactly where the sun (or moon) would set.

It's important to note there is new tall development going up directly behind the park. There is going to be a lot of $ being made from rents with this view in the future. Arguably, a lot of property values are also going to go down, notably on the other side. Progress? Sigh.

Around 7am the other photographers started to appear. But I got what I came for and more. On the way back you have to walk up Old Fulton St, which is a steep hill. I managed to make the climb with all my gear, but while I did, a fast-walker passed me on the way down, crossed the street, went up the hill, crossed the street, passed me again, crossed again and went up and disappeared. Glad I had my tripod to use as a cane. From there, I took Cranberry St back up to Camden Plaza and found some nice magnolias.

MagnoliasMagnolias on BrownstoneMagnolia blooms on Cranberry St in Brooklyn. 1/60sec @f/6.3 250mm (ISO800) Cranberry Street MagnoliaCranberry Street MagnoliaA magnolia blooms on Cranberry Street in Brooklyn. 1/45sec @ f/8 90mm magnoliaMagnolia ShadowMagnolias cast a shadow on Cranberry Street. 1/125sec @f8 90mm

After walking back to the hotel and waking everyone up, we took a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Of course, everyone was shooting their own copy of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge guide wires shot with their camera phones. I resisted the urge, opting for less dramatic abstract views like this one of the much ignored but still impressive Manhattan Bridge.

Manhattan BridgeManhattan Bridge from the Brooklyn BridgeA tower on the Manhattan Bridge is visible through the buildings from the Brooklyn Bridge walkway. 1/500sec @f8 75mm

We discovered the infamous "Love Locks" (by the way, NYC wants you well meaning Europeans to STOP adding these locks! They hang right above moving traffic and dropping one could cause a major accident). I'll take it further and say that one type of metal touching another type of metal might also cause some sort of reaction and might cause the spars to rust prematurely. Maybe a chemist out there can verify that.

Love LocksLove LocksLocks added by amorous tourists on the Brooklyn Bridge. 1/350sec @ f8 105mm

After crossing, we made our way down to the 9/11 Memorial, and on the way we were treated to the #10 Fire Engine from "Ten House" backing into station. Having gotten in the way accidentally gave me a great vantage point.

Liberty Street Ten TruckLiberty Street Ten TruckThe #10 Liberty Street Fire Station Truck backs into Ten House near ground zero, New York. 1/125 @ f11 18mm (ISO140) Ten TruckLiberty Street 10 TruckTen Truck fully backed into Ten House in Manhattan at Ground Zero. 1/30 @ f11 18mm

The memorial was impressive or course, however we both thought the inverted fountain and drain concept was strange and depressing. But, if you read the designer's plan, it makes a little more sense:

"Surrounding the pools on bronze parapets are the names. The enormity of this space and the multitude of names underscore the vast scope of the destruction. Standing there at the water's edge, looking at a pool of water that is flowing away into an abyss, a visitor to the site can sense that what is beyond this parapet edge is inaccessible." [2]

911 MemorialSeptember 11th Memorial Reflecting Pool1/125sec @ f/6.7 38mm

The unofficial cell-phone-camera to DSLR ratio here was 8-1 (4-1 if you count me)

CellographersCellographersVisitors jockey for position to take mostly cell phone photos. 1/125sec @ f6.7 38mm

The design of One World Trade center was a bit more obvious, especially if you stand at the base and look up. It appears that the building rises into infinity, I assume that to be a clear message that if you take us down, we will only build ourselves higher.

One World Trade CenterOne World Trade CenterOne World Trade Center rises to what seems like infinity. 1/250 @f/8 26mm

My kids had never ridden the subway before, so we took the Red Line up to Central Park and spend the afternoon playing on the rock outcroppings and people watching. Here, a group of students was gathered around the John Lennon "Imagine" mosaic. I can only assume there is a constant circle of singers at this location at any given time. I'd love to set a camera down and take a time-lapse for a day to test that theory. Here is the Texas All State Choir giving their all in John's honor.
Texas All State Choir

As a lark, I brought with me a 50mm Nikkor 1.8 prime lens that was originally used on the old Nikon FT3 that my Dad gave me, so it's easily over 30 years old. I have to say that this lens by far is the best I've used. It's small, light and has auto-focus. I believe I'll be selling the 85mm Rokinon I just purchased as an art lens. Here are some shots from the Dairy building flower garden in Central Park. I love the bokeh this lens generates.

TulipsTulips at the Dairy, Central Park1/8000sec @f1.8 50mm Looking UpLooking UpTulip in the garden at the Dairy in Central Park. 1/4000 @f/1.8 50mm

From there, we hopped on the subway at 59th Street to head south to see Blue Man Group at Astor Place. All this reminded me of Simon and Garfunkel's "59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)" 

Hello, lamppost, whatcha knowin'?
I've come to watch your flowers growin'
Ain'tcha got no rhymes for me?
Do-in do do, feelin' groovy


LamppostsLampposts at City Hall Park, Manhattan1/180sec @ f/6.7 75mm

 I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep
I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning-time drop all its petals on me
Life I love you, all is groovy


59th Street Station59th Street Station, Manhattan1/30sec @ f/4.8 62mm (ISO1100)

My wife and I saw Blue Man Group in Chicago many years ago PK (pre-kids) and thought it would be fun to show them. They were indifferent at first, but I know they really enjoyed the show. 

Blue Man GroupBlue Man Group1/250sec @ f/1.8 50mm Blue Man GroupBlue Man Group1/180 @f/1.8 50mm (ISO6400) Photo OpPhoto Op

One final mention must be made  about Junior's Restaurant in Brooklyn (386 Flatbush Ave). If you are staying in that area, I recommend them highly. We ate breakfast there two days in a row and it was great. The last day in New York, we drove up to Cape Cod. Our two days involved in the filming will be in the next post.

What did I learn?

  1. A well made lens can be used forever
  2. You CAN be alone to take a picture in New York
  3. Blue Man Group is just as good 13 years later
  4. I kind of enjoy taking abstract flower shots, who knew?

Now, go expose yourselves.

Go to Part 2 -->


[1] Excerpt from

[2] Excerpt from


Ginny Hogan(non-registered)
I finally got around to looking at this record of your journey (wanted to be sure I could see it uninterrupted) and I found it interesting and love the pictures - thanks!
Dr. Bob Willard(non-registered)
Jim ----SUPERB !!!!!
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