Central Park is like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. You can enter many ways and each one will lead down a new path to a different ending. On a night that I wanted to shoot Cleopatra’s needle, one of the oldest artifacts in the US, it was a later adventure with King Jagiello that left me wondering about the magic of photography.
I was shooting with a good friend of mine, JC, whose just the kind of guy you want around when the zombie apocalypse comes. There’s never a dull moment with the big guy, who is a retired cop, an incredibly talented photographer, and has a sense of honor to family and friends that is second to none.
We composed and recomposed around the “Victor over the Teutonic Aggressors at Grunwald” and tried to figure out why a statue to the King of Poland from the 15th century was so prominently displayed in the park.
During an 8 minute exposure, I noticed an airplane was going to fly into the composition. Not wanting the lights of the plane to create “airplane trails” through the image, I held my hand over the lens, careful not to bump it, until the plane had flown out of the view. Typically I’ll use a black card and hold it over the lens, a technique I’ve successfully used with long exposures and fireworks, but I didn’t have one this night. Any light source – a streetlight, car light, flashlight, or cellphone that comes into direct view during the capture time – no matter how far it is, will be etched into the image.
When I reviewed the back of the screen I was flabbergasted.
Where had this ghost come from? I was shooting low with a 50mm lens, but somehow JC and I had wandered into the frame. He’s the spirit on the left and I’m the crazy looking cloud on the right. I had only seen a few stars in the sky, it is the middle of Manhattan, but the sensor definitely recorded more than I had seen.
Notice the star trails are fragmented. This is because I covered the lens for probably 15 seconds while the plane passed through. My hand “stops” the exposure for that time, but the earth continues to rotate. When I reveal the exposure again, the stars have traveled further along creating a gap in between.
And this is why I love photography, especially during the night, when we can play with time. There were several mistakes made during this photographic adventure but they were perfectly placed and brought a completely different ending to a story that I “read” many time before.
Happy Birthday JC, the big guy in the sky, glad to see you got my back.