February is Black History Month, and Thursday, January 23rd through February 27th, NYC Parks is featuring "The March," a free exhibition at the NYC Parks Arsenal Gallery, commemorating the struggles and victories of the Civil Rights Movement.
As a senior photographer for NYC Parks for many years, I'm proud to be part of "The March" exhibition.
My contribution to the collection of work by 17 artists is a photograph I took of Nelson Mandela, on the steps on City Hall in 1990, where he accepted the keys to the City.
I remember that day so well -- thousands of people, every street around City Hall jammed. The weather was a little cold, a little dreary, but I wasn't thinking about that. He was released from jail in South Africa in February, and in June, here he was in New York.
I've now been taking photos for Parks for over two decades. The job offers me the chance to photograph anything and everything. Some pros specialize in nature, sports, or people. At NYC Parks, we do it all.
My first love was electronics, but it soon turned to photography when I took a class in high school. We made our own "pin-hole" cameras out of cardboard. The lenses were aluminum foil. You stuck a pin through the foil to let light in. The results were surprisingly good.
Later, at Bronx Community College, I studied Basic and Advanced Photography, Darkroom Techniques, Studio Lighting, Composition, and had assignments matching pictures to themes, which was my first attempt at photojournalism. Then I got a job at Parks and never looked back.
In my early days at NYC Parks, I taught photography to seniors at the St. James Recreation Center and summer youth at St. Mary's Recreation Center for the recreation division - how to use a camera, how to choose a subject. We'd go out into the parks and I'd say, “What is interesting to you? What catches your eye?” By far, the most amazing thing for my students was to come back to the darkroom and see their images appear. All around us in the parks were amazing opportunities to capture city life.
To get your best shots when you go out to the parks to photograph, create as many options as possible. Always have extra batteries, a cleaning cloth, a notepad, and if you're going to be out a long time, a water bottle and a snack! You don't need a lot of equipment, especially to get started, but I like to carry my telephoto, wide angle and zoom lenses. The zoom lens lets me shoot more angles without changing lenses.
For pictures of children, recognize and respect the joy they are having in what they're doing and capture it as it happens. It's not something you can dictate.
For close-ups of urban wildlife, you have to have patience and wait for the action to happen.
For environmental shots, try the Ansel Adams method. Go and view your scene the day before and take notes. Then go back to the same place at the same time the next day to shoot. Light hits a certain way at a certain time. It's much easier now with digital photography because there are no large plates and large format negatives to worry about.
For more information on free beginner, intermediate and advanced digital photography classes with NYC Parks Urban Park Rangers in every borough, NYC Parks' free 2014 Black History exhibition at the Arsenal Gallery beginning January 23rd, or for a look at my photos of NYC parks and more, go to www.nyc.gov/parks.