WTC 2010, Part 1

This article originally appeared on my other blog, last September/October. I reprint it here with updated versions of these pictures a year later. I hope to get out this year to take pictures of the lights again from a different location (Liberty State Park), but the odds are not good.  The pictures were all taken on September 11, 2010.

World Trade Center lights 2010, Final Image

24mm, f/5.6, ISO 200, 2.5 seconds

Every year on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, New York City has stationed two beams of blue light at the site of the World Trade Center. As far as I understand it, there’s no firm plan for the lights after next year’s tenth anniversary. While I’m sure they’ll continue for a long time to come, I didn’t want to take the chance of missing them. So this year, on Saturday September 11th, I took the bull by the horns and went out to shoot the lights.

As the crow flies, I guess I live about 20 miles west of the city. When I walked out of the house, I saw a bright light in the middle of the clouds across the street. The moon was a beautiful crescent shape, clinging low to the horizon and looking huge — but in the opposite direction. That bright patch of light came from the WTC.

I’ve been to the Weehawken/Port Imperial section of New Jersey often enough, to take the ferry ride over the Hudson to the Jacob Javitz Convention Center. Being somewhat familiar with that area, I planned on shooting the lights from there. Worst case scenario: I pay the parking fee to park at the ferry terminal lot to take pictures from the sidewalk that lines the Hudson.

Luck was on my side in one way, though: There’s a park next door to the ferry area that had free parking. It was a small parking lot, but at 8:30 on a Saturday night, it’s not a problem. After a smooth ride in (slowed down only by a bit of the Lincoln Tunnel traffic), I found a parking spot and unpacked my tripod and was ready to go.

Silly me, though, missed one important geographic problem. Port Imperial is across the way from the Empire State Building, about 30 blocks north of the WTC site. The light wasn’t shining in line with most of Manhattan.

Instead, it was way far over to the right, due south more than east.

I wasn’t even sure when I got to Weehawken that I’d have a decent shot of it.

Manhattan, as seen from Weehawken, NJ (Empire State Building)

70mm, f/4.5, ISO 800, 1/2 second

The park was fairly quiet. The soccer field was lit up and some guys were playing a game over there. But the walkway that ran up and down the Hudson in Weehawken was fairly quiet. Just scattered folks. I took up position right at the end of the parking lot and decided to take some night pics of the city. From that vantage point, everything looms large across the Hudson. The Empire State Building sticks out, and the “New Yorker” sign stands out from a building in front at that angle. Perfect shot.

So I set up my busted tripod and attached my camera with its wide angle lens. Seriously, two of the three legs on my tripod don’t attach to the center pole anymore. THAT’S why you don’t “invest” in a $30 tripod. I can get it to stand up and support the camera weight, but I’d hardly call it sturdy and reliable. It’s “good enough.” Maybe.

Shooting in manual mode, I went with auto-focus on my 17-35mm lens and played with the ISO setting and the shutter speed. It was extremely difficult to get a crisp shot of the lit-up buildings, though, for two reasons. First, the wind was howling off the river, shaking everything in its path, including my camera. Second, the tripod is such a piece of crap that who knows how steady it was. I used my remote shutter button with a two second delay to help minimize shake, but it wasn’t really enough. I took a lot of shots in the hopes of getting lucky with one. I think I did.

Along the way, a bicyclist came by with a backpack and stopped to chat. I noticed the tripod hanging off his backpack and we struck up a conversation about shooting the city in the wind. He had a slight accent. Not sure if it was British or Australian or what, but we talked about the lights and the best places to shoot them. He said the best place was a couple miles north, but that the wind made it impossible.

Another gentleman came by later with his point and shoot. He couldn’t get the flash to not pop off with every shot. I tried to help him, but couldn’t. It was tricky to do that in the dark with someone else’s camera, no manual, and no obvious button next to the old flash with a bar striking through it.

The walkway winds south from there, around the fields and eventually over to a restaurant that juts out into the water. I decided to see if an angle would open up on the lights from there for me. Spoiler: It did. But there were a lot of lessons yet to learn.

To Be Concluded Tomorrow. . .

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