30 Minutes of Serendipity

Serendipity for photographers doesn’t often come in chunks more than a few moments long. That unplanned gorgeous sunset, super clouds at sunrise, a break in the city crowds, special light coming through a window, the swooping eagle, a child’s smile, all may only last the amount of time permitted a few exposures. Other times serendipity says “Hi, I’m here!” in such an obvious fashion that we overlook it, take it for granted, or miss the uniqueness altogether.  

The ferry ride from Staten Island to Manhattan is around 30 minutes. Locals making the commute usually show little interest beyond finding a quiet place to catch a short nap, listen to some music, read a paper, catch up on work, or all of the above. Upon boarding, tourists make a beeline for the port side so that they may snap fuzzy pictures of a distant Lady Liberty. As a photographer, the best place to take in the approach to Manhattan is of course the bow. Get there early and stake your 2 square feet of deck.

I’ve made the trip a number of times over the past 25+ years but this last time was different. The air seemed sharp and clear with little cotton balls of clouds dotting the sky. The water was smooth and little wind could be felt. I had just purchased a few Pentax Limited lenses and was anxious to explore ‘The City’ with these primes. Generally I prefer shooting buildings and cityscapes with infrared cameras and in this case my two converted Pentax bodies were mounted with the 21mm Limited and the 77mm Limited.

Once we left the Staten Island ferry building it took me a few minutes to realize that serendipity was calling to me. The cloud speckled sky framing the distant, angular skyline was begging for a wide-angle, black-and-white-via-infrared expression. The journey across the sound was so smooth I could even take hand-held multiple exposures in order to extend my dynamic range via blending. This in turn gave me the idea to try multiple shot hand-held panoramas with the longer 77mm. As we neared the Manhattan side, I finished the ride with the wider view provided by the 21mm lens.

It wasn’t until I was home again and processing the images that I truly realized the serendipitous nature of that short, 30 minute boat ride. The images seemed to leap off of the screen with a topographically clarity. The two panoramas in particular – one comprised of 5 exposures taken of a far distant Jersey City, Manhattan and Brooklyn and the other made up of 4 tighter frames of just The City and Brooklyn – were exceptionally vivid.

Of course serendipity only has so much to do with a good and successful image. Luck may have put us on that boat on that day and that time, but the rest was up to me.

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