Taking My First Photo Class in New York City

There is something about holding printed pictures in your hands. Something tangible and less virtual than simply flipping from one image to another when staring into a screen. This is how I felt after printing out my first batch of pictures for SXM 200.

I have been a busy bee on the weekends recently. Every Saturday morning, for the past three weekends already. Right after the Montauk Weekend Getaway (read more here) I started my first photo course ever. I guess for everyone comes the time when you really want to improve your passion. When you want to take your hobby to another level. This time was for me then and it still is now. And even though I had missed out on the first class because it had been my birthday weekend and all, the teacher still let me take part in the following four weekends. So I became a student at the FIT in New York. Yeah, go figure! I’ve walked past it so many times, even tried myself as a model once, but never imagined to be a part of a non-for-credit course there once. Well, now I was. And the excitement hasn’t ceased!

The introductory course has taken place every Saturday from 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM. Within the past three Saturdays I’ve learned how to set the exposure right, how to monitor depth of field and motion, what to look out for in composition and, and, and.

This might sound easy and clear cut, but it really is not. See, I got my first DSLR less than a year ago, in August of 2011. At first I was too overwhelmed to look much further into the manual setting and simply wanted to play around with the focus and see how the pictures turned out.

Then I slowly worked my way up to figuring out how to change the ISO and what the shutter speed could possibly stand for. With a little help of my passionate and patient photography friend, I finally started using the manual mode in December. Which was the right time, with all those Christmas lights going on and even better so, as he gave me my very first tripod (to date a luxury). A purchase of another lens followed and I was finally starting to feel more comfortable with the opportunities at hand. But somehow, there was always something missing. I didn’t know how to shoot motion well or how to make that picture less blurry. I was still missing out on the real depth of photography, is how I felt. Especially after having taken pictures of my friends’ wedding. I thought I could do much better if only someone could provide me a bit more training and understanding of this field.

(framing a picture/rooftop view from the Gansevoort/Meatpacking)

These are the main reasons why I started taking the current course. And it turned out to be a gold mine for exactly what I had in mind. Concepts such as light painting or still river flows at night – completely left out of my head for the past 10 months. As the classes followed, one concept after another was revealed and I began to realize how much more there is to learn and how much else is out there. Fortunately!

I also happen to not be alone with this opinion. Our class is small, with only 7 students in total (at some point it used to be more but they were swallowed by the summer hole). The size offers a great advantage: More supervised hands-on experience and training whenever you ask for it. Our teacher always makes sure that we get enough practice before he lets us go for the weekly assignments. The first 1 1/2 hours have so far always been calculated for a theoretical lesson while the last hour or so includes taking us outside and having us shoot pictures of random things. The macro lens pictures, for example, were taken on a random street corner in the midst of Manhattan! Unbelievable, huh? Another proof of how important the right lens is.

(100mm macro lens, 2.8 f/stop)

From flash photography over panned motion to depth of field – we learned a lot in those few hours we had this month. Tomorrow I will be trotting the aisles of the FIT for the last time this summer and then I hope to grow on my very own photo assignments I will be giving myself throughout the following months.

For any aspiring photographer, I can only recommend taking an introductory course. Even though you think you might know it all, every teacher has a different perspective of showing you and emphasizing things you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. We had a girl in our class who took a six-months-long photo seminar in Africa. After taking this class she still didn’t think it was a waste of her money but instead she was glad to have been a part of it. Just like I feel after those last few productive Saturdays! It was great to try out camera gear I would have otherwise had to rent out from a big vendor. Or to meet people who are equally passionate about shots and who have the least clue of how to go about. And having the chance to express myself in a different way than work and write!

(panned motion)

And to show us aspiring (amateur) photographers a light at the end of the tunnel: There is only so and so much another photographer can teach you. The rest is up to your imagination and creativity. Even though you could have the best camera gear and the best teacher, you can still be a lousy artist unless you let your heart speak. So let your intuition and thoughts go loose in an area as imaginative as photography!

See A Picture Every Day for What I’ve learned in SXM 200 so far:

Life Through the Eyes of a Macro Lens

Experimenting with Light Painting

Panning Motion

Rooftop View (framing pictures, lines, night photography)

Final Photo Essay: Brunch at Mulane’s

Shots with a 50 – 200mm Sigma lens(F 4.0 – 5.6): Prospect Park One Summer Evening

7 Tips on Blogging

I know, I know what you are thinking! Only two weeks into the blogging process and she wants to give us tips on blogging?! Yes, I agree, credibility-wise maybe not the best! Sorry I cannot show you some well-deserved 5 years of experience. Or 100 blog posts to prove my point. I have merely come to see after 2 weeks of blogging that there are some pitfalls to watch out for and that the following can be taken as suggestions meant to help you become better at what you are already doing excellently! So, what I have come to find is:

1) If you have a topic, don’t push it off or wait too long to write about it!
A mistake made not only by beginners but maybe also by people who have a limited time for writing or other priorities (don’t we all have those!). And by the way, this can be said about all types of writing, from updating your private journal, composing a letter, spelling out an E-Mail, creating your own book and so on …. It is always best to write down the idea as long as it is still fresh in your head and it hasn’t been distorted by other memories interfering with it. If you wait too long, you might be at risk for forgetting the main points or the story won’t come out as smooth and well-written as you wanted it the first day you thought about it (You should have seen my draft inbox – I’ve made a point of either writing them out or discarding them right away, otherwise the posts would cluster up and never get done).

2) Make a list of topics …
…you want to discuss in your blogs or write out the main points of some stories and experiences you want to include in your online identity. This is of advantage for two reasons: First, it helps in sorting your thoughts and finding new, exciting topics while writing them down. You cannot imagine the amount of themes I wanted to discuss the first day I started writing and how I had to pause myself for a sec and to negotiate in only writing one piece a day (which until now has accumulated to a great average of 4 posts a week, not bad, don’t you think?!) Second, in case you are experiencing a case of the writer’s block (very common after party-weekends, sad moments, or in unstimulating environments) you will always have a back-up of ideas you can rely on. Matter of fact, I haven’t finished one third of the topics I included on my list and every time I want to get back to it, it seems like a new topic comes to mind, which I have to attend to first.

3) Give your post some time to proofread!
You should write what comes to your mind, but then you should also give it significant time to settle until you get back to the editing and proofreading part. Don’t write, look over it, and post. Spotting most of your mistakes will usually require you to be away from the post for a few hours; after reading your work again you might notice the finer errors. Best case scenario: Have someone else proofread your thoughts. I know this is mostly not possible for various reasons (and I did not mean copyright issues!), so just do some other work until you get back to the writing part. By the way, this is not only true for a word blog, but also when you include images. The order of the pictures might look better a certain way then when you initially posted it, so allow yourself some time of distraction and then come back to see if it still looks like a creative piece of art or needs some correction.

4) Write whatever you want! But be respectful!
Write what comes to your mind, post what expresses your deepest desires, compose whatever will make you feel better. Just be aware that, unless you didn’t select the “private” option, your ideas will float out into space and eventually reach other human beings, who might be curious to see what your page is about. And yes, after decades have passed since the internet was invented, there still exists something like an online etiquette, even though some people have appeared to forgotten what this means. If you want others to appreciate what you have written, then you have to be respectful to at least the same degree you would want others to be towards you. And, to take it a step further, you should not leave it at that, but start your courtesy at a level well above your normal buddy standards.

5) Be creative!
I believe there is nothing more boring than those awful 2 sentence posts people come up with just for the heck of posting something or because they cannot find the courage to delete their account. These are mostly the pages that are dead and inactive after a few months of blogging. So senseless, if you ask me! If you don’t have anything to post about, then come up with a great story. Or tell us about your life, I am sure it is not as boring as you think it is. Everyone expresses themselves in a different way. In case you haven’t noticed, I like to write lengthy blogs filled with a lot of information. Others care for having a picture blog to show the world where they have been on their travels or what their hometown looks like. There are a bunch of great ideas! My friends have opened up a combination of both while roadtripping through the entire US: They have included their great stories and rounded it off with some well-shot pictures!

6) Don’t take too much time “off”!
I know there are always occasions in which you cannot help it but refrain from blogging. Motherhood. Traveling without access to a computer. Not being near civilization. Blogging blues. A new job, relationship, move to another city. Yes, there are many reasons. But the longer the intervals between the blogs get, the harder it is to find back to the rhythm you had before. It takes motivation to write on a regular basis, I agree. Having an extended readership base or knowing that someone is following you is always helpful. But you have to do some things on your own sometimes and that is to pull yourself together and do as excellent a job as you did before! Just follow the tips until this point, and you’ll be just fine. Promise!

7) Don’t forget the fun factor!
Last, but not least (hehe), don’t forget that this is not a test or a pain in the butt which you have to endure. This is all about showing others what you want to share and what you have come up with in your gorgeous head while sitting in front of a computer. If jotting down a few words seems like a torture or posting images does not go hand in hand with your time limits, then there is not much sense in having something like this. But really don’t take criticism too seriously- after all, it’s about what you create and how you see things that will make your posts a pleasure to follow.

Reflecting Thoughts on a Year Abroad

Samar and I @ Brooklyn Bridge
Sushi Bar Tribeca
Magnolia Bakery

My second year in New York has come around about 2 and a half months ago. It’s weird how it differs from the first 12 months over here.

The first year abroad was crazy, chaotic, and stuffed with one event after another. Every season had its different highlights, and different things to do. Especially this time of the year was very eventful. First of all, it was the beginning 3 months, and so much exploring, job-seeking, apartment-hunting, friend-making had to be done. Just the thought of having to stay in my apartment for longer than necessary made me feel at unease because I was convinced I would be missing out on life outside. To give the weather some credit, it was one of the most amazing early springs and summers you could dream of for your first stay in a new city. As far as I remember, the end of April and the beginning of May were hitting it off well in the mid-80s (equivalent to 26 degrees Celsius and up). Just a beautiful atmosphere for sightseeing, wandering around, and discovering new parts in the City. Not to mention an early beach visit in April already and tanning by the end of May. You definitely couldn’t top that, even though it was the precursor for the many, consistent heat waves New York was suffering in 2010. At the same time Europe and specifically Germany was not having too much fun in their summer months, which made me appreciate NYC’s weather even more.

Second, it was also a time of turmoil and many deep reflections. The beginning phase was the most crucial one as it was about deciding on the length of my stay: It was up to either a six months time limit or a stay lasting one year and longer. As you can tell, I took the second option and am still here. But I have to admit that it is still a time of reflecting and thinking when it comes to determining how long I will be in New York. I know I will not stay forever or for long – those 8 years of New Yorkness I have seen in others scare the crap out of me.
It is up to the future, of course, and the opportunities that will come around. Finishing up with school is a crucial factor, which I cannot and will not push off for too much longer, and, therefore, it is just a matter of time when I will hit the road again. However, one of the initial feelings has stayed with me until now: The insecurity and indetermination when it comes to knowing when this experience and adventure will end. Which gives me a different feel for life over here. I consider it to be the base of a better, more positive outlook than the one I had before, especially when living in Germany. It gives me the strength and the perspective to appreciate everything that comes along and to see things in a brighter light, even though times are rough over here on occasion. I learned that the present moment is the most important part of our journey and that there is no need to place too much emphasis on the past and the future. Most of the things I need to be happy I already have or I am dreaming of. And dreams are there to be chased.

Third, the degree of contact is another thing I have come to notice in terms of relationships and keeping in touch with my friends from overseas: It has, sadly, diminished over the year, but, on the bright side, this doesn’t seem to affect our feelings we have for each other. I have had a few visitors over while being here. Some were friends I hadn’t seen in 3 years, mostly UWF folks

Sarah and I in Midtown

(thanks, Sarah for stopping by, reconnecting, and introducing me to Amanda!), some were acquaintances I hadn’t really been friends with from the beginning, some were family members who decided to reconnect on this part of the world (thanks, cousins!). Others were friends from Germany I hadn’t seen in a year and who I had known since kindergarten or high school. But I hadn’t had the chance to meet most of the folks from Europe again, since I haven’t paid my home a visit – yet. However, E-Mails and Skype helped a lot in the beginning. Not only in eliminating home sickness, but also in keeping each other updated on everyone’s progress and life. I have come to find, though, that those people who really want to stay in touch, always find a way to do so, and that those who have gone on to a different stage of life have found a way to lose sight. Which is perfectly fine, this is the normal cycle of friendship, I suppose. After one year it seems hard on both sides to keep writing updates and telling each other some new stuff. However, I know that I will always be able to rely on certain people, even though I haven’t heard from them in almost six months (yes, you know who I am talking about! haha). It is more important to be able to have a good time when meeting up again and feeling that, albeit many things have happened, not much has changed, and not much will affect the relationship. I am proud to say that I do have some friends who will fit into this category and this makes me master the hard times over here so much better.

The older I get, the more I come to see that it is easier to meet new people, start some small talk, and maybe even keep in touch than it was when I was younger. I have been able to find some new friends over here, too – some of which have stayed, some of which have gone back to their home country. However, I cannot shake of the impression that my purest and deepest friendships have their roots in the past and have been formed many years ago. Which makes the circumstance that I am still friends with some of these even more special. And if a visit to far-far-away has made me form this conclusion, it was definitely worth the trouble. I therefore thank you for being there, although you are not here in person. You have helped a lot!

The Beginning…it has to start somewhere!

“GermanAmericanAbroad: For what will not be written down will be forgotten.” -Laura

First and foremost, this blog is intended for my family and friends overseas, who could not join me on this whirling trip of life and who are therefore excluded of all the chaos connected to moving to another continent, adjusting to an 8-million-citizen city, and figuring out what to do with this enormous potential at my hands.

While I was considering blogging in German (since most of these people are, yes, you guessed it, still stuck in Germany), I figured that it would  just create another communication barrier for my attempt of keeping this blog wide open for any possibility out there and sharing my experiences with a variety of people from other countries. Also, I consider this an excellent (!) opportunity for you folks to polish up on your English skills and to, hopefully, have an entertaining time in following up on my posts. The creation of this blog (more of a creaction, if you know what I mean) is a mere attempt of me trying to avoid writing each and everyone one of you a personal update on my recent trip, my new job, my breath-taking experience, or anything else that seems to happen over here every other day – or so it seems. I know I know, this is not the most elegant way to let you know that I have become literally a bit burned out by writing lengthy E-Mails, never-ending Facebook updates, and numerous text messages just to let you know THAT I AM FINE! It appeared that once I send that one E-mail, I still had at least ten others ahead of me and, even then, there was no end to updating everyone on some new events. In conclusion, take this as a beginning effort of me conveying to you what I have and will go through in New York and the rest of the world without getting too personal and without addressing you directly. Nonetheless, I have to start somewhere.

Second, but not less important, this also goes out to all the folks who do not (yet) know me: I am a 23-year-old German-American blogger (new to the business but eager to learn), who has moved to New York City 15 months ago. I figured that writing things down besides into my personal journal would give me the advantage of looking back at the things I have accomplished, the things I still want to accomplish, and other dreams I am pursuing. You might find this page entertaining as it offers some insight into the German culture and how this reacts with a year-long-stay in the “so-not-European-at all” East Coast metropolis. Maybe you will also find two or three topics you will be able to recognize as something you have similarly gone through and you might agree with a few opinions I share.  If this is the case: I am ALWAYS curious to know your story of life, current living situation etc. etc. I consider this not only a great opportunity for creative writing but also a great chance for exchanging parallel or completely opposing ideas.

This being said, I cannot wait to start and update my very own site!

Cheers to all,


Manhattan Skyline