Just like great landscape photography, shooting a city comes down to more than simply being there. You have to be in the right place, at the right time. That’s certainly what makes Ron Timehin’s New York project come alive. A mix of iconic and unseen views, from dawn to dusk, it was shot across five days for a local hotel company, and drew upon both his experience in landscape and travel shooting, and his previous location work for brands in London.
“Hotel Indigo saw my Instagram,” says Ron, “and it fitted what they wanted – a campaign to drive interest and get people visiting their hotel in lower Manhattan, interweaving the hotel into the story of the city.”
So, how do you go about finding great locations, especially in a city you don’t live in?
“You can’t completely avoid the touristy places,” Ron explains, “but I try to stay away from them and look for stuff that’s a bit more hidden. I just applied the same techniques as I did in London – a mix of searching for photography online, but also looking for places like rooftop bars. Whatever city it is, they always have great views, and one of the shots here is from Indigo’s own bar.”
It also helps to have some inside intel, of course; “Through Instagram,” he explains, “I also have connections in New York, and as a network, we swap good locations between us. I show them mine, and they show me theirs!”
With only a week to shoot, Ron had to put some serious hours in. “I prefer to work like that though,” he laughs, “getting in the zone and going all at it, because when it’s spaced out over a longer period you can lose motivation and focus. The only downside was, just like landscapes, you’re very reliant on the weather. So, I was out most of the time, shooting at sunrise and sunset. Like scenics, I tend to avoid the middle of the day because the light is less interesting. But by being out a lot, I got a good mix of conditions, including fog, which is always welcome. I’m a big advocate of ‘bad weather makes good photos’.”
Shooting with Sony gear since he picked up the original a7R, Ron immediately found his new mirrorless kit was better for traveling then big, heavy DSLRs. Now shooting with the a7R III, “the detail is fantastic,” he says, “and to make sure I’m getting all of the sharpness the sensor allows, I like to focus manually. For that, I love the focus peaking in the viewfinder; I’ve mine set to yellow as I’ve found it stands out well in urban scenes.”
I didn’t realise how much using an EVF and a high-quality tilting LCD would affect my work,” he continues, “but there are so many features of them I couldn’t do without now.” He explains: “In a lot of my shots I like to focus on symmetry, so using the preview grids helps me do that, both in the viewfinder and using the screen flipped out. But the big thing for me is shooting with an exposure preview. It saves so much time, and that’s vital because in busy places and street situations you may miss the moment otherwise.
Ron also likes to work more often handheld than with a tripod, though he says he never had a problem using one in New York – unlike in London. “One of the shots here is a moving train in the subway, which I couldn’t have got so easily in London as tripods are banned on the Tube. Because I’m on my feet so much, though, I try to work without the extra weight of a tripod most of the time, so the a7R III’s In-Body Image Stabilisation is vital for me.”
The wide choice of Alpha lenses is also vital in Ron’s city projects.
I have the 12-24mm, but mainly for when I’m right on top of the architecture, or for interiors,” he explains, “because, in the clutter of the city, longer lenses like the 50mm or 70-200mm can really help simplify the environment, making the composition cleaner. For reasons of weight, I don’t often take the 70-200mm with me when scouting around, but work out where it can help me and return.
His favourite lens? “The 35mm,” he enthuses; continuing, “it’s just so versatile, and its view is so human – it’s a real storytelling lens for the urban landscape and along with the a7R III it made the project come alive.”
"Photography provides the ability to process, appreciate and interpret the world around me"