Have you ever been in a situation where (as an adult) you’re meeting family that you’ve never met before? If I had to describe my feelings leading up to this encounter in 1 word – I’d say awkward!

I never had the chance to meet my cousin Melei as my aunt decided to stay behind in Cuba when given the opportunity to leave. My mom on the other hand opted out of communism and headed to New York City with my grandparents.

But it was’t an easy transition as those who wanted to leave Cuba were forced to work in labor camps.

Fast forward 30 years later and my cousin Milei moved to Miami Florida by way of Spain. fFast forward another 9 years and she made a decision to take the time to really get to know my mom (her aunt). So she booked a weekend trip to visit New York City.

I wasn’t scheduled to be in town (since I moved to Boston 2 years ago) but I promised to be there for at least one night because I knew it meant a lot for mom – especially given the fact we don’t have a large family.

I still travel to NYC from time to time when someone is in need of my website, video or photo services; so I figured I schedule a few meet ups with some clients and kill 2 birds with 1 stone.

It’s said that you can chose your friends and not your family. And I’m sure we all have family that we’d never be friends with – if it weren’t for that common bond. So going in to this I’ was wondering how it’d all work out.


All that being said, I felt awkward meeting this stranger whom I’ve never met that also happens to be family. It’s been 39 years in the making and there a lot of questions and unknowns I had leading up to meeting her…

  • My Spanish is a bit rusty and I was wondering – how good is her English? I understand 90% of what people say when they are speaking Spanish. But since I don’t speak it everyday I get stuck when I have to conjugate verbs. I used to speak Cantonese a long time ago with my grandmother but that is long gone! I know a handful of words and most of them happen to be curse words – lol. It’s funny how when people learn a new language they always learn the bad ones first!
  • Should I be myself or be my “out in the real world” persona? You see, I’m a bit of a jokester and don’t take life too seriously. I’m all about trying having a fun time no matter the situation. But we all have that “representative” side of our personality. The side of us that we use when in business and situations where we have to act like a “normal” member of society. As a side-note it sucks when people marry people and they aren’t themselves. Imagine having to be the “representative” side of yourself at home? If you’re reading this, before you get into a long term commitment with a life partner – make sure you can be yourself!
  • What the hell will we have in common? It’s a lot easier to have an authentic and engaging conversation with people if you can find a thing to talk about. But going in to this situation I was going in cold. At least if I had an idea of what she likes I can latch on to that as a fallback.


Traffic wasn’t too bad from Boston to NYC and I made it in about 3 and half hours. Time seems to go a bit faster when you’re talking to people on the phone. The topic at hand was my current situation and people were offering me their advice.

“Just be yourself” was the popular opinion. If it didn’t work out or we didn’t click, I’d be under no obligation to meet her again; as I only committed to meeting her for dinner and she lives hundreds of miles away.

As I walked up the stairs to mom’s apartment (or flat if you’re reading this in Europe) I said to myself “here we go”. When she opened the door I gave her a big hug (as I’m a hugger). Well it turns out we have at least one thing in common.

She understands English more than she speaks it. She’s also in the understanding 90% of what’s being said club. Throughout the evening she spoke to me in Spanish and I spoke to her in English.

Since we were all hungry and exchanged those initial pleasantries, we set out to a magical place in College Point Queens named “The Buffet”. Not really a catchy name, I know but that’s the name “The Buffet”. But I must say it’s the best buffet in all of NYC! That is if you’re into authentic Asian food!

On the way there I got caught out there a few times. You know when someone is speaking to you in another language and instead of saying you don’t understand you smile in a way that suggests you understand what they just said?

You may even laugh thinking they just told a joke. Well on more than one occasion she was actually asking me a question and I mistook it for a statement. Awkwarrrrdd!

After dinner mom wanted to show Melei Long Island City (also in Queens NYC). I was a bit tired as it was a long day for me, but I said why not – I’ll go. I was hoping to find parking to take some pictures while I had my camera with me. I knew it was going to be challenging – but not impossible.

I dropped them off and by the time I found a spot and walked over to them, they were ready to go. For a summer night in August, the weather was unseasonably cold. 50 degrees to a native New Yorker is nothing.

But for someone that grew up in the tropical weather of Cuba and now lives in Florida it was freezing!

I didn’t have much time to “work the scene” as they were cold and ready to leave so I took a few shots as quickly as I can. Shooting at night takes a lot more effort given the fact a tripod needs to be used.

It’s 10 times easier to shoot in the day as you can take quick snapshots hand held and keep it moving. But using a tripod slows things down – which is a good thing as it forces you to put more thought into the image. But you have to spend the time to work the scene.


If you’re wondering what those structures are – they are gantries. According to wikipedia:

“These were built in 1925 to load and unload rail car floats that served industries on Long Island via the long Island Rail Road tracks that used to run along 48th Avenue (now part of Hunter’s Point Park)”.


After I dropped them off, I thought to myself that it wasn’t too bad hanging out with her. Plus mom on more than one occasion expressed that it’d mean a lot for me to join them tomorrow on their visit to the new World Trade Center – officially named “One World Trade Center”.

I had a few things booked for the following day and seeing how much it would have meant to her I said I’ll be there.


The next morning I had some time to kill and I decided to visit Chooky’s old stomping grounds – Ferry Point Park in the Bronx.

Before she came into my life – everything I heard and read about having a Boston Terrier was that they are good dogs for small homes and apartments. Well that is a lie!

It turns out that Boston Terriers have a lot of energy. Going on 1 or 2 hour walks wouldn’t cut it for Chooky, so I had to take her to a park where she can run off leash to burn her energy.

Every day after work (when I had enough energy) I used to take her to this park. The great thing about this spot was that there were rarely any other people (and dogs) there.

Which meant I was able to let Chooky (on the left) and Gizmo (on the right) run in the grass for as far and as long as they wanted.

In case you’re wondering – the bridge in the background is the Whitestone Bridge. It connects the boroughs of the Bronx and Queens.

It was kind of weird walking around as if you would have told me I’d be living in Massachusetts in 3 years later, I wouldn’t have believed it. All of my life everything has revolved around New York City.

I was born there and I was going to die there! But as I got older I got burnt out of the hustle and bustle. But that’s a story for another day.

Shooting when there aren’t many clouds and the sun is bright – makes for poor shooting conditions as the quality of light is harsh and images will lack contrast. So what is someone to do when a picture is boring and lacks drama? Convert it to black and white!

The beauty of black and white images is that your subject matter takes center stage. Color images can be distracting as the human brain has a lot to process. But when images are monochromatic – all you have is the composition.

In the far distance you can see Manhattan.

In this shot, I decided to cut down on some of the light, and make the sky a bit bluer. To do accomplish this I used a circular polarizer filter (more on this in a second).

The next stop was to the TATS Cru office. Located in the birthplace of hip hop music and graffiti – The South Bronx. I was working on updating their website and I needed to go over some details with them.

If you’ve never heard of TATS Cru – their graffiti artists from the Bronx. They’re kind of a big deal as their work is world renowned. How many artists can say their work is in the Smithsonian?


Construction took so long with the new Trade Center that I remember feeling it’d never be completed in my lifetime – but eventually it got built. I did visit the memorial a few years back but I never went to One World Financial Center.

It was on my list of places to go one day. I also have a thing for taking pictures in high vantage points, so you know I was excited!

Native New Yorkers avoid tourist spots like the plague. It’d be safe to say the majority of New Yorkers have never been to the Statue of Liberty. We avoid going to places like Times Square because of the traffic – and the tourists.

And now that I think about it – parking is another factor. Who wants to pay $50 – $80 to park for a few hours? Taking the subway is also an option, but when you have a car – taking the train is the preferred way to get around.

But I have a solution for you and that’s SpotHero. I use this app to save money and reserve a parking ahead of time. Click on the image below and get $7 off your first booking.


oculus professional photo nyc

What you see here is actually a shopping mall named “Westfield World Trade Center”. I have to figure out a time when there aren’t many people. As it’d look a million times better without any people in the shot.

There were so many people out and about because of the cool weather. NYC gets very humid in the summer and it seemed like everyone decided to go outside.

I also included some color and black and white images above, so you can do another comparison. Do you see how much more dramatic the monochromatic versions are!

Another trick, or tool of the trade is using ultra-wide lenses. These lenses are useful when shooting architecture. You typically don’t want to shoot portraits with this lens as there is a lot of distortion on the edges.

I decided to see if I could squeeze in one of the tallest buildings in the world with my 16mm – 35mm lens and sure enough, I was able to get it all in from across the street!

I also wanted to show you guys how a circular polarizer filter can make your images pop. The image on the left is without the filter and the one on the right is with it on. The idea behind circular polarizer filters are that they reduce reflections and glare.

Plus it makes blue skies bluer.

I rendezvoused with my cousin and mom by the World Trade Center Memorial. This giant hole in the ground is where one of the towers used to be.

Here’s another tidbit of photography advice: when shooting on a sunny day, consider using a shade or cloudy white balance. It’ll add some warmth to your images!

If you’re a professional photographer reading this and you’re considering visiting the observation deck, I’d highly suggest leaving your tripod home as they’ll confiscate, rather, hold on to it for you.

To say I was uncomfortable about leaving my obscenely expensive tripod would be an understatement! Thankfully it was still there when we finished the tour, but truth be told, I was thinking about my tripod the entire time I was there.

Upon passing security screening, they usher you over to an elevator. I was told that I didn’t want to miss this and watch the screen – so I used my sir to shoot some video. Be sure to click on the following video…

It’s crazy how fast the elevator moves! From the first floor to the 102nd took less than a minute. You don’t really feel it until you start walking around. I think it took me around 5 minutes for the wobbly feeling to go away.


When I know what’s coming and I’m super excited about something, I have a tendency of telling people “you’re not ready for this!”. Well I wish someone would have told me this as my mind was blown!

When I know what’s coming and I’m super excited about something, I have a tendency of telling people “you’re not ready for this!”. Well I wish someone would have told me this as my mind was blown!

Truth be told I got a bit misty eyed and people started embracing each other. When the presentation finished the screen rises and you get your first view of Manhattan from 103 stories above! Be sure to click on the following video.

When the presentation finished the screen rises and you get your first view of Manhattan from 103 stories above! Truth be told I got a bit misty eyed and people started embracing each other. Unfortunately I wasn’t prepared to compensate my settings on my camera as there is no automatic setting when shooting video on an SLR.

Next time I go, I’ll bring an automatic video camera the will adjust the exposure on the fly. I know this video doesn’t do justice – but follow me and I’ll post a better video in the future.

Shooting anything behind glass is tricky due to reflections. Check out the reflections on the next image. The key is to get as close as you can to the glass and shoot at an angle where reflections are not there or at least kept to a minimum.

It felt really nice seeing mom happy that we were there with her sharing the moment. Priceless!

So if you were wondering why I bought my tripod – it was so I can take a high res picture of the 3 of us. Thinking about it – I don’t think I ever printed a picture taken from a crappy cell phone. I wanted to take a “nice” picture that I can have as a keepsake.

I’m rarely in any “nice” pictures. But when I’m in an exotic place or I know I’m going to be with special people, I’ll bring my tripod and a remote. If you look closely you’ll see me holding it with my right hand.

So why not have a stranger take a picture you ask? If it’s my cellphone I typically don’t have an issue with it. But I’m not going to trust a complete stranger with my camera as it’s something I use to make a living.

I must have looked like a “real photographer” and looked like I knew what I was doing because at least 10 people asked me to take their picture with their camera. I had 2 families wait (to not disturb me) until I finished taking pictures so I can take theirs.

When traveling the key is to dress and look low key and not have gadgets hanging around your body – because you become a target. Especially when traveling overseas and things can be lawless. It’s always a good idea to dress down and not attract attention.

We said our goodbye’s and spending time with my cousin wasn’t bad. It was actually a very lovely time! And it also turned out she was actually holding out with her English skills as she spoke way more English this time around.


The next stop back to the Bronx to meet up with another client. There isn’t anything exciting or interesting that I can share with you guys. But once I handled my business I picked up some of my favorite people in the world and we headed the borough of kings – otherwise known as “Brooklyn”.

The PixelStick

I recently bought a PixelStick and I wanted to experiment with it. I played with it only once before and I quickly realized that it’s a 3 man job to make images with it. I can explain what it does – but it’d be easier to show you….

It takes a lot of coordination and when everyone does their part and nails it, the results are pretty cool! You can load any image of your choosing and light paint with it.

It’s not often I’m by the Brooklyn Bridge. It was one of my favorite hang out spots pre 911. I convinced the boys to take a walk with me on the bridge so I can take some long exposure shots. I would have taken more but Tyler (the younger guy) was unreasonably scared.


Katz Deli – A New York Institution

It had been several years since I’ve been to Katz Deli in Manhattan. Driving to “the city” (aka Manhattan) is always a mission. Dealing with traffic and finding parking is always a deterring factor. But since they’ve never been there and I had cash on me, we headed to Katz for their world famous pastrami sandwich.

I can almost guarantee that if you watch any top 10 or top 20 tv shows on some of the best restraints in the United States, you’ll surely see Katz make the list. This place prints money! Especially since they don’t take credit or debit cards.

If you’re ever in Manhattan or are in the area make an effort to head over there. Don’t order anything else except for their pastrami sandwich as it’s what they are known for.

The ride home was pretty gassy as everyone (including me) was farting in the car! I guess Katz puts something in their food that makes everyone “pass wind”.


Although I didn’t know it at the time, this weekend will forever have a special place in my heart. It was one of the most New York City centric weekends anyone can ever have and I’m happy I was able to meet my cousin. Plus the fact my mom was happy – put the icing on the cake!


I want to thank anyone that took the time to read this post. It took me a long time to put this together but it was worth the effort as I wanted to share my story with the world! Stay tuned for the next episode…












Pin It on Pinterest

Share This