Smokey Coat NYC 2017 Michael Kowalczyk Photography
Interview with Michael Kowalczyk about making of Smokey Coat
Street Photo Tip Making Of Smokey Coat
Smokey Coat, Midtown Manhattan, New York City 2017

About the photographer

Michael Kowalczyk makes photographs in public since 2003. After moving from Germany to New York City in summer 2015 he continued learning to master this craft trough participation in dedicated Street Photo workshops in the International Center of Photography School. During two years in NYC he made a couple of pleasing photographs in public, one of them is Smokey Coat.

Where and when did you make the photo?

  • Location: Madison Ave & East 37th Street, New York City
  • Time: Monday, January 9th, 2017, 3:37 pm
  • Weather: Scattered clouds, Temp. around -6 °C

What catched your attention in the first place?

My initial point of interest was the hot steam rising from a gully next to the crossing between East 37th Street and Madison Ave.

Was it a “one shot” or did you work the scene, making more than one exposure?

I start shooting from a standing point of view. Photographing pedestrians walking into and out the steam. I glimpse at my shots to check if there is anything interesting. The steam output is not steady. Cars pass by and the steam moves with their driving directions. I stick around and wait for times without cars passing by. In the distance, I notice a uniformed looking, hat-wearing character walking towards the crossing. Distinctive hat-wearers get my street photo attention almost always. As he gets closer I get a better sense of his classy 50’s outfit. He appears to be from another time.

I pre-visualize the scene and plan to shoot a frame right after he walks through the steam. I want to scale up the steam in comparison to the guy. To achieve this I need to crouch down and tilt my GR up a bit. In this position, the camera display becomes less visible

I half-press the shutter and prefocus on the curb. The man starts walking over E37th and I start photographing single frames. The first ones have the subject centered. As he moves I realize that the scene needs a stronger vanishing point and spin the camera slightly to the left.

The final image:
He passes through the steam and I capture him in mid-step. His head positioned in the upper right, following the classic rule of thirds framing. The steam is sticking to his neck and coat. It connects him with the rest of the cloud down below. The steam’s triangle shape repeats in the building lines on the right. This makes the frame stick together more strongly.

street photo tip making of smokey coat
Smokey Coat, Midtown Manhattan, New York City 2017

Which camera and settings did you choose?

  • Ricoh GR
  • Spot Metering
  • 1/320th
  • f/5.6
  • ISO 800

Did you apply and post-processing work to the final image?

I am currently traveling and do not have access to the original image file. However, I tried to undo-edit the final photo to show how I remember the original to be

Smokey Coat Original Image

I recall the original file format to be RAW .DNG. The photo lacked saturation, contrast definition and the character appeared much less bright. Especially his face was darker because of the hat. Also, the vertical tilt of the building lines was more pronounced.

I did the post processing in Adobe Lightroom.


  • Cropping left to exclude a part of the car.

Basic Tone Adjustments:

  • Decreasing Highlights
  • Increasing Shadows
  • Increasing Whites
  • Slightly decreasing Blacks
  • Increasing Clarity

Local Adjustment Brushes:

  • Increasing Exposure, adding Clarity, Sharpness, and Saturation on the Face
  • Increasing Exposure, adding Clarity on the coats highlights
  • Decreasing Contrast on the Smoke
  • Adding Clarity and Sharpness on the Smoke, especially the Edges

Tone Curve:

  • Increasing Contrast by applying S-Curve, more adjustments possible

HSL Adjustments:

  • Increasing Saturation and Luminance of Orange and Red


  • Increasing Sharpness

Lens Correction:

  • Applied a self-made Ricoh GR Geometric Lens Correction profile (download it here)


  • Decreasing Vertical Tilt

What is your key-takeaway after making this particular photo?

Sticking around an interesting location and waiting pays out!