The Lincoln Memorial

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, a man who is regarded by many as the best President in the history of the United States.  The Lincoln Memorial is my favorite of the many monuments and memorials in Washington and has been the subject of many of my photographs.  I thought it would be appropriate to share a few of those images on this day.

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Moonrise, Lincoln Memorial (March 2001)

 

Although sentiment for a memorial to Lincoln appeared almost immediately after his assassination in 1865, it was not until 1914 that construction began.  It opened to the public in 1922.

 

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Lincoln Memorial at Night (February 2002)

But even before funding was found and construction begun, considerable thought had been given to its placement by the little remembered Senate Park Commission Plan of 1902.  This group envisaged the now iconic overall design of the Washington National Mall with the Lincoln Memorial featured as the western anchor.

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Lincoln Memorial (Spring Equinox, 2013)

The fact that the Memorial is facing exactly due east and that its interior is open to elements, as envisaged by the 1902 Commission, made the photo above possible.  The alignment is such that only on a few days around the equinox (Spring and Fall) will the rising sun perfectly illuminate the statue of Lincoln with no shadows from the outer columns.  The alignment is perfectly centered for about 20 seconds.

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Interior, Fall Equinox 2009 (about a minute after alignment)

Even though the alignment occurs twice each year, one must also have clear skies in the east just as the sun rises, so this moment is relatively rare.

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Memorial Bridge Aligned with Lee House in Distance (March 2002)

The design and location of the Lincoln Memorial was part of a larger plan to symbolize the reconciliation between the North and South in the decades following the Civil War. Four years after the completion of the Lincoln Memorial, work began on the Arlington Memorial Bridge with an alignment directly from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.

But neglect over time has allowed both of these beautiful structures to deteriorate. For example, the above images of the Memorial’s steps reveal that they are quite dirty, a result of the inability of the National Park Service to obtain funding for such maintenance tasks. Observant visitors will find many examples of serious neglect throughout the structure. Fortunately, a major restoration over the next several years has been made possible by an $18.5 million donation by a private citizen, David Rubenstein.  The Memorial Bridge has also been in need of major repair and work has finally been scheduled.

lincoln-memorial-04-interiorInterior, Looking toward South Wall (March 2014)

The interior is still a beautiful space, however.  Depending on the natural light entering the chamber, the interior can take on many moods and repeat visits are worthwhile.  Most visitors spend their time gazing at the massive but elegant statue of Lincoln created by Daniel Chester French.  The actual carving of the stone by the Piccirilli brothers, immigrants from Italy, required four years.

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Interior, Carved Inscription of Gettysburg Address

Ernest C. Bairstow, also an immigrant, carved the inscriptions containing the text of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address on the interior north and south walls.  Evelyn Beatrice Longman, the first woman sculptor to be elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1919, completed all of the Lincoln Memorial interior decorative carvings surrounding the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Visitors today might want to spend a little time re-reading those words.

 

 

 

Martin Luther King Memorial

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Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The iconic sculpture (shown above) by Lei Yixin is well known and frequently photographed.  Behind the statue there is a long, gently curved wall containing quotations from some of his speeches.  On my most recent visit a few days ago, I selected a few of them to accompany the photo above.

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Excerpt from “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963

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From his speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on March 25, 1965

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Address to the Youth March for Integrated Schools in Washington DC, April 18, 1959

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From his 1963 book, “Strength to Love”

 

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Acceptance Speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, December 10, 1964, Oslo, Norway

Dangerous Waters

Although the weather forecast on New Year’s Day called for cloudy skies, the sun seemed to be making a game effort in the mid-morning so I thought I would celebrate the first day of 2017 photographing Great Falls National Park. I was thinking about a waterfall image with a nice feathery look, using a slower shutter speed on the water. An example of the concept is shown below, taken a week earlier.

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Great Falls of the Potomac (December 25th, 2016)

(Nikon D810 on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 150mm and ND filter; exp @ 1.6 secs, ISO 50)

The park is named for the Great Falls of the Potomac River, about 15 miles north of Washington, DC . It is a spectacular location for landscape photography but also is one of the most dangerous whitewater locations in the eastern U.S.  Since 1975, about 30 people have died there and only expert boaters should contemplate putting into this section of the river.

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Kayak portage across the”Flake”

Just as I arrived, I noticed several kayakers lugging their boats over the rocky island known as the Flake towards a put-in point for a run over the falls.  I sprinted for Overlook #1 which provides a decent view of all three routes over the falls.  For those who are not familiar with the level of these rapids, here are some excerpts from American Whitewater:

“Great Falls of the Potomac River is a major set of rapids located about 15 miles upstream of Washington, DC. The main Falls lines drop fifty feet in one-tenth of a mile, creating a Class V+ set of waterfalls.” (Note: Class VI is the most dangerous; anything more dangerous is considered unrunnable).

More scary information about the dangers of this kayak run can be found here: Scroll down to the several listings for Great Falls.

As I watched the boaters pick their way across the Flake, I surveyed the river trying to guess from the flow of the water which route they would choose.  The level is precisely measured by a hydrology station upriver and an online site provides current information which should dictate the choice.   A difference of 6 inches can make a big difference.

It looked to me as if two of the lines, the one closest to the Virginia shore (the Spout) and the one closest the Maryland shore (Maryland Lines) were  OK but the center line seemed too low to be safe. Two other boaters were already in the water near the put-in on the Maryland side so I concentrated on them.

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Approaching the final rapid on the Maryland Line

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A few seconds later, so far, so good

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Almost through

These two made the run nicely and paddled over to the base of the Flake and began the tricky portage back upstream.  It was then that I noticed two other boaters who seemed to be aiming for a run down the centerline, also known as “The Fingers” because there are five 25-foot vertical chutes to choose from.  The Fingers can be seen in the photo at the start of the post; it was taken from Outlook #3.

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Approaching the “Fingers”

The problem is that the wrong choice can be fatal.  I made an online check on the water level which showed it was about 1 inch below the level considered safe for that route. So the pair were pushing their luck just a bit.  Anyway, they made it OK, although I couldn’t see the finish from my vantage point. (See photo below)

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Running the Middle Finger (the correct choice)

No sooner has they completed their descents when four more kayakers moved into position for a run down the Virginia line.  This run finishes with “The Spout,” a spectacular 25-foot drop right in front of my position. Now I was getting really excited.

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In position for the Virginia Line, about 100 meters (and 3 rapids) from the Spout

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Through the 3 rapids and assessing the Spout

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Perfect Position!

All four made the run without encountering trouble and the small crowd with me at the overlook cheered loudly after each one resurfaced above the foam.  And the boaters themselves were proud of their accomplishment, judging from the energetic fist pumps made at the conclusion of their descents.

Of all the times I have been to the park and have been lucky enough to see kayakers, I have never seen runs made on all three of the major routes on the same day.  It was truly a special way to start the new year.

New Year, New Gear!

Photographers are always looking for new tools and techniques to help improve our work or to facilitate the exploration of new subject matter.  For me, it was the latter scenario—I recently purchased a new telephoto lens with the intention of taking a stab at wildlife photography.  As a long-time Nikon shooter and, as one not prone to splurge on gear, I settled on the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR  telephoto zoom and the Nikon 1.4 tel-extender.  When combined, they theoretically provide the capability to take a shot at 700mm.  That’s a big jump from my previous maximum of 340mm using a 1.7 extender with my 70-200m f/2.8 lens.

Weight is also a consideration.  The weight of the f/5.6 zoom lens is 5.1 lbs., while the weight of the 500mm f/4 prime lens is 8.54 lbs.   And for those who consider the weight of their wallet, the price difference is more than $5,000.

But how does it perform?  The answer to this question is still open, but some preliminary findings can be made.  In my view, it’s usually wise to take small steps while becoming familiar with a new piece of equipment.  So, I decided to start in my own backyard where the presence of a several bird feeders attracts a decent variety of birds, especially during the winter months.

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Pileated Woodpecker  (male)

(Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500mm lens on tripod;  1/400th sec @ f/5.6, ISO 3200)

The image above was not cropped and there was no sharpening in Photoshop. Due to the large size of original file, it would come out as a 16 X 24” print without any upsizing.  Given the low light situation, a high ISO was necessary so there probably would be a bit of noise evident in a full-sized print.

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Pileated Woodpecker (female)

(Nikon D810 with 200-500mm lens & 1.4 extender on tripod;  1/125th sec @ f/8, ISO 1600)

Adding the extender brought the subject really close.  But I found that the D800E had difficulty resolving focus with the extender.  Switching to the Nikon 810 brought better results but it had become clear the extender has limited utility in low light situations.  As before, this is an uncropped image.  A full stop was lost due to the extender, but by dropping the shutter speed, it was possible to use a lower ISO.  This speed, however would far too slow without a tripod, let alone a bird in flight.

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Avian Food Fight #1

(Nikon D810 with 200-500mm lens & 1.4 extender on tripod; 1/1600th sec @ f/9, ISO 1600)

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Avian Food Fight #2

(Nikon D810 with 200-500mm lens & 1.4 extender on tripod; 1/1600th sec @ f/8, ISO 1600)

The feeder in the two images immediately above is about twice as far away and the birds are much smaller.  But it was well illuminated by sunlight so a faster shutter speed was possible and focusing was not a problem.

Having tested the lens in a familiar environment and with full knowledge of knowing exactly where to point the camera before the birds arrived, it was now time to try for something a little more difficult—birds in flight.  I spent a bit of time practicing on a flock of buzzards at the nearby Great Falls National Park.  I will spare you samples of the results.  They turned out fine, but buzzards??

We need something more impressive.  Something regal and majestic, like a bald eagle.

Luckily, there is a location about two hours away where a large number of bald eagles gather in the winter.  It is the Conowingo dam in Darlington Maryland and I learned of it from Jim, a photographer colleague who had been there.  More information about it can be found here.

So, with a forecast of sunny weather on Wednesday, Jim and I drove up in the teeth of the morning rush hour traffic.   Jim was correct—there were many eagles to see and, as noted in the referenced link above, there were many photographers there as well.  But the weather man had lied—a heavy cloud cover arrived as we drove into the parking lot.

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In addition to large numbers of eagles and photographers, there were also numerous vultures (buzzards).  Not a problem I thought, until I saw this sign.

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But, there were so many cars in the lot, what were the chances?  We rolled the dice and decided to stay. (That part worked out as we hoped–they did not attack my car)  Here are two examples of the results.

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Bald Eagle in Flight

(Nikon D810 with 200-500mm lens handheld; 1/1600th sec @ f/6.3, ISO 800)

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Bald Eagle with Fish

(Nikon D810 with 200-500mm lens handheld;  1/5000th sec @ f/11, ISO 1600)

In sum, more testing is needed and hopefully there will be another chance at Conowingo before the eagles depart in late January.  Updates will be included in future posts.  In the meantime…

 

Keep Shooting……

Northwest Passage (Final)

After departing Jessie Harbor on Banks Island, we headed south for yet another bizarre Arctic scene, the “Smoking Hills,” a 25-mile stretch of shoreline named by John Franklin in 1826 on his third expedition searching for the Northwest Passage.

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The Smoking Hills, Franklin Bay, Northwest Territories

The phenomenon of these burning cliffs is neither geothermal nor volcanic in origin.  Deposits of low-grade, sulfur rich coal spontaneously ignite when exposed to oxygen.  As the hills erode, the coal is exposed to the air and starts burning.

 

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Onsite View of the Smoke

We boarded the Zodiacs and headed for the shore, wondering whether the opportunity to breathe sulfuric acid was a good idea.  The climb up the muddy slopes was difficult, but soon we were looking into a ghastly scene evoking Dante’s Vestibule of Hell and the inscribed words: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Deciding that the noxious fumes were begining to foster hyperbolic literary allusions, I returned to the shoreline to inspect what turned out to be, at least in geological terms, a psychedelic experience.

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Multi-hued Rock Formation, Franklin Bay

 

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Large Stone (Football size) with Unexplained Markings

arctic-chapter-11-d-16-09-01-3764 Multi-hued Cliffside, Franklin Bay

 

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Basalt Boulder with Folded Seams of Sulphur

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Shoreline of Franklin Bay, Northwest Territories

Before heading to the Bering Strait and our final stop in Nome, our captain deviated once again from the normal route in the hope of one last encounter with sea ice.  We headed northwest from Point Barrow, Alaska into the Arctic Ocean and a heavy fog where a batch of sea ice had been reported.  After a few hours we began to see individual chunks of ice on either side of the ship.  As the numbers increased, we could easily see dark spots on the ice just under the water—it was ice algae which is the base of the Arctic food chain. Krill shrimp feed on these algae, and krill are a key part of the diet of whales, seals, fish, and some birds.

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Ice algae–Small Dark Spots in Center Section

Sea ice also serves as resting spots for seals and walruses and we passed examples of both as the ship moved through the water.

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Bearded Seal, Arctic Ocean

 

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Walruses Abanding Ice Floe, Arctic Ocean

Finally, late in the afternoon, we turned back to the south.  Soon we would pass below the Arctic Circle into the Bering Strait and within a few days end our journey in Nome, Alaska.

Some final thoughts—

The Arctic at first glance appears to be a desolate, hostile environment.  But if one looks more closely they will see spots of brilliant colors in the tundra: reds, oranges, yellows.  The deep silence and broad landscapes suggest an emptiness but then you come upon a massive pod of hundreds of narwhals slicing through the water alongside you.  A grey leaden sky turns brilliantly red as the sun shoots through a narrow opening low on the horizon.   You stoop to inspect a tidal pool and see dozens of tiny transparent sea butterflies and sea angels, the size of your thumbnail, carried back and forth by the motion of the water.   We began our journey exploring a 25-mile long channel choked with towering icebergs and a few weeks later we came across a 25-mile stretch of hills that were on fire.  It’s an amazing place and I hope to return.

 

 

 

Northwest Passage–A Short Video

For a change of pace, I thought I would offer up something a little different in this post.  The previous ten posts about this Northwest Passage journey have consisted of words and still photographs.  This time it will be a video report with a musical background.

The Northwest Passage: Into the Arctic Circle

This was my first experiment with video and it was clearly a learning experience.  Perhaps the most important lesson is that, at least for me, a video production is a team effort.  Above all, it requires a talented editor and I had the good fortune to have an excellent partner in this effort.  Her name is Samantha Politis and she took a batch of video files shot with my Nikon D810, a few seconds of drone footage captured by Fredieric Michel, the ship’s videographer, during the visit to the Ilulissat Icefjord (used with his permission), a musical score that she and I selected (license fee paid) and weaved them into a 3 minute video.

I hope you will take a look and let us know what you think.

Next Post (This time for real)–Smoke and Fire)

Northwest Passage (10)

First, many apologies for the long absence since the last post.  But now it’s time to resume the story of this journey.

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Edinburgh Island, Overlooking Coronation Gulf

Following our experience standing fog-bound on a piece of sea ice about the size of a handball court, we departed Victoria Strait and sailed west.  The next morning we arrived in the Coronation Gulf, near the location where Samuel Hearne, a Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) fur trader arrived in July 1771. By reaching this point he became the first European to reach the North American shores of the Arctic Ocean. He took a 1,000-mile (one-way) overland route from the west side of Hudson Bay, following the course of the Coppermine River which empties into the Gulf.  As Hearne looked out over the ice filled water, he concluded—incorrectly—that this was not a viable route for a Northwest Passage.

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The Route Through Coronation Gulf

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Ridgeline View of Coronation Gulf

Samuel Hearne was yet another colorful figure of North American exploration.  After joining the British Navy at age 11 and seeing considerable action in the Seven Years War, he sailed to Canada and signed up with Hudson’s Bay Company for whom he explored much of the unknown territory north and west of Hudson Bay.  His 458-page book, “A Journey from Prince of Wale’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay to the Northern Ocean” was highly praised when published for its meticulous detail of the areas he explored and for his lucid descriptions of life among the Native Americans.  It has since become a remarkable collectible.  A first edition copy sold for $11,000 at a Christie’s auction in 2012.  A detailed history of Hearne’s life can be found in Kenneth McGoogan’s book, in which he asserts that Hearne was the inspiration for Samuel Coleridge’s epic poem, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

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Fall Colors, Edinburgh Island

On this day, however, we would land on tiny Edinburgh Island, across the Gulf from where Hearne stood almost 250 years ago. Here we would undertake a 3-mile roundtrip hike up a valley featuring the colorful hues of tundra at the height of autumn.  The valley was flanked by steep cliffs on both sides and we spotted several peregrine falcon nests on the ledges.  Their occupants could be seen spiraling above, looking for prey.

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Entering Jesse Harbor

The following day we continued west to Jesse Harbor on Banks Island where we encountered an environment quite different from the vibrant tundra on Edinburgh Island.  Here was yet another variant of the polar desert, one with very little vegetation. We hiked past meltwater ponds up a barren ridge and later descended to a sandy beach like none we had seen on this trip.  Other than some distant muskox, there were no sightings of wildlife but we did see numerous signs (tracks, scat, bones, and hair tufts) of animals and birds.  They apparently chose not to stay around to greet us.

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The tracks of dozens of birds and small animals surrounded the muddy edges of this pond. 

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Tracks of Large Bird on the Beach

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Single Vertebra Bone of Unidentified Animal

Next Post–Smoke and Fire!