Hidden Gem #2

For a variety of reasons, I cannot get out this week to photograph, so I will contrive a virtual trip that could have been. This is the week I should be going back to one of my favorite places, the Navy and Merchant Marine Memorial.  The memorial is an elegant sculpture cast in aluminum and located on the Virginia side of the Potomac just north of the 14th Street Bridge.    It’s another one of those hidden gems, despite the fact that it is less than 100 feet away and in plain sight of thousands of commuters driving by each day.


Afternoon Light, Navy and Merchant Marine Memorial, 2012

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The Washington Monument: Opening Soon!

The Washington Monument is the iconic structure of the city of Washington DC and I have been photographing it since 1999 when I first got serious about photography.  Yet despite the numerous images I’ve made of it in the 15 years since then, I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I never made it to the top during that time.  But even though I do have a few excuses—such as an earthquake—it serves no purpose to bore you with a recitation of them.  Instead, I have seen the error of my ways and I fully intend to be up there as soon as possible when it re-opens next month.  Details about the re-opening are below, but first a few highlights from the past 15 years are in order, not necessarily in a chronological order.


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Virginia Bluebells are Here


Virginia Bluebells, Cub Run, Northern Virginia (April 13, 2013)

At this time of the year, the landscape photographer is overloaded with opportunities as the earth’s natural cycle of renewal accelerates with frenetic speed.  The opportunities are usually so brief that it helps to maintain a “schedule” of what is going to happen, when, and where.  For example, every year in mid-April, sections of nondescript wooded areas in northern Virginia are briefly transformed into a dazzling carpets of blue and white.  The two flowering plants responsible for this amazing and all-too-brief display are the Virginia bluebell and the Virginia spring beauty.  And this morning I went out to see them again. Continue reading

Scouting Report: April 15, 2014


The Cherry Blossoms are gone, the lunar eclipse was hidden by clouds this morning and it’s been raining all day.  So what better way to keep on the move than to make a scouting run into the city?  It’s that time of year when the fountains scattered around the Washington National Mall are being turned on.  Three weeks ago, only the World War II Memorial was operating.  But now many of them are running; of the nine that I checked, seven are happily pumping out the spray.


News Flash:   We interrupt this post to announce that one of my images was selected for “Monochrome Madness,” an event produced by Australian photographer Leanne Cole, a professional photographer in Melbourne whose blog has over 23,000 followers.  You can see her post with the 44 selected images here.  Now back to our regularly scheduled post on Washington, DC fountains.


 Fountains Currently Running


 Navy Memorial Fountain, National Archives in Background

 Navy Memorial (Pennsylvania Avenue between 8th and 9th Street NW):  This is one of the better fountains in the city, and can’t be easier to photograph.  You are steps away from a Metro entrance, benches are plentiful, and an excellent French boulangerie  (Paul Bakery)  is on the west side of the plaza.

Supreme Court   (1st Street NW, across from the Capitol Building): The two small fountains on the north and south sides of the front plaza are now running.  While not very impressive, any photo that includes the basins looks much better now than when they are empty.


Court of Neptune Fountain, Library of Congress

 Court of Neptune Fountain (1st Street SW, across from the Capitol Building): New York sculptor Roland Hinton Perry was only 27 years old when he completed the fountain in 1898, when the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress was opened.  This is not your average fountain and the physicality of the scene is quite dramatic when the water is running.  The nearby Capitol South  Metro Station is a short walk of two blocks.

Image Senate Fountain at Night

Senate Fountain  (opposite the intersection of Louisiana Avenue NW and North Capitol Street NW): This is one of the few (perhaps only) fountains in the city with a variable color lighting system).  Boasting a view of the Senate side of the US Capitol, it provides a number of photo opportunities in the evening light.  The Union Station Metro stop is within easy walking distance.

Japanese American Patriotism Memorial: (Directly opposite the Senate Fountain in a small triangular park between Louisiana Avenue, New Jersey Avenue, and D Street NW):  Technically this is not a fountain, but a flowing pool which is the principal feature of the park.  Dedicated only ten years ago, it recognizes the mistake made by the US in the forcible placement of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans into ten internment camps.

National Museum of the American Indian (Intersection of Maryland Avenue and Independence Avenue SW ):  The fountain is located on the northwest corner of the museum with the water cascading over large boulders and flowing along a channel on the north side of the building.  The Federal Center Metro Station is about 3 blocks to the south.


Moonrise, World War II Memorial

 World War II Memorial   (17th Street between Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue):  The fountains are now running although they are turned off sometime during the night and resume operating just before dawn.  However, the repair project at the west end of the Memorial is still unfinished.  As a result, the two waterfalls on either side of Freedom Wall are still dry.   Even so, this memorial offers more photo opportunities than any of the others on this list.  No nearby Metro Station.

Fountains Still Dry

Banneker Fountain (South end of the L’Enfant Plaza on 10th Street SW):  Probably the least well known site on this list, the 30-foot tall column of water (when operating) is the central feature of the Benjamin Banneker Park.  Banneker was an African American who had a role in the original surveys that eventually resulted in the layout of the city of Washington.  However, the historical evidence is unclear on the specific details.  The small park, designed by landscape architect Dan Kiley was constructed in 1967.  Kiley is currently being featured in a major retrospective of his work at the National Building Museum.  The L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station is about 5 blocks to the northeast.

Bartholdi Fountain (Across Independence Avenue SW from the US Botanical Garden):  This fountain is the central feature of a small park maintained by the US Botanical Garden,  It was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi who is better known as the creator of the Statue of Liberty.  I will write a separate post on this fountain when the water is turned on.

I expect that both the Bartholdi and Banneker fountains will be running within a few weeks.  Stay tuned…



Cherry Blossoms: Final Report

It was all too brief.  They were late to arrive, then came in with a rush, delighted us for just a few days, and now they are leaving.  For those of us who want to photograph them, it seems harder each year as more and more people descend upon this little landscape of pink trees framed by blue water and skies with constantly changing hues.

I guess it started on March 29th when the first hints appeared. An early morning fog blanketed the scene with an air of mystery, the almost invisible shade of pink suggestive of what might be in store.  The nearly deserted sidewalks suggested that only a privileged few knew of this place. For more than a week, the tease continued.  But by the morning of April 8th, the buds were beginning to open.  From a distance, the trees glowed with that distinctive pink while up close you could anticipate something better was yet to come.


April 8, 2014, 6:43 AM, overcast sky

But suddenly, the accelerator was pushed to the floor and in the next 24 hours, the blossoms swelled considerably.  Yet the number of people was still manageable.  There was no real problem finding a place to set up.  But warning bells of experience from past years were sounding in my brain.


Sunrise, April 9, 2014

On Thursday April 10th, the floodgates opened and, as if on signal, a human tsunami rolled into the Tidal Basin.  For a brilliant description of the crowds from the perspective of a photographer, you can’t do better than the post by Mitch Zeissler. People wandering through the scene are a fact of life for DC photographers and adaptation is the only alternative to surrender.  One approach is combining patience with anticipation.  This image below is a merge of 4 separate shots, the first three taken from the extreme left to the middle right.  Then I waited until there was a brief moment when the sidewalk in the foreground was relatively clear and took the fourth image.


Sunrise, April 10, 2014

An obvious tactic is to incorporate the people in the image.  The tree below was a magnet for every camera phone that came by.  At any given moment some half dozen people would be somewhere in the foreground of this scene even though I was less than 10 feet from the tree.  The image here is actually a merge of 9 images shot of small sections of the tree that had no one in the picture.  But the portion immediately under the low branch arching over the sidewalk was always packed.  Then another photographer with a model appeared and the river of pedestrians kindly diverted around the tree to allow the fashion shoot to proceed undisturbed.   I grabbed the final shot with just the two of them in it.  Below it is what a photographic ethicist would call blatant cheating.  The two were removed digitally


Early Morning April 10, 2014

         ImagePhotoshop “Cheating”

The next morning I arrived about 45 minutes before sunrise and managed to find a location that held some promise for an unobstructed composition.  The result is the image below.  This one is a merge of six images.  (Technical data: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on tripod; Focal length 31mm, exposure 0.5 sec @f/16, EV set @ -1; flash unit off camera handheld with flash power reduced 3 stops and set at rear curtain sync.)


Dawn, April 11, 2014

The next day was a Saturday, the weather was forecast to be perfect, and the Cherry Blossom parade was scheduled for later that morning.  It didn’t take a genius to know that the crowds would be far worse, but a friend and I bravely set forth to see what we could find.  As it happened, things worked out OK, and this is one image from that morning, taken at 6:25 AM. (Technical Data: Single image taken with Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on tripod; Focal length 70mm,exposure 1/5th sec @ f/16, no flash.)


Morning Twilight, April 12, 2014

It was a beautiful day and about as perfect as it gets here so the long walk back to the car was quite special, if you don’t mind sharing the moment with 50,000 people.  But signs of the end were clearly visible.  The occasional small flecks of tiny pink petals floating down from the trees told the tale.  The blossoms had peaked and the downward decline had begun.  The cycle was moving onward and a year from now we’ll be back here again.  I can hardly wait.

Hidden Gem

This city has any number of spots that are well known and heavily trafficked by locals and tourists alike.  But there are also lesser known places that have a charm of their own, largely because they are not surrounded by idling tour buses and hordes of people snapping pictures.  Rawlins Park, in Foggy Bottom, is just such a place.  And as you will see from these photos, this is the best week of the year week to go there.


Major General John A. Rawlins 

The park is named for Major General John A. Rawlins, an officer in the Union Army who served as an aide to General Ulysses S. Grant.  Rawlins joined Grant’s staff in 1861 as a lieutenant and stayed with him through the entire Civil War.  According to James M. Goode, in his comprehensive tome “Washington Sculpture,” the park was an oasis in a neighborhood of small Victorian townhomes until the 1950s when the historic homes were replaced by large office buildings. One lone survivor remains, the Octagon House located across the street at the corner of 18th and E Street NW. 


Rawlins Park, Looking West, Early Morning (April 9, 2014)

But the park itself did survive, and despite its location between two multi-lane thoroughfares carrying thousands of cars each day to and from Virginia, it is still a charming oasis.  It is lined on both sides with what I call tulip trees but what people (and there are many) who have more plant knowledge would call a hybrid magnolia.  Two reflecting pools and a small central fountain complete the effect.


Looking East at Sunset (April 8, 2014) 

And this is the week that those tulip trees are showing off.  The pavement and reflecting pools are covered with the dropping petals from the large, tulip-shaped blooms and a few ducks practice take-offs and landings from time to time.  There are plenty of benches under the trees and if the gaudy display doesn’t jolt your senses, there is a handy Starbucks across the street at the corner of 20th and E Street NW.


Looking West, Early Morning Fog (April 7, 2014)

Cherry Blossoms–Get Ready to Rumble

At 6:45 AM this morning the cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin were not quite ready to strut their stuff, but the magic moment is getting close. Although the weather was nearly perfect, the walkways were almost deserted. Several photographers with tripods were lurking about, probably scouting compositions in advance.   The usual number of joggers and bikers were making their rounds and a small gaggle of photo tour visitors were getting briefed on what was going to happen after they left town. A few trees have decided to jump the gun, but most are still in bud, as shown by the image below.   (Technical data: Nikon D800E with 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens set at 24 mm; handheld and exposed at 1/250th sec. @ f/8, ISO 400, on-camera flash used for fill light on the buds)



I should note that the forsythia and tulip trees over by the George Mason Memorial are usually a few days ahead of the cherry trees and they were looking very nice this morning. I made a complete circuit around the Tidal Basin, and noticed that the parking lot next to the paddleboat concession has a café set up with lots of tables and chairs. It looked pretty nice, but it wasn’t open yet, so apparently early risers are not considered worthy customers. But the sun was up, the crowds were somewhere else and that’s enough for me.

As I approached the Martin Luther King Memorial, I found a nice stretch of walkway that was completely deserted. (Technical data: 4 separate images, photomerged; Nikon D800E with 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens set at 24 mm; handheld and exposed at 1/320th sec. @ f/8, ISO 400)


It turned out that the Memorial was also empty so I took the opportunity to get my first image of the statue since the controversial inscription was removed on the east side. Background on this issue can be found here. (Technical data: 5 separate images, photomerged; NikonDd800E with 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens set at 26 mm; on tripod and exposed at various speeds between 1/25th and 1/60th all at f/16, ISO 400)



Today was probably the last morning before the crowds really start building, so if you are headed down there in the coming days, remember the words of Michael Buffer and be prepared.

Yet Another Cherry Blossom Report

I returned to the Tidal Basin yesterday afternoon to check on the progress of the Cherry Blossoms.  The marching battalions of pre-scheduled tours are now in full swing, the tour buses that brought them here are jostling for parking spots, and the weather is balmy.  But the trees have other ideas.  And the absence of photographers with tripods confirmed what I expected:  “Still too soon.”  But the trip wasn’t a total loss, and I’ll get to that in a minute.



So here is an image showing the status of the cherry blossoms.  The buds in the foreground–like all the others on the nearby trees–are still quite tight, or at least they were as of about 7:15 PM last night. I guess it will be sometime this weekend before any blossoms actually emerge.  The official Festival prediction for peak blooming to appear is still April 8th and I see no reason to dispute that.  (Technical data: Nikon D800E, 24-70 mm lens set at  55 mm, no tripod: 1/50th sec. @ f/18, ISO 1600)

Still, you never want to come away without any images, so I worked on a panorama composition as the twilight blue after sunset began to intensify.  This was taken about 20 minutes after sunset.  It could be a great composition to use  when the blossoms hit their peak, but I suspect that the walkway will be cluttered with fellow photographers. (Technical data: Nikon D800E, 24-70 mm lens set at  35 mm, using tripod, 3 images shot with aperture priority set @ f/16, shutter ranged from 6-10 secs.; ISO 400)


As a side note, you can see the dark forms of protective netting around the trunks of the trees.  I assume this is intended to frustrate any beavers that might want to use the trees for gnawing practice.  There is at least one of them there; it swam within two meters of me, but submerged immediately when I began to swing my camera in its direction.  Curses!  Foiled again.

 Aside from the brief excitement of a close encounter with a beaver, the trip downtown also enabled me to check the status of some repair work projects on the mall.  As indicated in the panorama image, the removal of the scaffolding on the Washington Monument is now below the tree line.  There is still about 10 meters to go, but I am hopeful that the scaffolding and the construction fence will be removed in time for the Lunar Eclipse on April 15. There is more good news: The World War II Memorial fountains are now up and running at full power and the lighting is also operating.   A closer inspection will be needed to see whether the repairs on the west side of the Memorial are finished.

 So stay tuned for the next episode of the exciting mystery:  “Are they out yet?”

Lunar Eclipse

While we are all waiting for the Cherry Blossoms to open up, it’s not too soon to think about April 15th which, besides being the last day for filing taxes, is the date of the next total Lunar Eclipse that will be visible in Washington, DC. These are pretty rare events and, in fact, the next opportunity won’t come until 28 September 2015.


That’s the good news.  The bad news?  Full totality starts at 3:08 AM and lasts until 4:23 AM.   Not enough bad news?  Here’s more: A lunar eclipse is hard to photograph.  One reason is that at the climactic moment of totality, the moon is in deep shadow.

If you have never attempted to photograph a lunar eclipse, you will want to check out this website which goes into extreme detail but speaks the language of photography.  There are two basic ways to photograph a lunar eclipse, either with a single image as shown in my two examples here, or tracking the passage of the moon through the eclipse using multiple exposures.   One example of the latter technique, which I have not yet tried, can be found at this post by Sean Bagshaw.

The above image was photographed on November 8, 2003.  The only other photographer there was from the Washington Post and an image quite similar to this (with his byline) appeared on the front page the next day.  I was still shooting with film back then and, as usual, I was using Ektachrome 100VS transparency film and a Nikon F-100 camera.  I was using my 70-200 mm zoom lens and I would guess that it was set for 200 mm.  The only other thing I remember is how cold it was.  This image shows one of the problems with a lunar eclipse; the illuminated portion of the moon (the part not yet in the earth’s shadow) is about 8 stops brighter than the portion in the shadow.

The image below was taken on December 21, 2010.  I really didn’t want to miss this one because it was happening on the night of the winter solstice, and there would not be another chance on the solstice for several hundred years.  And if I thought it was cold  on November 8, it turns out I was wrong.  This night  was really, really cold–something like ten degrees.  By now I was shooting digital, a Nikon D700.  The lens was a Nikon 28-300 zoom extended to the full 300 mm.

The image is actually a photomerge of two images.  The first included only the top half of Washington Monument  without the moon. The exposure was 0.8 secs at f/5.6 at ISO 400. The second image included just the cap of the Monument plus the moon above. The exposure was identical except that the shutter was open for 1.3 secs.   The two images were merged and then some of the lower portion of the Monument was cropped out.   The total eclipse phase was still a few minutes away, so the illumination was in better balance than in the November 8 2003 image.