June 28, 2014

Thanks to the post of a fellow blogger, I was reminded that yesterday was the 100th anniversary of what seemed a minor event but was the spark that led to the outbreak of the Great War, now known as World War I.  My grandfather, whom I never met, served in WW I.  So I decided yesterday was an appropriate occasion to do something I had been postponing for too long: to photograph the DC War Memorial which was erected to honor the 499 citizens of Washington, DC who lost their lives in the war.

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Sunset, June 28, 2014

I want to acknowledge the post by the DC Bike Blogger (see it here), a highly informative source about the District of Columbia.  I thought I knew my way around this city until I bumped into his blog several months ago.

The DC War Memorial is not well known, but is conveniently located on the National Mall along Independence Avenue directly across from the Martin Luther King Memorial.  It is especially attractive at twilight.  A simple lighting system illuminates the interior and seems to be timed to come on about 15 minutes before sunset.

The photograph is a single shot, using a Nikon D800E on a tripod with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 26mm.  The exposure was 1.6 sec. @ f/16 EV = -1.0, ISO 400.  Adjustments were made in Adobe Camera RAW to reduce the highlights (-53), open up the shadows (+56), and add some clarity (+20) plus a little vibrance (+12).  A minor curves adjustment was made in Photoshop CC to lighten the exterior of the dome just a bit.

After-Before Friday Week 6

This post is my submission to the After-Before Friday Forum sponsored by  Stacy Fisher’s Visual Venturing blog, which encourages a discussion among participants and readers on the subject of taking an original photograph as captured by the camera and transforming into the image that was envisioned by the photographer.  The contributions of other participants can be found here

This week’s image is a detail of the Fountain de Medici, located in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. The historic fountain, despite its desperate need for a major clean-up and repair, is a popular stop for tourists and when there is nice weather, many locals take advantage of the well-shaded chairs beside the long rectangular pool.   For me, the neglected state of the structure with its moss-covered stones seemed to enhance the horrific theme of the central group of statues.  The great dark figure looming above the young lovers is Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant who, according to Homer’s tale, devoured several of the crew members of the Odysseus expedition when they landed on the island of Cyclops.

The weather, bright and sunny, was not in my favor and I had time only for a few quick shots.  But I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see if the original image could be infused with the darker mood that I saw in that sculpture. I’m not entirely satisfied with the results, and would be interested in feedback from readers of this post. (Camera data: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 66mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/5.0, EV = -0.67)

The original image is shown as the RAW file came from the camera, before any changes were made in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).

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RAW Image without any adjustments

The first steps were taken in ACR, and the adjustments made were as follows:

Highlights: Reduced to -75, to tone down the bright specular highlights;

Shadows:  Reduced to -44, to add shadow and darken the scene slightly;

Blacks:     Reduced to -20, just to the point of clipping on the histogram, to insure there was a touch of pure black  (Thanks to Stacy for suggesting this technique.)

Clarity:      Increased to +30 standard on most of my images

Vibrance:    Increased to +13 to give just a small boost to the greens

All other settings were unchanged.  The result was then opened in Photoshop CC and looked like this:

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Image after adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw

A quick adjustment to remove the slight tilt was made using the crop tool.  Then a much tighter crop was made to bring the central statues closer, eliminating distractions such as the large body of water in the foreground and most of the people along the sides of the pool.  At this point the statues have become the main point of interest as shown below.

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Image after first crop

But more work was needed.  I used a Curves layer adjustment (blend mode: luminosity) to darken the scene and inject a more somber mood. A mask was added to keep the statues unaffected by the curves adjustment with the intent of giving depth to the scene and drawing the viewer’s eye to them.  This was followed by another Curves layer adjustment (blend mode: luminosity) to create a vignette, darkening the areas outside the center, in an attempt to further enhance the mood.  The result at this point is shown below.

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Things were looking better, but it seemed that one more step might help.  One last crop was applied to bring the viewer closer to the scene and eliminate the bystander with the blue shirt on the right.  The final image is shown below.

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Final Version

Paris: View from the Eiffel Tower

Apologies for the temporary lapse in Paris imagery. But although I wasn’t writing, I was taking pictures.  Now the journey is over and there is ample time to look at some of the highlights. 

The Eiffel Tower dominates the Paris skyline and sooner or later one must brave the crowds of tourists and view the city from above.  The forecast called for scattered thunderstorms and it seemed that maybe I could get lucky.  Interesting clouds on the horizon, cowardly tourists choose other options.  But there were a lot of brave tourists that night and it was about an hour before we made it to the elevator and began the ascent.

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We arrived on the second level, about 380 feet above the street about an hour before twilight and there were some dark clouds on the horizon.  The scene looked promising. But then I saw the fountains of Trocadero were running at full power and to say that I was upset is putting it mildly.  I have been trying to capture those fountains up close for years and they are never running when I show up.  As the image above shows, the central cannons shoot a massive stream of water a distance of more than 150 feet.  But here I was, about a half mile away and almost 400 feet above them.  Five minutes later, the fountains shut down.

However, one must accept what one is given and perhaps there would be something else in store for that evening. As it turned out, good things did happen.  As the image below shows, the predicted thunderstorms appeared but in the distance. So we were treated to a lightning and thunderstorm display while remaining completely dry.  I don’t have one of those devices that senses lightning, but I did take one shot just as a bolt flashed in the distance.

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The skyscrapers in the distance intrigued me.  I was told it was the area known as “La Defense” and I thought that it might be an interesting place to explore.  Stay tuned…….

Giverny: Monet’s Gardens

My painter friends may chastise me for this skimpy report on a subject dear to their hearts, but time is fleeting and promises to do more sometime soon will have to suffice for now.

Although I have visited these gardens on two previous trips to France, I had not been here in June or July, which is the time that the water lilies bloom. It was our hope that they might be out this time, so off we went on Tuesday to see what might be in store this time.   It turned out that we were in luck.

I calculated in advance how best to minimize (at least in my photographs) the excessive crowds that almost certainly would be there. Here are three images that show the results and the several tricks that I used are listed afterwards. (I should confess that none of these maneuvers are surprisingly new, but might be helpful to photographers at least. I envy painters who, blessed with skills I can barely comprehend, merely leave out those pesky details.

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Approaching Storm, Monet’s Giveny Gardens

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Water Lilies, Monet’s Gradens

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Monet’s Garden, Giverny

 Here are my 4 techniques to minimizing the crowds at Giverny and similar places:

1. Pick a day when rain is forecast and likely, but the outlook should be for showers rather than a sustained deluge. The prospects for rain discourages some, but not all. Moreover, overcast skies contribute to higher quality images when photographing flowers.

2. Find a position that where plants (which you want) help block out many of the tourists (which you don’t want) as they pass through the scene, but also provides a good composition.

3. Break up the scene into a number of images using a longer lens, picking off sections that have few or no persons in the scene. Then use photomerge in the photo post processing software of your choice.

4. Move in close for a tightly framed image where those pesky people can’t trespass.

5. Still, there are some folks who will successfully thwart your best efforts in any number of images. Don’t curse them; Delete them! The clone tool and the Edit-> Fill-> Content Aware procedure are your best friends here.

Paris: Saturday Night Lights

Weekend nights are pretty lively in this city. Even before the sun has set, the party spirit is gearing up. The banks of the Seine are lined with thousands of young people assembled in small groups sharing food and various liquid refreshments and generally having a great time. The expansive lawns of the Champs des Mars and Esplanade des Invalides are similarly packed, but populated mostly by families and Frisbee tosseurs (not a real word). The streets are filled with tourists, stopping every 20 meters or so to photograph the city’s icons and the now obligatory “selfies.” And this photographer heads to the Pont Alexandre III, considered the most elegant bridge in Paris.

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Waxing Moon, Pont Alexandre III, Paris

This was photographed from the Right Bank at the entrance to Pont Alexandre.  The entrances on both sides are flanked by a pair of pillars such as the one shown here, each with a sculpture of Pegasus, the mythological flying horse.  It was shot at about 10:40 PM.

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Pont Alexandre III and Les Invalides at Night

This was also photographed from the Right Bank, about 25 feet to the left of the previous image.   In the bottom left, you can see the groups of young people celebrating the evening.  In the distance, the illuminated dome of Les Invalides sits astride the massive Esplanade des Invalides.  The two pillars on the left bank flank the entrance on the opposite side. Photographed at about 10:50 PM.

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Eiffel Tower, from Pont Alexandre III

And, of course, the obligatory image of the Eiffel Tower.  Photographed at about 10:25 PM.  As you can see, I am steadily working my way downriver.

My travels about this city have been facilitated by the incredibly useful (and free) app by the Paris Metro system.  It knows where I am and I just tell it where I want to go.  It directs me to the right bus stop and tells me which bus to take and where to get off.  So I knew when I was taking that last shot at 10:50 PM that I could get across the bridge to the bus stop on the other side and catch the 11:00 PM 63 bus that would drop me off abut a block from our home base.  If you are coming here and don’t already have it, you must get a copy.  Just go to the App store and ask for the RATP app.

Looking Back: June 6, 2009

Five years ago today, I was visiting the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC,   hoping to capture an image of the nearly full moon rising over the Memorial to coincide with the anniversary of the Normandy Invasion.

Readers who have visited the Memorial know that its central feature is a large oval pool with a ring of small water jets and anchored at each end by two towering fountains.  A plaza surrounds the pool and at the north and south ends of the plaza there are two pavilions, the northern one dedicated to the Pacific Theater and the southern dedicated to the Atlantic Theater. I planned to position myself near the Atlantic Pavilion and shoot northeast across the oval pool as the moon came into view.

 

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The image above shows the moon rising just next the flag about 20 minutes before sunset. It is a photomerge of 3 images with the camera in the vertical (portrait) orientation. (Technical Data: Nikon D700 with 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens set at 55 mm; exposure 1/5th sec @ f/4.8, ISO 200) While the angle was good, I felt that it was still too early and decided to try again shortly after sunset.  It was a warm summer evening and a gentle breeze occasionally rustled the flags.

I turned toward the Atlantic Pavilion which can provide a very nice scene in early twilight after the lighting is turned on.  For example, the image below (taken a  few years earlier) shows a section of the fountain basin. The inscription on the back wall is the message General Eisenhower communicated to  the invasion forces as they were embarking for Normandy.  The sloping capstone in the right foreground is engraved with the major World War II battles in Europe such as Hürtgen Forest shown in this image.

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But on that night, the 65th anniversary, the Memorial had become a kind of pilgrim’s quest for individuals with deep personal connections to that terrible day.  Some had come and departed already, leaving small mementos behind.  I approached the capstone to take a closer look and spotted a pair of dog tags, one of which had a tiny picture of the soldier to whom they had belonged. Small bouquets were positioned carefully along the capstone and I imagined that their location was chosen with care, resting on the place where the name of a particular battle was engraved.

I became aware of a woman standing next to me, just in front of the Normandy engraving.  She carried two small bouquets and seemed hesitant, uncertain of her next move.  I stepped away, allowing her to be alone at the capstone.  From a distance I watched as she placed the bouquets with attached ribbons on either side of the Normandy engraving, carefully spreading out the ribbons as if arranging a display.  She stepped back a few feet and stood silently for a moment contemplating the bouquets.  Then she turned and walked away.

I waited a few minutes, mesmerized by what I had just witnessed. All thoughts of the moonrise photograph had evaporated.  I walked back to the capstone and looked at what she had left.  There were handwritten inscription on the ribbons.  I bent down to read the words and realized  I was being given a glimpse into the past and that I had to take a completely different photograph than I had originally intended.

 

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The inscription on the ribbons in the foreground said:

“In memory & honor of the 316th Troop Carrier Group,

left Cottesmore, England on the evening  of 6-5-44 for the Normandy invasion.”

 

There was a name on the second set of ribbons, a birth date and a date of death, June 6, 2008.

Postscript: Wanting to know more, I did some research. On that night, the 316th Troop Carrier Group carried about 1,300 paratroopers and combat equipment of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division to its designated drop zone close to St. Mere-Eglise and returned without losing a single plane.  The Group’s precision provided the 505th with the most accurate drop of the night.

Tonight, five years later, I’ll be thinking of her, wondering who she was and wishing I knew more about the message on those ribbons.

Paris: Place de la Concorde at Night

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Fontaine de la Concorde at Night

The Place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris and is best known for its obelisk with the golden tip.  But the obelisk is flanked on the north and south by a pair of ornate fountains and I have been trying to get a decent picture of one of them for seven years, ever since I first saw them.  It’s always been something:  fountains turned off, lights turned off, lousy light, etc.  In fact, when I came here late yesterday afternoon, it looked like  it might be a repetition of the same story.   The south fountain was both dry and dark.  But the north fountain was running.  Now, I only had to wait and hope they would turn the lights on when it got dark.

Fortunately, they did and the image above is the result.  The building in the background  is the Hotel de Crillon which apparently is being renovated.  The brightly colored design is actually a scrim to hide the unsightly construction work.  In the past, these scrims were graphic designs, often a replication of the structure being repaired, but now the French have taken the opportunity to help finance their renovation projects by renting the scrims as advertising billboards.  In this case, the company is Swatch.

The photograph is another photomerge (two images), primarily because my chosen shooting location (to block out some unwanted objects) put me a little too close to get it all in one shot.  (Technical Data: Nikon 800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens set at 24mm. Exposure: 5 secs. @ f/16, EV= -1.33, ISO 200)