Washington, DC—August Scouting Report

Breaking News:  Local readers, photographers or not, should take into account that this coming Monday to Wednesday (August 4-6) could be somewhat chaotic in downtown Washington as the leaders of 40- 50 African nations will be here for a summit meeting.

OK, back to our normal programming:

Yesterday I thought it would be a good idea to zip down to the city and check out the status of possible shooting locations.  The weather was cloudy and it looked like we might get a shower or two, so the prospects for actually stopping and doing some serious photography seemed remote.  I almost didn’t take my camera, but a Little Voice said: “You might be sorry.”

As it turned out, the Little Voice was right.  My first stop was Union Station which is still undergoing a massive interior renovation started months ago.  The first sight when you walk in the front entrance is a mass of scaffolding, huge tarpaulins, and netting to protect pedestrians from falling debris.  (See image below)

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 Union Station Washington, DC Under Renovation

But then I turned left and I was already glad that I had brought the camera. The west wing of the Waiting Area was free of construction and the station’s famous centurions were on duty and alert.  Be aware, however, that there is a strict prohibition on tripods at Union Station, so one needs a high ISO and a wide aperture, especially on a cloudy day. (Technical Data: hand held Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 45mm; Exposure 1/125th sec @f2.8, EV= -0.67, ISO 800).  Three images, photomerged.

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 The Centurions of Union Station

Over at the Supreme Court, a new repair project has just begun.  The Capitol Police officer on duty told me that this set of scaffolding had just gone up this week.

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 Yet Another Renovation at the Supreme Court

Next stop: The U.S. Capitol Building.  The long awaited and much-needed repair of the Capitol Dome is now underway and the scaffolding is being erected now.  On the positive side, Congress is on recess and the shallow reflecting pools on the eastern plaza have been repaired and the water is running again (See image below).

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 US Capitol, East Plaza

 Photographers that want to include the dome will have to accept the presence of scaffolding for perhaps the next two years.  (See the list of the end of this post for details on the situation around the Capitol.)  But there is a positive side: it makes one think about different approaches as exemplified by the image below.

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The US Capitol, View from South Side

 And down the hill on the western side of the Capitol, the flowers around the base of the James Garfield statue are looking great.  I couldn’t resist this image, even with the scaffolding in full view.

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James A. Garfield Statue and US Capitol

 The following summarizes my observations on the drive:

Good news:

  • A lot of the fountains are running, including those in front of the American History Museum, the Library of Congress (Court of Neptune), Senate Garage Fountains, Supreme Court fountains, the Bartholdi Park fountain, the Haupt Fountains on Constitution Avenue across from the German Friendship Garden and most of those at the World War II Memorial (But see the Bad News Below).
  • Almost all of the scaffolding has been removed from the renovation project at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building. (But see the Bad News below)
  • The eastern plaza of the US Capitol Building is no longer a parking lot (as it was on Thursday) for Congressional VIPS as they have departed for the August recess. The reflection pools surrounding the two main skylights for the underground visitor center are back up and running and there must have been a bump up in the gardening budget because the flowers around the Capitol are looking better than I have seen in a long time.
  • The National Park Service Tulip Library, located near the Tidal Basin at Independence Avenue and Maine Avenue, is well past the tulip season. But the annuals that were planted after the tulip bulbs were removed are looking good.  And it appears that an ugly wooden fence right across the street (ruining any possibility of combining these flowers with the Washington Monument) is in the process of being removed.  I have been hating this fence since I first saw it 7 years ago.

Bad news:

  • The work on the western wall (Freedom Wall) of the World War II Memorial is still not completed.
  • Although the renovation of the Arts and Industries Building is complete, there are no plans to open it due to a lack of funds. So there may be some minor gates and barriers to prevent people from entering the space.
  • The US Capitol dome project includes a large construction support zone on the northwest sector of the grounds and a lot of netting inside the dome. Tours are still ongoing.
  • The Supreme Court front entrance now has scaffolding for a new project.
  • The impressively tall fountain (name unknown to me) at the intersection of 20th and C St. NW is not running.
  • And, not surprisingly, the Columbus Fountain at Union Station continues its 10-year-plus streak of neglect, despite a recent renovation of the entire plaza surrounding it.

After-Before Friday Week 11

I always like to participate in Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum where photographers can exchange ideas on how to achieve their artistic vision.  The best part is seeing what the others are doing and I hope you will zip right over there right after you finish reading this.  Spoiler Alert: The link to her blog is at the end of this post.

This week, I thought that it might be interesting to talk about a specific technique rather than go through the entire post process of a selected image.  One of my favorite tools is the so-called “Photomerge” process in Photoshop.  The technique can be used to solve a variety of problems and is most often used to maintain sharpness in large prints.  In this case, however, I used it to compensate for the fact that I did not have a super-wide lens at a time I needed it.  The location is Mitchell Pass in Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska. The “Before” image here shows two separate images taken a few seconds apart.  Both have already been through Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and the next step for them was the Photomerge process.  (Technical Data: Nikon D700 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens set at 24mm; Exposure: 1/60th sec. at f/13, ISO 400.)

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   The Two Starting Images, after ACR

There are any number of ways to merge multiple photographs but I have not tried any outside Photoshop.  But the following steps seem to work for me, so why go searching?  After the ACR process, the two images were opened as .NEF files in Photoshop.  To get things started, the following file sequence was used: File->Automate->Photomerge.  This opens the Photomerge dialog box (See image Below).

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The Photomerge Dialog Display Panel

The next step is to click the “Add Open Files” button (Red Arrow) which brings in all files that you may have open at the time.  Just select those not wanted (blue highlight) and click on “Remove. “On the left is the “Layout” pane with a variety of different Photomerge procedures.  It’s best to start with “Auto” if you’re not sure and that is the choice made here.  Finally, make sure the “Blend Images Together” box is checked.  Then click OK.

The computer will churn for a little bit, depending on how many images are being merged and how much RAM is available.  If you are lucky, you will get something like the image below which is fairly easy to deal with.  This isn’t the place to go into all the rules about taking panorama images (most of which can be broken), but generally the wider the arc of your camera, the more challenging the merge process becomes.  In this case, we have only two images with a slight upward arc.  At this point, the image has two layers (red arrow) and it is necessary to flatten the image before going any further.

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The Initial Result from the Photomerge Process

In this example, a simple crop could be applied to eliminate the blank space, but sometimes it is desirable to keep some of the image rather than be forced to crop it out.  Two ways to get around this problem involve the Transform function and the Content-Aware Fill function.  So let’s say we want to keep all of the bottom information in this image.  First, select the entire image, then use the command sequence: Edit->Transform. A display sub-panel opens with a bunch of choices.  “Distort” was used in this case.  (See blue highlights in the Image below)

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Launching the Edit->Transform Function

A border will appear around the image, similar to the crop tool with control points in the corners.  It is also possible to segment the image into 9 control areas by clicking the icon (not shown) at the top of the main Photoshop Window.  This shows up in the location indicated by the red arrow above after the Edit->Transform command is executed.  When selected, there are 16 control points, one at every intersection of the dividing lines (See Image below).  After some adjustments with the control points, mainly on the bottom and left side (See blue arrows in the Image below) all of the bottom information and much of the left side have been preserved.

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After the  Transform Moves Have Been Made

But suppose it was necessary to avoid losing anything on the left side.  It is at this point we arrive at an ethical issue.  Is it “cheating” to create something that was not there?  If the answer is “No,” then the Content-Aware Fill procedure might be chosen.  After a unanimous No vote, the Polygon Lasso Tool was used to select the empty area (See black arrow in the Image below), making sure the Feather control was set to 0 pixels.  Then the command sequence: Edit->Fill was used and the Fill display box appeared.  Select “Content-Aware” in the Use: box, “Normal” in the Mode: box and set Opacity at 100%. No other boxes should be checked. Then click OK.

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Setting up for the Edit->Fill->Content-Aware Action

The computer will churn again for a brief moment or two and Voila!   The result is shown in the image below.  In this case, and most of the time, it is impossible to tell that what is there in the new image wasn’t there when it was taken. (Please note that in this screen capture image the right  and bottom sections of the Photoshop display window are chopped off.)

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From here all that is needed is a simple crop eliminating the jagged edge on the right, a couple of adjustment layers (Curves and Hue/Saturation) and the final result is shown below.  Thanks again to Stacy for keeping this forum going. Please check out the other examples of “After-Before” at her Blog here.

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Final Image